#200 and the Nigerian Nightmare

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I have been unable to get to the Internet for several days now and have been ridiculously busy after leaving Ghana overland into Togo for a night in the capital Lome. I had a quick tour of Africa’s biggest fetish market which features such lovely accessories as dead birds, monkey testicles and skulls of various animals for the voodoo loving Togolaise to enjoy. Not so much for me. After leaving Lome, I entered Benin which was the 200th country on the Travelers Century Club list and it was a very proud moment for me. Crossing overland at the beachside border crossing was very cool and was something that I have been working towards for a long time and capped off a year in which I have visited over 60 countries.

Benin in and of itself has little to offer in terms of must sees, much like Togo. However, I did take the time to head from Cotonou to Ganvie to take a boat tour of the famous stilt villages where all people live on huts built on stilts over the water. All movement between the houses etc. is done via pirogue (a dugout canoe). It was cool to see and I decided after getting some unfortunate news from back home that it would be best not to spend the night in Benin and try to get to Lagos, Nigeria where Africa’s biggest city would have better transportation and communication options. So that’s what I did.
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Crossing into Nigeria at the Sema border crossing with Benin at night is like walking into a nightmare. First, everyone at the border tries to shake you down for every last cent you have. These people are incredulous and they lie and cheat and steal to get a little dash (bribe) from border crossers. I have had an incredible amount of experience crossing borders as you’d imagine and have dealt with corruption many times in my travels but never to the extent of which I saw in Nigeria.

There were people just hanging out near the border station in plain clothes who decided they wanted to be passport or visa inspectors apparently on the spot and threatened to get the police if I didn’t subject myself to their scrutiny. They would look at my visa and say it wasn’t valid or it wasn’t current. Obviously, it was and I calmly would show them the dates and prove it to be valid. When they realized they couldn’t bully me into giving them money they would start asking for it and stopping the charade and I would continuously say no very firmly.

Eventually, they were shocked or something that I wouldn’t give them any money because I guess most people do. The worst is the people who say they are drug enforcement agents and that I have to give them money so they don’t tell on me for having drugs. Well I don’t have drugs, never have, never will and said they are welcome to check my bags as much as they want. They would decline and then just simply ask for money. This would continue with the guy who stamps your passport as he would sit there with your passport in his hands and ask for money pretending to hijack my passport. After I say no very loudly and threaten to call the police with my cell phone he gives it back…another good move is to ask for a receipt which of course they will never produce and scares them.

After about an hour of intense grilling from the corrupt idiots who work the Nigerian border, I then have to deal with negotiating a taxi price into Lagos which is about two hours away. The only taxi available is a car that shouldn’t be on the road and looks like it has been in 10 accidents and has basically no windshield and 400,000 kilometers on it. But this is Africa and that type of thing is normal here so you do it with no qualms because you have no alternative at that time of night.

Driving the Nigerian highways is like driving through Armageddon. The roads are attrocious and there are people everywhere and no street lights anywhere. The drivers drive 200 miles an hour and there are police checkpoints literally every half mile or so and they were lit by roadside fires on each side so you couldn’t mistake them. You can’t even imagine how annoying it is. These checkpoints serve as a way for the police to extract more dash from tourists and drivers. My driver was a real piece of work and generally would skate through the checkpoints until we actually got to Lagos and the police yanked him out and asked for papers and of course he didn’t have up to date papers and was forced to shell out a quarter of what I paid him.

Driving in Lagos and the city itself is like driving through one of those visions of the future that makes the world look like it’s going to end. Lagos is simply put, the worst place I have ever been. Everyone is trying to rob you blind in all directions. The pollution, traffic and police are brutal. The police are almost all criminals apparently working the streets to protect and serve but trust me they are only serving themselves.

Additionally, I had no place to stay but knew the area I wanted to stay in that was close to Air France and the general area that is supposed to be safest in town, called Victoria Island. What a hellhole first of all and secondly, the hotels were like $500 a night. I literally walked into this hotel, very basic, and asked if they had a room. They said yes and I was relieved because of the nightmare day I’d had getting there and all I wanted was to sleep and relax. They said the room was $500 and I nearly hit the floor laughing but they were serious. Long story short, I ended up staying at this no tell motel in the middle of a really crap area for like $100…amazing.

