Nigeria - Abeokuta
Day 107 (20 January) – Crossing the border into Nigeria
In the morning before crossing to Nigeria we need to fuel up. Fuel is supposed to be cheaper in Nigeria but we want to have a relatively full tank at least to start with. We traverse town several times but see no filling stations. We ask around and fuel is only sold from bottles by guys on the side of the road. We see plenty of stands – lopsided wooden tables or precariously balanced pieces of wood displaying wine bottles, water bottles, round bottomed 5 gallon glass jars all filled with fuel. Most places only have petrol and we have to ask at a number of places before we find one guy who can get diesel. He has one large 20 liter jug. He places a large homemade funnel into the tank, puts a lovely pink scarf over the opening (to filter the fuel on the way into the tank) and dumps in the jug. We want more diesel so he jumps on his motorbike with the empty jug and speeds off. He is back within 5 minutes maneuvering on the motorbike with a now full 20 liter jug. We repeat this scenario several times and then make for the border.
For anyone crossing at Kétou the douane is in town (we drove to the border and then had to drive back to town to sign out). This crossing into Nigeria has a reputation for being much easier than crossing farther south to Lagos and indeed we are the only cars crossing at the time. The border town is more like a village but we are only able to locate the administrative buildings based on markings in the GPS (they are hidden in the bush!). The officials are very friendly. We have heard tales of horror from people with right hand drive (RHD) vehicles (like the red Landie) in Nigeria. We looked up in advance to see if we can find any official documentation on line that would help us. We came across the Nigeria National Transportation Guidelines of 2004 (amended in 2007) which clearly state that it is illegal to import a RHD. It doesn’t mention it but it is perfectly legal to transit Nigeria in a RHD. The customs official at the border confirms this and stamps our carnet without question.
The road to Abeokuta is filled with police/customs/immigration/security and public health checks with unbelievable frequency. It is beyond absurd. At each stop the officials roll out nail board in a menacing manner and motion us aside. At the first stop there are 4 stations (wooden shacks with any number of un-uniformed men lounging around, reading the paper, listening to the radio, talking). Security asks us a few questions about our route. Customs looks through our stuff and food stash (even tasting the dried lentils). Health checks our vaccination cards. The men of shack number 4 which is about 5 meters in front of where we are parked make no motion to approach our car. Security/Customs and Health bid us farewell. We buckle up the kids, start up the cars and start to drive. Then the men from shack number 4 pull us over. We literally drove 2 meters and then they pulled us over – with no sense of shame! We pile out – it is immigration and they want to SLOWLY leaf through the passports. Finally, they roll back the nail board and we are on our way.
In the first 20kms of Nigeria we have had more than 15 stops. Sometimes there is no more than 200meters between stops and it can be a stop for the same thing. We are very friendly, patient, obliging (which is difficult after the 10th time!). Most involve getting out of the car and sitting by the side of the road while details are hand written into books. We’ve been advised by Stefan and Haike to have a personal document to hand out (name, home address, passport numbers, car info) and we are indeed handing them out liberally that first day. We make it to Abeokuta without having to pay and ‘fees’ and hand out any ‘presents’ but are exhausted from all the ‘pleasantries’!
We camp at the Abeokuta Golf Club. The golf course is finished but most of the planned remainder of the complex is yet to begin construction. The Manager is extremely friendly and offers to have someone show us around Abeokuta the next day. He also mentions that the King of Egbaland is currently on the course playing golf and he will see if he can arrange a meeting for us! The king and his party are having dinner on the lawn and we watch the Manager approach him. He is literally chest down on the ground as if he is going to start doing push ups before greeting him. He tells us the king has invited us to the palace the next day.
Day 108 (21 January) – Meeting the king in Abeokuta
We are up early, shower, shake out the most acceptable clothes we can find and try to find a suitable present for a king! We saw he had been drinking wine the night before and dig out a bottle of red we found in Burkina. Then, together with the golf pro and another worker we drive to the palace. We are brought into a grand reception hall and sit waiting on overly puffy chairs with gold paint and dark satin cloth looking at the holiday greeting cards that were sent to the king and his family. When the king enters the room the two men who brought us jump onto the floor, they are almost flat on the floor while they are offering greetings. The king responds and they back onto their seats on the couch. We are frozen and not sure how to best greet him. We smile and try to look humble. We offer our bottle of wine (which is taken, unwrapped and then shown to the king by one of his assistants). He is fantastically friendly. He asks where we are from and it turns out he worked in Friesland for a few years! We tell him Eowyn is very interested in princesses and he tells Eowyn that she looks like a princess! After a couple of minutes he excuses himself – he has a busy day. They are inaugurating a number of chiefs today which is one of the many responsibilities of the king.
After our visit Jacob, head of the golf instructors, and the other worker of the golf resort (sorry, cannot remember his name) take us to Alumo Rock. A chunk of granite which dominates the city and is sacred in Yoruba religion. The golf pro began negotiations for our entrance. It is a performance we will witness many times in Nigeria from the market to any administration. It is a performance that covers an operatic range of emotions which ultimately saves you little or no money but seems to be genetically hardwired into Nigerians. The summary is: you must negotiate for a reduced price (or to get whatever it is for free) but you must always compensate the ‘favor’ with a tip or a donation which often is the same or more than what the asking price of whatever it is. The negotiation begins with greetings and compliments asking after family members and establishing their relationship with each other. Once the numbers start flying there are looks of shock, horror, treason – how could you possibly expect to pay so little? What about my family? My honor? It is almost war. Then finally a light, a ray of hope, a compromise, and an agreement. Smiles once again. We even had to do this for a pineapple in the market. The golf pro went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth with the pineapple lady and in the end, after the opera, told her, quite happily, to keep the change (making it the original asking price!).
The guys from the golf course really helped us out. Besides the great tour of Abeokuta they took us to the market, to change money and to get diesel. It was a great couple of days and showed us a nice side of Nigeria that we had not expected to see.
In the afternoon Jacob, the golf pro, gave complimentary golf lessons to Niels (after which a tip was paid for all his work). After tucking in his shirt and some instructions Niels could have a go to hit the ball golf style (not ice-hockey style). He swings, nothing… He swings… grass… Some more instructions from the head coach… Niels swings the golf club and… The ball moves! But does not do a lot more than that. After an hour or so Niels was able to hit the ball some 50 meters, once… Golf is more fun than it looks!