At around 17:55 hours on Thursday, 6 April 2017, my bag pack was set for a holiday trip to East Africa. I could not contain my excitement because I had really wanted to travel to this part of Africa and finally, an excellent opportunity just presented itself.
My flight was scheduled to leave from Cotonou, the capital of Benin Republic, which is roughly 3 hours from where I live in Lagos. I could have taken off from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, which is only but a 25-minute drive from my house. The cost of flying from Lagos is more than twice what I paid to fly from Cotonou, so, it was not a bad deal. The date of departure was Saturday, 8 of April 2017 by 19:30 hours, but I was ready by Thursday. I made sure I had my passport, vaccination card (yellow card), a pen and writing material, my power banks and phone chargers, two shirts, two trousers and a short. Three underpants, toothpaste, toothbrush, mosquito repellant, milk, beverages and so on.
I set out for work that evening hoping to leave for Cotonou the next morning. I also had to plan my movement this way because I do not know how long it may take me to get foreign exchange I needed to travel. The era of travelling with just ATM cards out of Nigeria and making withdrawals abroad within Africa is past. The present economic situation in Nigeria as at the time of writing this made the government restrict cash withdrawals on ATM to only outside Africa.
Friday morning, after several contacts who promised to help me raise the foreign exchange I needed failed to turn up, I decided to go get some myself. I have heard several stories of people getting fake currencies and going to jail for the same reason. I decided to go to a credible source to raise mine. I went to a certified Bureau de Change at the Murtala Mohammed International airport and their rates were quite acceptable. I also had rest of mind as I was very sure I was travelling with original notes. Now, I will advise every reader, travelling from Nigeria or Africa in general to try as much as possible to source for foreign exchange from credible sources. The cost of getting it from an unknown or unreliable source may be unpleasant eventually – you will lose everything and risk a jail term (if you are not able to bribe your way out)
Leaving the airport, I set out straight to the Nigeria/Benin border. Travelling from Lagos to Benin Republic has two different border route options. These includes the Seme Border and the Idiroko/Igolo Border posts. Personally, I prefer the later because asides the fact it is closer to my house, the formalities when crossing the border is less complicated and easier compared to that in Seme. The experience I had the first time I passed through Seme was so horrible, also, the traffic on the Mile 2/Badagry Express Way in Lagos always make me think twice each time I intend taking that route. Another problem on this route, especially for a first time traveler on this route is that the number of illegal posts and stops there are just too much and each of the stops require people to pay bribes.
Personally, I choose to call this route Idiroko/Igolo route because the name of these borders differ depending on the country you are in. in Benin, people call it Igolo while on the Nigerian side it is called Idiroko. This is unlike Seme where both sides of the divide are both Seme.
I eventually settled down in a hotel around 18:00 that evening. After a good relaxation, I checked out 12:00 on Saturday afternoon the next day and headed straight to the airport. I have some nice friends I could have stayed with but sometimes, it is cheaper to stay in hotels than staying with some friends (note I said some friends especially the ones who like beer) and I was scared of spending $110 or $15 dollars on beer…since my travel was on budget. The hotel was only 3000 CFA for a night (roughly $5).
As expected, I got to the airport on good time. On my way to the Departure Entrance, someone called me from behind…excusez-moi monsieur! Excusez-moi monsieur!! (Excuse me sir). I turned, but did not want to stop knowing fully well that some of them are likely airport touts. J’ai des affairs te propose! (I have a deal to propose to you). Then I stopped, holding my bag and my phone firmly, I responded, ‘Je t’ecoute!’ (Am listening) then he told me he had some cloths he wants to check into the aircraft with my name. He promised to pay me if I could help. Knowing fully well the implications of what the consequences will be if what they intend to check into the aircraft in my name is illegal or contained banned items, I politely asked them what they wanted to check-in and where the final destination of the goods is, he told me it was African wax (wrappers for women) and that it was going to Libreville in Gabon. I politely told them was going to Nairobi and I may not be able to help them at this time. They understood and wished me a safe trip.
Now if you are a traveler, it is advisable not to even take along something you did not pack or arrange yourself when travelling. This is because, even someone you know too well can mistakenly put in something that is not supposed to be in the plane in your luggage. Also there are cases of people giving something to someone in the airport which later resulted in arrest, imprisonment and even execution of such people who something they knew nothing about was found with.
However, note that this is not a call not to help people in need. Personally, I have helped people check-in luggage in my name and also helped them retrieve such when we arrived our destination. Sometimes, you may see someone you really love and care about…if you really care, you can do it for love (as Tupac sang …'what you wouldn’t do, do for love!')
We boarded the plane at 18:00 hours Saturday evening and the pilot announced we would be making two stops at Libreville and Douala before leaving finally to Kigali. At Kigali, we will change another plane for Nairobi. The thought of stopping at Libreville got me excited because it was that same airport that some of the Biafran soldiers were flown to for training during the Biafran/Nigerian war.
Also During the trip to Libreville, my mind was trying to imagine what the whole experience to East Africa would look like. I had planned to visit the following cities: Kigali, Entebbe, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kilimanjaro. The picture of Kilimanjaro Mountain I saw on the in-flight magazine even got me more excited. I had several dreams and pictures of what am going to do when I get there. How I am going to get a room to myself, to behold the wonderful city from the window and enjoy the highest peak in Africa. You had to be in that plane with me to understand how I felt.
