Lagos is a totally DIFFERENT Beast and in must be fed – From Accra to Lagos by Road.
As I write this I know this will be one of the stories I share with my kids and grand kids about my journey to Lagos. Everyone Ghanaian who has ventured into the territory of our bigger neighbour has a ‘My Nigerian story or a my Lagos Story’ and now I can say I have one too. I set off from Kwame Nkrumah Circle for Lagos via Togo and Benin for the purpose of the first ever Social Media Week on African soil. As a designer and social media strategist this event could not be missed and as I was speaking on the Change Makers and Diaspora panels I decided a road trip was at hand.
Famous Lagos/Nigerian stories usually follow the same pattern, the story teller starts by either exclaiming “Nigeria… Lagos. Hmmmm that place is different.” Mum said the city was erratic, Kofi Kofi said the air and atmosphere even changes once you cross over from Benin. Yaw my cousin said it’s the easiest place to get swindled and Kwabena my traveling companion said he had been given this Nigerian proverb as advice ‘ Shine your eyes well well’. Translation: Keep your eyes peeled.
To be honest with you, my feelings about the trip was a mixture of excitement, adventure, fear and hope as I had heard about the great work Lagos Governor Fashola had done to modernise the city. As we left Accra I fell asleep and by the time I woke we were nearing the Togo border, so far so good. The crossing into Togo was seamless and we were soon driving through one of the busiest port cities in West Africa. My impressions of Togo was that it was small, needed allot more development but had some potential for tourism as the beaches looked lush and the ocean inviting.
Next up was the Benin border where at the behest of Said (the drivers mate) we (forty plus passengers) lined up and crossed from Togo into no mans land then into Benin where passengers who want to eat or shop were allowed to do so for 30 mins. You might be wandering what happened to our passports and immigration procedures – well there were hardly none. Said collected all passports and ID at the beginning of the trip and handled all immigration formalities. As unsettling as it was to give my passport to a stranger it probably saved us from the hustle of the boarder guards who can be troublesome (Bribes are normal at borders). My impressions of Benin were that of a vibrant city, the colourful clothing and bags were on sale at the border and the men had a penchant for dressing in full African print (Something not common in Ghana). Contonou is a modern city with high rises and well planned streets with thousands of motorised bikes as the main form of transportation. I would say the down side of the city was the pollution, which seems endemic. If you thought Accra was dirty well Cotonou will give you a run for your money.
The journey between Benin and Nigeria was not that long and before you could say ‘Wahala‘ we were at the Seme border between Benin and Nigeria. It did not initially dawn on me that it was the border as there were no distinguishing structures, signs and landmarks as in comparison to the Ghana – Togo border or Togo – Benin . All you had were various small metal shelters for the customs, immigration, anti bomb squad and the notorious National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). This is where the adventure and the drama of the journey begins. We knew it would take us 9 hours to get to Nigeria and it did. What we failed to grasp was that it would take us another 4 hours to go though Nigerian immigration, police, customs and any and all check point conceivable to man.
Once we crossed into Nigeria, its definitely felt different, Seme can be described as organised confusion, with numerous cars crossing, government officials wearing uniforms of every colour possible and the weirdest trend ever of men sitting on moving car bonnets crossing between Benin and Nigeria. We crossed into Lagos easily but then our bus remained stationary at the border for at least another hour where we went through the routine of checks and most likely lining of palms (bribes). We all heaved a sigh of relief when we set off but this was simply a false alarm. The highway between Seme and the route to the coach station is dotted with all sorts of ‘officials’ who gleefully flag down the bus every mile we gained. To make matters worse they would either board the bus, ask passengers security questions ( do you have drugs, are you a returning 419‘er) or inspect the content of the luggage area of the bus. The bus drivers were quite good at dealing with these officials but it is not a pleasant experience especially when you get caught up in the mix. Yes my first brush with Nigerian law enforcement, specifically National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) happened 2 hours after arriving. When questioned about how many bags I was traveling with I mistakenly mentioned 2 instead of 3 as I had one underneath my seat. This was enough cause for the official to ask me to get off the bus at 8 pm, drag my belongings to the road side and have inspectors dig through my belongings. Once they were satisfied there was nothing suspicious I was on my way. My second brush with Nigerian law was when I illegally drove past them 4 hours after arriving in Lagos but that is another blogpost all together.We finally arrived at the coach station at 9pm a bit drained but ready for anything after our Lagos initiation.
My experience of Lagos and Social Media Week were fantastic and life changing and I hope to tell you guys more about it in the coming weeks. Was my Lagos story a positive one? Definitely. Were the negative stories valid? Yes and No because as I said at the beginning of the post Lagos is a different beast – A modern vibrant city with over 20 million people ( Ghana’s population), the pace of London and New York combined, the technological vibrancy of silicon valley and obviously vast economic inequalities. Give Lasgidi a chance and it will embrace you and give you the time of your life… or it will chew you and spit you out – Lagos Don’t Sleep!
Things to consider if you intend to travel to Lagos via car or Bus
- Buses to Lagos leave from Circle (Accra) – we took this one, Smaller buses from near BusStop.
- The ticket cost 80 Cedis – The price is probably more now.
- Try and book your ticket early, even though you can still purchase on the day like we did.
- The journey is safe, however shine your eyes when transiting at borders especially if you are a first timer like us.
- I would not advice turning up on a late bus in Lagos without having a contact meet you at the coach station, if you intend to travel alone and do this its best to arrive in the day.
- If possible get someone to pick you up at the Lagos Border -Seme – this will save you the hustle of checks
- Traveling through West African cities by bus is pretty cool but may not be your thing, if you can afford it travel back home like we did by plane (budget for this).
- If you do not have an Ecowas passport ensure you get visas for all the countries and if you will fly back make sure you have your yellow fever injection or Airport officials will charge you 30 dollars for one – oddly I was not injected.
Written by: Kwabena Oppong Boateng