Joel Oleson arrived Nigeria on a Wednesday and we were meant to travel Benin, Togo and Ghana. Joel happens to be one of those American guys that has been a lot of inspiration to me. He is an IT expert, a world traveler, a devoted father and a spiritual man. Upon his arrival, himself, Otome, Dayo and myself went to have dinner somewhere on Victoria Island.
The next day was a very busy one as planned. The plan was to visit a few places in Lagos and then proceed to Benin Republic and to other countries. There was not too much places to visit in Lagos, though we never included Badagry in our plan and for the fact that I had a horrible experience once with the immigration officers and touts at the Seme border once, hence I did not consider the route or anything it had to offer touristically.
I never wanted to go that route again especially now I was travelling with a foreigner. I thought they would want to take advantage of the fact I was travelling with foreigner to swindle us but I was wrong. Travelling with Americans, Europeans or foreigners across the borders in West Africa makes movement easy. In fact, you may end up not paying anything other west African travelers pay at the border.
We made it straight to Ogun State, the Nigeria-Benin border at Idiroko. On arrival, I first noticed they did not ask me to pay the usual stamping fee they always ask for. The fact remains that those stamping fees are illegal. They however hold on to the practice because they believe that other countries in the sub region do it to their citizens. Leaving the immigration post, the customs guys came after us. We were taken into a little room and a piece of paper was given to us to declare the amount we had on us. We spent some ten minutes there declaring and having our bags and baggage properly ransacked to find an exhibit that could make them get some cash from the white man. When it was obvious there was nothing, they let us go. On our way towards the Benin Republic side of the border, a mentally unstable man came to drop some mysterious object in front of us. Joel was a bit concerned if that was a charm of bad luck, but that later turned out to be a charm of good luck. We just ignored the man and walked into the Benin immigration kiosk. We spent some time arguing with us on what they perceived to be a problem on Joel’s passport. They however requested us to wait for them escalate to a senior officer for advice and this kept us waiting for almost 20 minutes. While waiting, we noticed people running from different directions and motorbikes flying on the sky. Behind these was a very large trailer – a long vehicle that was conveying goods from Benin to Nigeria. This vehicle had a problem with the breaking system and the driver had lost control of the vehicle. Just in the split of a second, the vehicle hit a car and some people and threw them into a ditch that was close by. It was an accident. We later found out lots were wounded and there were six deaths.
Immediately after the accident, we were allowed to move. Even though we were in a place that seemed secure, I sustained an injury on my leg as I was trying to run. Joel, was very grateful of the fact that his friend who he always travels together did not make it to the trip. Michael Noel is the type that once he is cleared by immigration, will leave the immigration post to have a peep into what the other country looks like – at least, I travelled with him once and confirmed it. The truth remains that if we were not delayed, we could have ended up being hit by the vehicle. But in any case, we were safe.
Leaving the Benin immigration stand, we went straight to get a vehicle to Cotonou. I was fortunate to meet an old friend Ishmael who was also a driver on that route. I met Ishmael the very first time I traveled to Porto Novo and I was fortunate he was around that day. He told us of lots of touristic places we could go to around that part of Benin. We decided to make it to one ancient palace and to the headquarters of the Celestial Church of Christ in Benin. We had a very nice time in these two places. I personally was impressed to know that there are African kingdoms that have documented histories as far back as the 1600’s. We toured the palace and thereafter, we proceeded to the CCC headquarters. They were very glad to have us and the grandson of the founder of the church took us on a tour of all their facilities. It was a very nice time there.
It was getting very dark and we had to proceed to Togo. We got to Togo very late that evening. We found a hotel and checked in so that we could see some places the next morning and continue to Accra in Ghana. The next morning, we visited a fish market, marche fetish and the independence square, after which we proceeded to the Aflao Togo-Ghana border. We crossed with border without too much problems. But I had some issues. We needed to change $60 USD to cedis, the official currency used in Ghana and I decided to go round to find out competitive prices. One of the guys offered me a very good rate and I thought it was just good but somehow, he got to swindle me. Instead of giving me the 240 cedis that was the agreed sum, he gave me 170 cedis and that was a very big lesson for me. First, I decided that I will never change currencies on the Ghana side of the border. It is always better to change at the Togo side and secondly, it is very important to ensure that you go to people who have offices or at least, you could identify with an address before you change with them. Patronising touts who offer mouth-watering rates can be dangerous. In any case, we continued to Ghana without much problem.
We got to Accra in the evening and after we got a place for Joel to stay, we decided to go to town to meet some friends. We met with some very nice friends of Joel whom were either Ghanaians trained in the US or those who came from other parts of the world to Ghana. It was during this meeting I discovered I did not have my passport with me. It still looked like a dream to me. I could not believe it. I could not imagine losing some of the valid visa on that passport which I had at the time. The stress of going to Abuja to get another passport and the fee I have to pay to get a new one. It was just too sad and annoying. In any case however, the only place I could recall seeing it last was the car we took from Aflao border to Accra. I had the receipts of the vehicle so I had to call the transport company who requested I come to their office the next morning. At that point, I could not enjoy the trip anymore. I just had to excuse myself and returned back to Francis’ house where I would be passing the night. The next morning, I went to the park and after waiting for thirty minutes, I was given the number of the driver who took us on the trip the previous day. I called him and he told me he would check and get back to me. He called me after five minutes to tell me he could not find it. At that point I felt very bad. How am I ever going to get home? How do I reapply for some of the valid visas I have on the passport and several other such questions that I asked myself. It was at that point I decided to just go meet Joel to continue our tour of Accra, that I received a call from the driver of the bus. He told me he just saw my passport! My goodness! I could not contain my joy that morning. I felt so good and I called Joel to inform him I’ve found it. It was a nice thing, in fact, you can’t imagine how I felt until you experience this first-hand. The driver however told me he would leave the passport with someone at the border as we may not be able to see when he gets to town and I agreed. I picked it up eventually.
We continued our trip to several other places in Accra, after which Joel saw me off to the park to take a bus back to the Aflawo border while himself would be flying to California that evening via Istanbul. It was a very wonderful experience you know, even though I was still sad I saw people lose their dear life in my presence.
Watch out for the second part of this article which details what you should do if you loose your passport abroad.