If you follow me on Instagram, you would have seen my fine fine pictures of Cotonou, Benin Republic on my Insta stories. If you don’t follow me, I recommend you should asap cos ill be posting more pictures soon.
Cotonou is a beautiful city, guys. Looks very colonial if I must admit but from the moment we drove in the air was different from Lagos air… Very chilled and relaxed.
I have been through Cotonou before… via a Cross Country bus on my way to Ghana in 2016.. A travel post which is still in my draft but the experience of Driving to Cotonou is WAYYYY different from taking public transport.
I’ll break it down soon..
First of all. I have to say that Seme border is …. Arguably the worst border in the world. The level of corruption and unnecessary stress there was mind-blowing.
Would I advise you to go to Cotonou for a short vacation: YESS!!! I had an amazing experience
Would I advise you to go via the Seme Border: No!!
Would I advise anyone to drive to Cotonou from Lagos? Yes and No..
The experience wasn’t great at the border but that was our only issue. Driving in Cotonou was amazing and I can’t downplay the comfort and cost savings of having your own car with you.
I travelled with my mum and brothers and we were 5 in total. Lagos to Cotonou per person would have cost 12k per head via cross country and a total of 60k per person. We definitely spent less than that by driving so yes it was definitely cheaper.
Here are things that made our experience easier and things we could have done better.
- We got a driver that spoke both French and their language… I cannot overemphasize how helpful this was. Your high school french will not be enough to get you through some places… Our driver was also super helpful. He negotiated a lot of things and was just a great guy.
- Also, make sure you have a sharp guy.. If you all are super quiet and Calm, someone might try to take advantage of you. Benin was a different country but the laws of negotiation and sharpness work here too..
- We went in an SUV. You don’t have to go in an SUV but ensure you have a car with good shocks… we encountered shockingly bad roads at Idiroko and Seme… Like Benin-Ore bad in the 90s…
- Fill up your fuel tank. Like top the brimmmmm… If you can carry extra fuel sef carry… (I don’t think this is legal tho) Fuel is super expensive in Benin and Togo. Like Christmas in lagos fuel scarcity type of expensive. Fuel in Lagos cost 145Naira per litter. It cost almost 400 Naira per litter in Cotonou. FILL UP YOUR FUEL TANK.
- Carry cash.. I’ll do a breakdown of how much we spent at the border. Let me tell you for free.. We gave out a lot of change at the ATMs might not work.
- Be patient… Hurry hurry will not help you here… Nigerian law officials are the same everywhere. The Benin authorities see what happens at our side of the border and want their own share of the money too. Its just one sad ball of corruption.
- Carry your food… or snacks. No better food sold at the borders.. I checked.
- Security: call your car insurance company to ensure your insurance works in West Africa… and your car tracker… I recommend you already have a tracker in your car normally… Just be security and
- Don’t take pictures at the border with your camera.. (or don’t be obvious about it)… its makes the people uncomfortable for some reason..
- You might need the aid of a tout… Now, this is not necessary.. If you are already family with things and don’t mind confrontation.. Please DIY your waka. If you don’t like too much wahala and don’t mind paying more… just humbly ask for a son of the soil to fight your border battles for you.. Cos at some point it became a battle to go through.
- Your driver should have an international drivers license.. It is blue and can be gotten at the license office in Ikeja. It might not be necessary as the regular license should suffice but these border guys want to use anything you have to milk money out of you.
- Ensure you are nice and polite to law officials no matter what… Yep some of them might be illiterate and some might be stupid but you should always be polite ato law officials no matter where you are… They also hold guns…
Now that we have this clear, lets get to our experience.
We got to the badagry express road by 10:30 am… we got to Seme badagry side in less than an hour… This was a Monday morning.. No traffic …. Prepare for plety potholes and beautiful scenery… Badagry has soo many Palm trees.. Seme also extends to both Lagos and Benin republic
The first check point we passed was ok.. They checked our passports and off we went.. No stress.
The second check point was at the main border we had to pack our car and walk to do everything else. We asked a police officer for directions and we were told that our car papers, passports and yellow cards will be checked at the Nigerian side and then at the Benin side
The first thing we had to get was the international car paper also called Lesepasse or Brown Card.. It allows you to drive between ECOWAS countries and is valid for 1 month. This cost us 10,000 Naira. It also came with an insurance which cost 3,000.
Our driver didn’t have an international drivers licence and was taxed 3000 Naira. We were later told this wasn’t necessary. The next stage was yellow card checking… we had our yellow card checked and told to pay 2k per head cos we didn’t have meningitis vaccine…. This was a Scam… but we sha paid cos we didn’t want wahala.
Next stage was now to stamp our passport and this was where wahala started… at this point I had gone to look for ATM to withdraw money cos we didn’t expect to pay extra for yellow card so I left my mum to do the passport stamping.. I don’t think I should go into too much details as I wasn’t there physically but lets just say this took more than an hour plus fight, plus money and unnecessary stress..
I have to add that all of this was done under one hut… there’s no proper building at seme border. i’ts all shanties and roadside immigration officers. So everybody negotiates under the hot scorching sun.
One guy who was obviously very high on weed came to our car and said he was from NDLEA (Nigerian Drug agency) to ask for money too. lol.
Oh, I forgot to add… there are customs officials and there are immigration officers… There’s actually a difference in what they do but you can’t tell cos all of them just want money.
We finished with the Nigerian side and drove to the Benin side of the border to go and start this whole process again!!! This time in French… This was where our driver came in useful because my siblings and I were not even in the mood again. All of us were just angry at the sense of entitlement and corruption at the Nigerian side of the border and were not about to let them cheat us again. PS: This is where speaking a second language comes in handy
They also asked for money to stamp our passports(25,000 CFA) stamp yellow cards( 3000 Naira), Immigration (3000 Naira), Another car paper (10,000 CFA), Police check (5000 Naira), another car check (2000 Naira)
We negotiated a lot of things down because our driver who was familiar with the border and spoke french and I have these exact figures because the Benin officials were more transparent than the Nigerian officials… although the difference in their attitudes wasn’t too much.
The whole process took over 3 hours Just the border o. Driving from Lagos Mainland to Badagry/Seme took less than 2 hours, Then getting to our main hotel in Cotonou took about an hour.. and the Drama continued….
Heres Part 2 of the trip.
Have you been to Cotonou before? What was your experience?