We were anxious about entering Nigeria we had heard so many horror stories, but in order to head south there is currently no safe way to avoid Nigeria. We approached the Nigerian border with some caution not quite knowing what to expect. The police welcomed us warmly into Nigeria and wished us a good trip. We headed for the health inspector who entered our vaccination details into his book and wished us a good trip and then we headed for customs. Again we were warmly welcomed and they eagerly gave us advice on roads and the best route to take heading for Abuja the capital of Nigeria. The head customs man told us he had only ever seen one overlander before in a vehicle and 3 German overlanders on motorbikes. They agreed to give us an import permit for 27 days rather than the 7 days and willingly completed the carnet when we showed them where to stamp it and how to complete the form. They then helped us arrange for a man to change some money. It was looking good, we had a great send off and we headed down a dusty track towards the next village.
We had been warned of multiple police and custom check points along the way, and there would be an expectation that we would have to pay to pass or at least give them a gift. I decided to count the number of road blocks but soon lost count, some were less than a kilometer apart. Some waved us through but most stopped us and wanted to see our “permits” and many asked us what we had for them. Our reply was simple, “All we have for you is Gods blessings.” They politely thanked us for the blessings and waved us on our way.
The road at times was tarred and other times we swayed over humongous potholes along dusty tracks. We were reminded of roads in Angola except here we did not have to worry about landmines. There are no campsites and it is generally unsafe to bush camp in Nigeria so when we arrived at little village which had a little guest house we booked ourselves in for the night. Tomorrow we enter the main north – south Nigerian highway from Lagos, which has a notorious reputation for its poor conditions and high accident rate.
We thought we were prepared for the worst of Nigerian traffic, roads and road blocks. We had read everything about the stretch of road we had to travel north to reach the capital Abuja, but nothing could have prepared us for the rawness we experienced. It was like traveling through a Stephen King novel, the world was devoid of colour, everything seemed a shade of grey, the sun obscured by the thick pollution and black smoke from fires, even the piles of rubbish had no colour, no life. The road has been destroyed by a continuous stream of suicidal tanker and truck drivers, careening dangerously around the potholes some the size of bomb craters. No one has indicator lights, no one has rear view mirrors in fact some don’t even have window screens and it seems that it is every man for himself. Trucks suddenly stopped, veered in front of us or even worse came hurdling down the road towards us as we swerved off the road to avoid yet another collision. The roadside tells the stories, with burnt out wreckage of tankers, trucks and what little remains of cars. This is what hell must be like. People too are dressed in dirty gray, naked children forage through the piles of garbage alongside the goats and chickens. Nigeria has a population of 150 million and everywhere we looked there were people trying to eke out a living.
There are the numerous road blocks, the Road Traffic Police are the worst, pulling us over they tell us they have to impound our car because it is right hand drive and pull out a tatty book to show us the legislation writt’n in 1976. He runs his grubby dirty finger down the lists of infractions we see nothing about right hand cars obviously our reading skills are better than his. Tom informs him that we can’t change the side of the steering wheel and the policemen say, they will have to impound the car unless we can think of a solution. We shake our heads we can’t possibly come up with a solution he is the police he must came up with the solution. We are now into the waiting game. He asked what we can give him and too my surprise Tom once again says, “All I can give you is Gods blessing” It worked again, and we are sent on our way. Our real grouch now is that we would have repass about 40 tankers!!! Not soon after the Traffic Police pulled us over again. Demanding to see our fire extinguisher, to their loss we had the fire extinguisher so they did not even get God’s blessing. It seemed so ridiculous to want to see our fire extinguisher when we seemed to be the only road worthy vehicle within a radius of a thousand miles. Perhaps he thought we could extinguish the next flaming tanker we past. Life was beginning to feel surreal. We arrived in the town of Suleja, this must the entrance to hell. Words cannot describe the mass of people, trucks, rubbish and angry people banging on our car trying to get in. Traffic was at a complete standstill, tempers were flaring, horns blaring but not even people could squeeze between the vehicles. My palms were sweating as I recounted and recounted the kilometers we still had to travel before we would be in Abuja, not knowing how our day would end.
Finally a break and the traffic began to move again. A man had lost his load from his wheel barrow and was desperately trying to scrape up as much as he could before the next vehicle ran over his precious cargo. How does one put meaning into such bleak lives? As we drove into Abuja it was as if we suddenly found ourselves on another planet. Sweeping double highways, high rise buildings, sign posts, street names, we could have been in any modern city. We drove to the Sheraton and despite the huge cost of a room we booked in for the night. We were tired beyond caring, but we were safe and for 24 hours we were going nowhere. We had several days in Abuja as we had to get our Cameroon visa.
We decided to get our car serviced while waiting for visas. But despite Nigeria having such a huge oil supply, there are shortages of petrol, diesel and of course grease, we finally found a man who took us to a place where we could have the car greased. While waiting I spotted this sign in case of fire, and loved the instruction “run for your dear life” only in Nigeria.
We were anxious about heading back onto the roads of Nigeria, but were pleasantly surprised that the roads in Eastern Nigeria are much like any other African road, except that we still had to deal with the Traffic Police who seem to hunt in packs!! At one stop I counted 20 men all shouting instructions at us, threatening to impound our right hand drive car, telling us our International Drivers license is illegal in Nigeria, they are just plain horrid. Yet despites all their threats of intimidation we did not pay any money to anyone or give any gifts. There are 5 kinds of road blocks; the regular police, the Vehicle Inspection Police, Customs, Crime Prevention Police and then the Traffic Police, and they all carry weapons.
We arrived at Ikom the last border town in Nigeria before we head for Cameroon. We decided to travel the 20km and cross the border into Cameroon. It was 20km and 7 road blocks with young men bent on intimidating us with threats. We pull every “patience” strength we could muster and soon we were crossing the suspension bridge leaving Nigeria behind us and entering Cameroon.
GPS coordinates for overlanders
Angola Embassy; same day
5 day transit visa N09° 04.850 E007° 29.92
Cameroon Embassy; 24 hours N09° 04.281 E007° 29.385