The distance between Cotonou and Lagos is about 80 km, so we were convinced – considering all expected troubles at the border -, that we would arrive in Lagos around 10 a.m. when starting in Cotonou at 6 o´clock in the morning.
We expected some small troubles: Manuel had lost his vaccination card, and the stories we heard from Maryam and Joachim were not really promising.
We arrived the Nigerian border quickly. We had to get out of the taxi, I went barefoot because of the huge blisters on my feet. People offered me their sandals, but no way.
A long row of tables, we had to go from one to the other for control: passport, visa, vaccination card, drugs, customs… On every table somebody new who asked, why we did not get our visa from Vienna, but from Cotonou. Why we want to go to Nigeria. Obviously, they were looking for something to make us pay, we observed a constant stream of money, going into the officer´s pockets.
Manuel was stopped at the first counter because of his missing vaccination card, and after a not too small payment he was allowed to pass. A few counters later he had to pay again.
I mentioned Susanne Wenger and could pass all controls quickly. On the last counter they asked: “What do you bring to our people?” – “Sorry, we have nothing left.”
We continued in a Nigerian taxi. The driver charged a huge amount of money, because we are white, and this means: more police controls than usual, more troubles. Our Benin driver had charged money from him to hand us over, and there was some fight we did not understand between people we had never seen before. They passed money around, and finally we could go: Welcome to Naira land.
After some hundred meters we had to stop for the next control. The car before us did not stop immediately, the policeman was beating on it with a golf club. Everybody had weapons – heavy guns, small guns, knifes, golf clubs, metal claws… We felt a bit uncomfortable. There were stops every 5 minutes, Manuel had to pay for his missing vaccination card again, and some stops later they wanted to have money for a mask Stefan bought in Mali. It was a souvenir-shop Dogon mask, obviously new, but they wanted to charge money for an antique. Endless discussions, they wanted Eur 30,-, this was more than the money he paid for the mask. Stefan could not pay, they wanted to keep the mask, not even Susanne Wenger could help… Finally we said, we would leave it with them, but we want official papers, so we could claim it back. We could keep it for 1000 Naira, which is around Eur 5,-.
During all this horror drive I observed mostly women in orange overall, cleaning the streets. They had the logo of LAWMA on their clothes – Lagos Waste Management Association. Joachim and Maryam had been there already, the director expected us to come with the video camera. I was too shocked with all this police controls to take any pictures of the waste workers. There was police everywhere, and cameras definitely would give them another reason to make us pay.
We finally arrived in our hotel at 1 p.m. – exhausted and frustrated. We did not feel like going anywhere, the country seemed to be hostile. The taxi driver was complaining all the way about mismanagement and too much police, traffic jams and controls everywhere.
We had the first hotel room with air condition, so we switched it on and went to bed. The hotel had high walls, barb wire and a strong gate, protected by a guard day and night. We felt secure.
After a short nap, I wanted to contact my friends in Lagos and check emails, but there was no internet and no phone to the outside world. After checking the hotel nextdoors, we found out that it had internet, but was much more expensive, so I looked for an internet café nearby.
People on the street were helpful and friendly, quiet atmosphere. The internet café was close, the hotel manager gave us his own sim card for our cell phone, and we could start to organize our stay. We called Mr. Bode Fanima of LAWMA, and he visited us at 10 pm for a drink and talk. He promised to arrange a meeting with the executive director, and a visit on their biggest waste disposal site: the waste dump of a city with 18 million people – we were excited!