Arriving in Lagos

Everyone, I think, gets their first glimpse of Lagos when they reach the Lagos International Airport.

Of course, your first glimpse of Lagos if from the air. But for those of you who hasn't been to Lagos yet, this is how the city looks from the air.

The map below shows how far the airport is from the main business districts of Lagos and Victoria Island. On a Sunday, the journey from the airport to Ikoyi or Victoria Island will take anywhere between one to one and a half hours. On weekdays, pray hard and leave 4 hours earlier. Don't take the risk. Traffic is unpredictable. No point in arriving late and then having to pay a fortune to be allowed to board your plane.

The first thing you'll note when the plane lands is that everyone claps. I don't know why but this has happened on both our flights into Lagos. Then you alight from the plane and walk towards Immigration. Just follow the long queue. You will be given a white Immigration form while on the plane, to be handed to the Immigration officer. If you haven't filled up the form, this would be a good time.

At Immigration, join the queue for foreigners and don't be surprised when you find how long the queue is. Be patient. Patience is a trait you need to pick up if you're going to live in Nigeria for a while. Everything moves slowly. A picture of the Nigerian immigration is shown below. Hand over your documents and the white immigration card and after a while you should get your entry stamp on your passport.

Beware: Just because the Nigerian embassy in your country gives you a 3-month visa, doesn't mean you can stay in Nigeria for 3 months. Check the entry stamp for the due date. That is the date you have to leave the country. As for me, since I was on a TWP, I got a 3-month entry but while my wife was also given a 3-month tourist visa, she was only given a 1-month stay in Nigeria. Be warned.

Baggage claim can be a long wait, especially when two or more planes arrive at the same time. This is a good time to take in some Nigerian experience. Take in the experience of people whom you'd be sharing sometime with in the next few weeks or months. And while you do that, keep an eye out for your bags. They do arrive, eventually.

Once you get your bags, then head over to the Customs officials who will be smiling at you from afar. Their duty is to check your bags for interesting goods for themselves. Oops. Anyway, don't be shocked when they ask you, "What do you have for me today?" Their asking you for money. Just smile politely to them and say that you're new here and this s your first time. Apparently this doesn't apply during December since everyone is eager for money and they will pester you to part with some Naira.

Once you pass the Customs officials, you'll immediately come out of a door and be greeted by two young ladies asking you for your baggage tag. Remember to hand over your baggage tags (usually stuck to your tickets) to the customs officers once you pass through the exit doors or else you will not be able to take your baggage out.

And then you're finally in Nigeria, safe and in one piece.

Driver, Take Me Away!

You should know who will be picking you up. You should know his name and local mobile number. Call him from your phone. Don't expect him to call you - he isn't paid as well as you are.

If you see someone holding your name (they rarely do), ask him his name and the destination before you follow him. Be prepared to walk a bit from the airport to where the car is parked and be prepared to carry your luggage part of the way - the roads are filled with small holes.

Don't expect all companies to greet you in this manner. When I was in Nigeria with Dover Engineering, they handled my arrival well enough but they could have done better. They didn't tell me who was picking me up. I was told by the Immigration officer to call a number. I didn't know then that Dover had instructed the Immigration officer to help me with my passport and immigration duties and then to pass me the drivers contact number. Other than that, I think everything else was well planned out.

Pictures below show you some of what you may see on your way to Lagos.

Your driver will drive you straight to your destination. He will help unload your bags. Don't be surprised when you see barbed wires on the walls of your hotel, this is only for your safety.

Departing Lagos

Departing Lagos is a real pain. It's full of hassling. Everyone, and anyone, in authority you meet will ask you for money. There are two types of people who'll hassle you - the ones who can make your life difficult and the ones who just want money.

The first person you'll probably meet is the policeman at the entrance. He'll be dressed in all blue. He'll talk to you for as long as he can, subtly asking for money. You can normally get passed him without paying a cent if you bear with him and if people start building up behind you. When we arrived at the airport, we paid N350 for a ticket which allowed the bell boy to roll our bags into the airport. The bellboy will inform you that you can bypass the check-in queue to Customs check point if you part with N5000. N5000 is too expensive. Keep your money.

You'll quickly note of a tall man, usually in white shirt, mute, who will come and look at your boarding pass. He will ask for N1000 to by-pass the queue. N1000 is reasonable for the time you'd spend in the queue. But also be aware, once you agree and he takes you out of queue, half way, he will stop and ask you for another N1000. If you don't pay, he will ask you to go back to the ever growing queue. Just pay and get it over with.

At the Customs check point, they will go through your check-in luggage manually. This is just to find any wooden artefacts that they could demand money for. Apparently, if you buy wooden artefacts, you need to get them verified at the National Museum. What you need to know if that the National Museum has moved from Lagos to Abuja. The officers know of this. They just want some money from you. The last time we travelled, we ended up paying N2000 to them to allow us to take our wooden artefacts out.

Once you pass Customs, someone will check your passport and e-ticket, if you have any. Then you wait in line to get your boarding pass. Be aware. This is not a routine matter. It's utter chaos. It took us 30 minutes just to get to our turn. Be warned. Remember to ask for your white immigration form. You need to fill this in and pass it to the Immigration officer later.

Now that you have your boarding pass in hand, with your passport, walk towards the departure gate. At the gate, we met a real asshole of an officer. All he had to do was to check that departing passengers had their boarding pass but this officer kept pestering us for money. He kept saying, "Master, master, this is the weekend. What do you have for me?" My wife got irritated. This officer was quite arrogant when asking. If he was humble, we would have given him a tiny bit but his arrogance was too much. We didn't pay and after a few minutes of strong words, we yanked our boarding pass and moved on. It's okay to pay for services rendered but not to someone who didn't have anything to offer at all.

Once you pass through the Departure Gate, you'll reach immigration Control. Pass them your passport and boarding pass. Normally everything moves quickly here. No hassle whatsoever. Then you come to the point where they will scan your hand carry luggage. Remove your belt and shoes and go through the scanner. As I write this, Nigeria hasn't implemented the full 3D body scanner yet. They might in the future.

After this, you walk to your gate. There will be restaurants and lounges for you to grab a bite. My advise - eat something because things can usually go wrong and you might have to wait for hours.

At the gate, during boarding, get your boarding pass ready. Have it scanned and get to your seat. And enjoy your flight home.

Congratulations, you've made it. Tell me if you're willing to do this again. I will. It's an experience.