Our plane headed for the runway at exactly 19:30 hours and after 1 hour 30 minutes, we landed at Libreville. It was such a memorable moment for me. I tried to cast my mind back to the late 1960’s during the Biafran war. I imagined what was in the mind of some of my fellow Biafran officers when they landed there for training. I also imagined the vast number of refugees who were flown from Biafra to this same airport. I felt like yea, am getting value for this tour. As I scrambled at these thoughts, I did not even know when my neighbour left the plane and yack, I was there alone.
We eventually arrived Kigali around 5:00am Sunday morning, which was 4:00am Nigerian time. I made it straight to the visa application stand while many other passengers made it to the Transit section. I said to myself, there is no need flying to Nirobi since I will still come back there to take a plane back to Cotonou when am done. That point was where the first set of trouble started for me.
This immigration officer in question had a very familiar look of a friend I have known for a while (a Kenyan). I told him I wanted to get an e-visa for East Africa and he asked me why I needed a visa for East Africa, I told him am tourist. He requested for my passport, which I gave to him, and he looked at it, said something in Swahili and then called out to one of his colleagues in French to come and see.
This new development got me a little bit worried. They started asking me all sorts of questions. Where is your flight reservation to visit other places in East Africa, if you plan to use a bus, what is the name of the border town you will pass and several other 'stupid' questions. (Deep down within me, I knew they were doing those because of their feelings towards Nigerians). It was then that someone that seemed to be their superior came and asked me a few questions that I answered him. He looked at my passport, after going through the document and asked me where I stayed in France since he saw I have been to France, I told him I was in Paris, and he then asked where in Paris, I told him it was a place close to Portes de Versille. He then grinned and told me that even a little baby born yesterday knows where Portes de Versille is.
At this thought of this, I felt the man may be mentally deranged; it was at that point I went to WhatsApp, to pick up the exact address and I showed him. That was how the ‘idiot’ started to read all my WhatsApp messages without my consent. It was very embarrassing as I watched him go through those messages. I asked for my phone and he told he is coming. It was so pissed off at what he was doing. He was making jest of some of the stuff he was reading in Swahili and afterwards, he told me they cannot give me the East African visa and that I should continue to Kenya where I initially made a booking to go.
In fact, for some of you my friends who sent me private messages…he saw everything…even those of you who sent something confidential and I promised no eyes will see it, I am sure someone else has seen it. This also goes to stress the need to delete or remove unwanted messages for your device after reading. It is always good to do clean up once in a while.
Still feeling unsatisfied, the man took me to the security point and asked the security to search me properly. They searched almost everything I had and then asked me to go and wait for the plane I had for 8:00am local time for Nairobi. I was mad. I was wondering why Africans would be hostile to other Africans. I also attributed this to the Nigerian passport I had because it was at the point they saw it they started misbehaving. At that point, I made an initial Facebook post to curse them…because I read somewhere that cursing people may helps to reduce the gravity of pain and annoyance they caused. Some positive words and encouragement I got from friends when I made that post encouraged and kept me lively until we landed at Nairobi.
Nairobi had a cool temperature as it was in Kigali (around 17 degree centigrade). I was wondering why we in West Africa, except for Dakar of course have very warm temperature and East Africa has it cool. With these and several things that has happened in the day bothering me, I headed straight for the immigration. They asked for my Yellow Card (Vaccination Card) which I presented and then I proceeded to fill out forms for the visa. A friend who did not bring his vaccination card with him told me they asked him to pay a bribe of $20. Which he had no option but to pay.
The immigration officer (a woman) asked me to go in and see a particular woman who will have to confirm if my return ticket is valid and write an instruction for her to give me the visa. The woman confirmed it was valid and there and then asked me to tell her the exact reason I was coming to Kenya. I explained to her that I was coming for Tourism and she said I was lying that she is just giving me 10 minutes to tell her why am in Kenya. I was full of surprises. I spoke to her, madam, please look at my passport and see that I don’t even stay more than two days to most of the countries I visit. I just come in and am out. She started cursing me: “How much do you have to claim that you are a tourist, we work here every day and when we see tourists, we know. As far as I am concerned, you are not a tourist. You are here for another business and you must have to tell me what it is or I send you back” – that she yelled at me and I was just looking at her. At that point, some of us there went to the woman privately and she was demanding for money to let them go. She demanded as much as $200 from one of us. Some other Indian who came in with Ethiopian Airline called a friend of his, who came to the airport, gave them money in our presence and they let him leave.
At this point, I knew it was either I go back to Nigeria or I would not give them any dime especially when I know that my intentions are genuine. While submerged in this thought, an ugly looking short man with stomach as big as three pregnant women put together came out and I went to complain to him, he rather screamed at me and said I should tell them what I came for or they will send me somewhere.
One other person with us there went in to them, settled them and left and it was just me and one other Nigerian. When it was obvious to them that we did not intend to do anything (giving them bribe), they now asked us to follow a particular man. The men took us to a detention facility within the airport premises and told us that we will be there for some time. That they will come for us at the appropriate time. To be continued...