Not to harp too much about how awful Lagos is but the airport deserves some mention as well. First, the population of Lagos is nearly 20 million people and the UN says in ten years it will be the most populous city in the world. This is ufortunate because it is a big problem and cannot possibly sustain that amount of people. The airport is a nightmare of epic proportions. They tell you to get to the airport between four and eight hours before your flight in order to be sure you get to check in. I got there about 5 hours before and was unable to get a good seat and ended up in the middle seat because as they said, I should’ve got there eight hours beforehand. Amazing. The airport is also overcrowded like you can’t believe and there is complete chaos the whole time and nobody who works there does anything. That is very similar to a lot of places I have been on this trip but in Lagos, they are very rude about it. The bottom line is that I will not be going back to Lagos any time soon.

I was fortunate that I was able to get out a few days early because I may have had a heart attack if I had to stay there any longer. I was able to get to Paris yesterday to watch the Inauguration of Barack Obama with people from all over the world cheering and clapping and it was a really touching moment that anyone who watched will not soon forget. It is once again OK to be an American traveling and I am proud that he is my President. We no longer have to say we are Canadians to avoid the inevitable tirade about how much they hate Bush and how he has destroyed the world.

Paris is such a treat and I am sorry I have to leave but have a lot to do back in New York before I go to Mexico next week. I was very happy I got to go the Hemingway Bar in the Hotel Ritz and had dinner in Montmartre last night which is one of my favorite places on the planet. I just had lunch in Paris and will be heading to the airport shortly and will have dinner in New York tonight. I am a little sad because this trip was wonderful and was a true epic. I will reflect on it and write some type of summary soon. Thanks for all your emails and take care.

Comments

  1. Haha, so you,re saying you liked Lagos!?

  2. Congrats on 200, amazing! That sounds awful about Lagos.

  3. you would say you are canadian

  4. Wow.. Congrats on making TCC #200 (I’m at 123) and surviving Nigeria. I was shocked looking at hotel prices there.. $350+ seems normal!

  5. I’ll be in Lagos in August, and I had hoped to actually visit some of the very few city sites, but perhaps I’ll stay near the airport until my flight to Libreville.

    The Lome fetish market is something — I picked up some stuff, hoping to purchase it, but when you look at it closely, you realize that everything is rotten and infested with insects.

    The Ganvie stilt market is much more interesting (I was in Kampung Ayer, Brunei’s stilt market, and its surprisingly similar to the one in Benin).

  6. Thanks and yes out by the airport is better but not by much-dont even think about Lagos Island, try the Sheraton although lunch’ll cost you at least 40 bucks for a burger and a drink-no joke, but the whole city is honestly a cestpool and the traffic and pollution are as bad as anywhere I’ve seen, the stilt village was definetly cool and the fetish market wasn’t my scene but still neat to see…and Jake yes occasionally I did say I was Canadian to avoid a conflict…Jordan good luck with your travels and thanks.

  7. The more I think about it, and the longer my emails to several Lagos hotels are ignored, and the less likely it is that I will actually be able to safely sightsee, I am thinking about skipping Nigeria and either (1) stopping in Douala, Cameroon for a couple of days or (2) spending a day in Paris and arriving in Gabon a day earlier, which I can spend on the beach (not much to see in Libreville). As I add up the cost, its going to cost me nearly $1,500 for two days in Lagos (around $1,200 for two nights at the Sheraton; $350 to fly one way from Lagos to Libreville); visa; etc., which doesn’t seem worth it. The Nigerians must be very wealthy on account of the 419 scams.

  8. If I could do it over again knowing what I know now I would have literally entered overland during the morning to Lagos and had a driver show me around, if even that, and taken an afternoon flight to Calamar in the SE of the country and then taken the ferry to Cameroon and continued down into EG and Gabon. Calamar is supposed to be a decent, for Nigeria, place…however in reality, had it not been for the TCC list I would’ve skipped Nigeria totally…saving aggravation, time and money.

  9. Wow that’s an amazing write up on Lagos. I have never been there but have a buddy who worked an oil gig out there and said that Lagos is like hell on earth. Also, I think you’re stories and what you are doing are amazing. How do you get so much time and how do you plan all this stuff? I imagine it must take forever. I would freak out if that stuff happened to me at the border. Good luck.

  10. I have been following your trip blog for the west africa trip and your stories are amazing. Can we trade lives? My job in accounting is fun too!

  11. Why are these West Africans so bad? A similar thing happened to me in Dakar. I disembarked from a cruiseship and ok, was billeted in a nice seaside hotel. Fine. Then I had to go to the airport to cartch my flight to NYC. First my driver, instead of driving me to the airport, brings me to a port police station where I had to sit waiting for my papers to be examined. The police there kept asking me my name, which was written on my passport, over and over again. I kept quiet ,because I could feel a shakedown coming. Then after 30 minutes, I was told to go back to the car. Then a police officer came with me with my papers and when I arrived at the airport, I had to pay tip to the driver, to the luggage handler, and then finally to the police office, who demanded $50 for checking me in! I was so mad, but was helpless because you never know with these places. I will never visit or go through any West African nation again in my life!

