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28th Oct 12’ Armed Escort. Mono, Benin – Lagos, Nigeria

October 30, 2012

134 miles (4729 miles to date)

Last night, I thought I deserved to wear a shirt after the two borders I crossed and made a visit to the local disco. I was the first and only one in there. It was dark so I attempted a quick shimmy on the dance floor. I thought It was only then I noticed the sets of bright white teeth beaming down on me from the balcony above. The hotel receptionist doubled up as the dj and took great pride in mixing his tunes. I suspect his father owns the resort as the discothèque seemed to be his play area which was expensively kitted out.

If you want an adventure, West Africa is certainly the place.

This morning I ate a leisurely breakfast whilst looking out to sea as the sun burned away the incoming mist. Regretfully I left the beach side resort in Benin and headed towards the Benin/Nigerian border. As it was Sunday the roads were initially quiet.

I travelled through the city of Cotonou to reach the Nigerian border. The traffic, mostly scooters came from every direction. Using my IAM and London Motorcycle driving skills I weaved in and out of the heavy traffic successfully in doing so feeling a real buzz especially knowing the locals or even Police aithorities could never out power my machine. That was until I reached the end of the toll road where I accidentally missed the bypass for motorcycles. At the Paege, a security guard shouted me over then opened a gate and instructed me to enter. I hesitantly refused, suspecting there was a problem. I left the motorcycle and entered by foot, where he demanded my driving licence. I gave him an old paper licence I took purposefully for such incidents. He recorded my details so I ask what the problem was, he replied “aggression”. I think this means fine and presumed it was for using and paying at the Paege till which isn’t permitted. The guard demanded douze mil (12000 CFA), to which I strongly refused and demanded to see a police officer, he said he was a police officer and showed me his handcuffs then threatened to lock me up if I didn’t pay. I told him you are no police officer but only a security guard, however, come with me and we shall make a deal. We agreed on 5000 CFA without a receipt, for what I don’t know and wish I had of stuck to my guns by wanting to see a police officer. In future I will by-pass the peage barrier by using the grass verge as all the other motorcycles do.

Similar to the Togo border there was a road diversion along the coast and directing the cars through the bustling market areas. The road suddenly became a red sludge with deep pot holes filled with water. By not knowing the depth of the water it made for a difficult ride especially when contending with the oncoming traffic who are also trying to avoid them.

Just before the border make shift barriers had been put in place by each organisation trying to make their money. I drove up to the rope barriers predominately to let them know I am not in a position to be harassed. At the fourth barrier from the end, which is actually the official barrier I meet a fixer who helps me with my Carnet and Passport. The fixer asked for 50,000 CFA for his services so I took my documents and told him id rather do it myself. He reduced his fee to 10,000CFA, however the police officer stamping my passport demanded 25,000 CFA to register my bike. “Pour Quai?”, I asked then reminded him of my Carnet and questioned why I need to register the motorcycle if I’m leaving his country. He reduced the cost to 10,000 CFA, so in total it cost me 20,000 CFA to cross the border in to Nigeria.

Before doing so, in the queue, I meet a Dutch chap and his family working in Lagos. He asked my intended route and advised against travelling the road from Benin to Lagos alone. He offered the use of his armed convoy waiting on the other side which will escort us in to Lagos. I questioned the need but then nervously accept. Once in to Nigeria, his driver discussed the order of convoy and suggested I ride between the two 4 x4’s which had six armed guards inside. We set off at speed with horns sounding, hazards flashing and headlights on full beam driving through make shift barriers, check points and traffic lights even though they weren’t operating. To avoid the traffic and stranded buses in the mud we often crossed the central reservation to drive the opposite way towards oncoming vehicles which quickly swerved out of our way as soon as the body guards leaned out of the windows brandishing their AK47’s.

When the road improved we re-joined the correct carriageway but I over run the opportunity to turn and follow the others so had to continue for a few meters. Unfortunately, standing there, right in front of me were three non-uniformed whatever they were pointing there AK’s at me. They immediately snatched the keys from my ignition and yelled at me to get off the bike. I prayed and hoped the arm guards could see what was happening and come to my rescue. Surely enough, I looked behind and could see the armed guards running towards me to help. A rattle of gun fire sounded from behind as the guards warned of their presence. The non uniforms ducked and asked who I was, as if I was some one important, I replied I’m just a tourist. The armed guards snatched my key back and told me to go quickly and re-join the convoy.

Sixty miles in to Lagos at full speed filtering through the traffic bumper to wheel with the convoy meant I was unable to see the approaching pot holes and often felt the force as my front wheel slamming in to them making my suspension reverberate the handle bars towards my face whilst snatching at my grip.

The escorted ride was thrilling but not exactly the way I wanted to see Nigeria, actually I didn’t see anything at all because I was so busy concentrating on avoiding the escort in front, pot holes, other vehicles and the escort behind. The escort was much appreciated though I suspect it probably did more harm than good not only to my suspension but by bringing attention to me and my bike and advertising I’m in town rather than plodding along alone going un noticed.

Eight miles from my destination in Lagos, I bid the convoy a swift farewell and hold my thumbs up to say thank you whilst still travelling at speed. I’m so dehydrated; I drive straight in to the first hotel I see which is costly at 65 Euros per night. I had a good meal this evening and sighted my first plane overhead since the uk, which is a reassuring knowing an escape route is available.

Tomorrow, I hope to apply for my Cameroon and maybe Congo visa leaving only the Gabon visa to apply for before heading south.