Preparations – Visas
2019 was a year I thought I could have travelled from Lagos to Cape Town by land. I did everything to convince myself this was possible but I knew quite well that the plan was not going to work – first of all, it is very difficult to obtain the visas for certain countries in Africa. Congo DRC and Angola for instance. Secondly, I’m not very sure of the budget but I was quite sure I could find away around the whole thing if I had all the visas.
I finally settled for the following countries: Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and The Republic of Congo. I had done lots of research online about the requirements I would need to obtain visas for these countries – except for Cameroon which I do not require a visa to visit with the Nigerian Passport I use but unfortunately, most of the information I found online was not even correct. Some even had wrong addresses and wrong information. I had already obtained a visa for Equatorial in Lagos but would require that for Gabon and Congo from Abuja, the Nigerian Administrative Capital.
Most guides online for obtaining visas for most of these African countries are either obsolete and have changed over the years. Equatorial Guinea for instance, you need a letter of invitation from there which should be signed and authorized by the Ministry of Interior which would not authorize you apply for a visa to visit the country. The very first time I attempted to visit the country, the High Commissioner of the Republic in Lagos turned down my request for a tourist visa. I documented the experience here. Six months later, when I visited to try my luck again, it was approved even without the letter of invitation that was signed by the Ministry of Interior at Malabo.
This was how I obtained the visa. I visited the consulate to see the possibility of securing a visa to the country. A Nigerian consular officer there who I met the first time I came six months ago recognized me and told me I would be able to obtain a visa if I was able to convince the High Commissioner that I travel very often. She gave me tips on how to approach and increase my chances of getting the visa that day. Following her instructions, I was booked to see the High Commissioner in a few minutes.
I got into his office and was a bit nervous, because of the mental picture I formed about him the first time I visited the embassy for a visa. I started with a “Buenos Dia” which did not seem to impress him, he simply replied with a “what can I do for you today?”.
I explained to him I am an ardent student of the African continent and would like an opportunity to visit his country to see the beauty and also write about it…while I was blabbing all these, he interrupted me with a request to see my passport which I handed over to him without hesitation. He went through the pages and one after the other and when he convinced himself that my travel experience was sufficient, he picked up the phone, said a few things in Spanish which I did not understand and then handed me my passport and pointed downwards which meant I should go downstairs and collect the visa – what a man of few words. To say that I was super excited was an understatement. I went straight to the lady at the reception whom he requested I should meet. While talking to her on the next steps, a call came in and it was the High Commissioner requesting I submit a Police Report alongside my application.
Luckily for me, the Police CID department that was meant to process the request was not very far from the High Commission’s office in Ikoyi. I got the Police Report same day, even though I learnt it was free, but the officers there made me pay a sum of 6000 Naira (Almost $8 USD). I submitted my passport and left had to wait for 7 days processing time. It was possible to have it processed for the same day but I would have to pay 70000 Naira (almost $200) as against 50000 Naira ($150).
A week later, I had to travel to Abuja to apply for visas for both The Republic of Congo and Gabon. I first had to apply for Gabon with these requirements. Gabon had been a bit of a problem initially when I attempted to apply online for a visa the previous year. I had made an online application for the visa. I had made a hotel reservation for my visit, since I did not know anyone who could invite me there. My application was supposed to take three days before getting a response. I did not get a response till after 2 months or there about, telling me the visa request was denied. I even tried reapplying the second time. I however got a denial response after I had already gotten the visa from their Embassy in Abuja. A few things to note about Gabon for people who are applying in Nigeria especially from Lagos, some websites will give a Lagos address in addition to the one in Abuja. The address in Abuja is the only correct one, the one in Lagos has ceased operation a long time ago. Also, the Gabonese visa happened to be the most expensive visa I had ever applied for. I paid 100000 Naira ($285) for a multiple entry up to 3 months. The visa was processed in just a day, I picked it up the second day and went to submit it to the Congolese Embassy for their visa – which takes up to three days.
At the Congolese Embassy, things were relatively easy. I have made a blog post about the requirements for getting a visa to the Republic of Congo. At the embassy, I met a man in his late 50s or so who came for a visa as well. We somehow got talking and he gave me his address and invited me for a chat to tell me what he does and see if I could help in any way and make extra cash for my travels. Anyways, it happened the man deals on supply of security equipment like bullet proof vehicles and vests, fire trucks and all sort of things like that – I may talk to him one of these days again to see what we can do together.
For the visa for The Republic of Congo, the only challenge with it was that I was only allowed to stay in the country for two weeks and being the last country on my list, it made my travel plans tight. It did not give me enough time to get permission from work and the flexibility I wanted to plan a decent trip. To avoid having this problem, it is better when applying your visa, to apply specifying you will be staying longer than you plan to stay in the country. You may even have to extended your hotel reservation to accommodate the duration of days you intend to stay. I applied for the one-month visa category but I was only allowed to stay 15 days.
In all these, I kept the visa receipts very safe. When traveling on land in some parts of Africa, some corrupt immigration officers could request for this and not having it could amount to trouble for a traveler. Since I learnt about it, I never joked with the visa receipts of any country. I kept it safe until am back from the trip.
Leaving Lagos to Oron
I had planned to leave for the trip on a Friday, but I learnt that due to an upcoming Nigerian Presidential Elections, the land borders would be closed 12pm that Friday and would not be open till maybe Sunday when the elections must have been over.
I had wanted to do most of the travels on road then fly back from Congo. The plan was to fly to Uyo in Nigeria, from there, move to Oron from where I would board a speed boat to Idenau in Cameroon from where I would continue to Equatorial Guinea, then to Gabon and finally Congo. I had planned an average of 3 days in each of the countries as I had budgeted a total of 10 days for the entire trip.
Foreseeing the problems of closure of the land border, I had to fly to Uyo on a Thursday morning without properly informing my employer about my plan – an action for which I received an official warning for from the company upon my return. It is a good idea to carry them along especially when some plans change.
Part of my preparation for the journey was having a clean shave – an intentional action I did that almost got me into trouble. Most of the uniformed personnel I meet most times assume am one of them each time am adorned without hairs. On several occasions, I have been asked if am a military officer but I had honestly said no, am not. I purposely left it so that maybe when they ask me this time and I say yes, it would make the journey smoother for me but somehow, things almost went opposite when I was in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
We flew nonstop for an hour or so to Uyo. On ground to receive me there was an airport staff Emem who I had met 3 months ago when I first flew from the airport to Lagos after a local tour within Nigeria. He welcomed me and managed to smuggle me out of the airport. Taxis leaving from the airport to Uyo city and Oron were very expensive and I was not ready to pay 6000 Naira (almost $20 USD) to go to Oron from the airport.
Emem spoke to the bus driver at the airport staff bus to allow his ‘brother’ – (myself) to join the bus, a plea which was accepted but almost got him into trouble. They dropped us off at point where I was able to get a vehicle going to Oron, from where I would get a boat the next day to Idenau in Cameroon. He made sure I got a vehicle to Oron before leaving back to his work at the airport.
At the airport also, I noticed some three new planes that the government of the state had acquired to float a local airline that flies from the state to other states in Nigeria. The state owned IbomAir was to set to go into operation a month from the date I arrived there.
I arrived Oron a bit late that evening. I went to the Marina, where one would get speed boats to negotiate for a boat that would take me to Cameroon the next day. One of the mistakes I made was not withdrawing enough money before coming to Oron. None of the banks I visited had cash that evening –even till the next morning. Some had no electricity to operate ATM machines for withdrawals. It was a very sad experience but I hopefully was able to withdraw the next morning before traveling.