  12. The shakedowns are very frustrating. I am dealing with African type shakedowns right now in the Pacific so I am feeling your frustration once again. Don’t write off all West Africa bc there are a lot of good places to see

  13. Funy, this came up in a google search — I had forgotten what I had written. Needless to say, my plans changed in 2009. But, I’m writing this now in Libreville and after visiting a Gabon national park and visiting Cameroon I’m heading to Lagos.

  14. Oh! One of those Nigeria is a hell hole place and Lagos is just crazy article…well you are wrong! Spend quality time next time before making conclusively negative comments.

  15. Wow (and correct me if I’m estimating this wrong), so you came in through the border, stayed one evening and left the next day and having had 24 hours worth of bad experiences, wrote off an entire country as hell on earth. And your fellow narrow minded commenters, none of whom seem to have spent any significant time in the country all concur and throw up more stories about “these West Africans”. If this is what it means to be a professional traveler, you can keep your condescending and ill-informed observations.

    It seems a meaningless quest to travel the world and engage so little with the people that all your observations are surface level. As someone who lives in Nigeria, I can’t deny any of the experiences that you’ve had. Our borders are terrible and oppressive, the airport is more bus park than international terminal and we’ve got horrible traffic and unreasonably expensive hotels. That being said, we have a super vibrant nightlife, some of the warmest people in the world, ancient and beautiful cultures, an array of amazing food and a country which when explored properly, matches any other in the world for beauty. So all that you know about Nigeria or even Lagos wouldn’t fill a thimble and is no more valuable than the half-bit of space it takes on some server in the middle of America.

    The sort of travel you do is the vacuous and pointless, awarding only bragging rights and no actual engagement with or understanding of the places you travel to. You’re not a traveler, you’re the worst sort of tourist.

  16. Wow Tomiwa, THANK YOU!!
    After reading this drivel I was ready to unleash a tirade, but after reading your comment, I have nothing to add. Very well said!

    Lee, I suspected you were an idiot from the first few lines. You confirmed my suspicions in the comment section. I suppose you can’t be bothered to learn the names of places before you write them off as unworthy. CALABAR in the southeast is a lovely place to visit.. and should never be confused with squid!

    Michael, isn’t it obvious those hotels are not filled with rich Nigerians? They are there to accommodate foreigners.. who very often are helping to keep Nigerians poor.

    Lee and Michael, please do not go (back) to Nigeria. We will not miss you!

  17. Re: Inauguration, back to saying you are Canadian? ;-)

  18. Wow!! 200 countries, congratulations Lee for your accomplishment in life.. one of my friends she visited Lagos and she told me don’t ever go there lol..

  19. I am headed to Nigeria in a few weeks as a solo 60 year old woman. I have only traveled to 50 plus counties and most of those have been in the ” third world “. With research you can find decent hotels in the 60 to 100 dollar range in Lagos but you will be staying at nice African hotels not Western Hotels. I spent five months traveling Africa the last time I was there either camping or hostels or low budget places, What got me most about your post was the audacity of crossing a border like that at night or being astounded by the roads or drivers. I mean where have you been traveling? I have seen that type of occurrence in Costa Rica for pete sake. All of these situations go with the type of territory you are crossing. Why you did not exercise reasonable fore thought? That AMAZES me and things could have been much worse.In Guatemala even the taxi drivers hire armed escorts to take people any distances at night.
    I plan to spend 2 weeks traveling Nigeria.and then reverse your trip North. I certainly know not cross the boarders at night even Nigerians avoid doing that , But then I have put in research and talked to many locals and yes… here is an idea, read Lonely Planet on a Shoestring it would have told you not to do that.
    But I will let you know how my journey goes and post pictures on my website.

  20. Komolafe F. Francis says:

    Everybody @ d border shakes u down for every last cent u have…plain cloth-men chheckin at border…Drug poeple harrasing you…no receipt for payments…check points everywhere…rob you blind..costly lodging…airport over-crowded!!! Whao!!!
    What is that single thing that is POSITIVE in your less than 24hour experience in Lagos? NOTHING! BY YOUR ARTICLE!!!
    Your description of Lagos is much of cooking up familiar lies which actually betrays the core objective of your tourism. I wish I could pick your points in defence but it’s useless since I observed you had no single light and positive-mind to interpreat your stay in Lagos, Nigeria.
    ”The mind on its own place in itself can make heaven of hell or hell of heaven”
    Take this guy, LEE to heaven, he will locate HELL.
    He is no PROFESSIONAL!!!

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