Overlanding through Nigeria was an adventure on its own as part of our sustainable expedition, let alone doing it all-electric. Getting in, driving through, and getting out all had their own challenges. Altogether it was an experience we will never forget in our lives. It made us a day older, but in addition, it made us realize many stories we heard upfront about this one-of-a-kind country, are not true. We would like to take you along and share our experience in this article.
Getting our visa for Nigeria
Nigeria was the most difficult country to get into up until now, and we expect it is for the entire expedition, as tourist visas were just not available at the time we wanted to cross Nigeria. Until now we organized a visa in a capital city in a country upfront the country you want to go to. However, for Nigeria, this was just not an option. Besides, our Dutch government could not help us from a distance either. Luckily, we were connected to a company in Nigeria itself that invited us over and arranged a business visa on arrival. It took them a week to arrange it, after which we had the paperwork to present ourselves at the border.
We wanted to enter in the first half of March 2023, as the later we would enter, the bigger the chance that raining season would make some roads impossible for us. Because there were elections on the 27th of February as well as on the 18th of March, this was not ideal. Elections in Nigeria could cause strikes or violence on the street, and this is not something we would like to be in the middle of. To stay on the safe side with our expedition we decided to hire a gunned escort car to drive with us. An escort car meant two policemen and a driver in a police car with flashlights. We just could not imagine what it would be like, but it felt like the right thing to do.
Entering the country Nigeria
On the 15th of March, we arrived, as agreed, at the SEME border of Benin/Nigeria. Exiting Benin was done in 5 minutes, but entering Nigeria was a totally different story. When the visa was requested, the company had to fill in that we would enter via the international Airport in Lagos, to pick up our visa there. However, the chief at the border did not agree. We just did not have the right paperwork to enter over land, we had to book a flight from Benin to Nigeria. As a sustainable expedition we are, this was for us of course, not an option. We share this in a couple of sentences, but this process took all morning! By some people at the border, we got advised to try another border more to the north, as this was smaller so a bit less official.
So, we drove 2 hours to try again at the Idiroko border. Here we heard we had to pay a bribe of 250 dollars to get an officer to help us. We decided to accept this bribe, something we normally never do but felt we would otherwise not be able to enter this country. We had to wait for hours again. The result; we had to pay 200 dollars extra for two customs officers to guide us to the Airport of Lagos, to arrange a visa there. They would take our passports with them in the car, to make sure we would follow.
This resulted in a very uncomfortable but once-in-a-lifetime experience; driving with customs officers in front of us and a police car behind us. Sirens, guns, and knives were shown to people on the street to clear the way. We could pass all the police stops without stopping as we had police with us… We felt like celebrities, but not in a way that we would like to be one.
At 9 pm we arrived at the airport. Here it took a couple of hours again, but than we were legal in the country. 16 hours later… We did it!
Driving through Nigeria
After a good night’s sleep to charge our personal battery, as well as the battery of our car at a wall outlet, we were ready for the next driving day. In Nigeria, we had decided to charge on the grid, whenever this was available, as we wanted to cross as quickly as possible due to safety and the fact that it would be difficult to find safe charging places to lay out our solar panels. In the end, we drove a bit faster than normal and made long days on the road to do so.
Driving through the city Lagos
The city of Lagos is the most crowded city we ever visited, with over 22 million citizens. We arrived at night, a part of the day we normally don’t drive in Afrika, as it took a lot longer at the border than expected. We only drove the main roads, which look almost the same as high ways in Europe, except for some big differences;
- Many cars drive in the opposite direction
- People walk on the street. There are sometimes even markets on or right next to the road.
- There are no lines on the road, so the cars decide how many lanes a road has. Sometimes too many lanes exist so that cars almost touch each other.
- Everybody honks to let the others know he or she is there too.
- There are more cars of which the lights don’t work than that do.
- Yearly car checks are not known in Nigeria, so there are a lot of cars driving around that almost fall apart.
This might sound like a situation that just cannot go right, but somehow it all does. It is a controlled mess you could say.
Charging our electric car in Nigeria
Did you know that Nigeria is actually very far in using renewable energy? 75% of their energy is generated with biomass. This does not mean it is a reliable network. A power outage happens almost daily and can last an hour up to several days. Of our 12 days in Nigeria, we drove 7 days in a row through an area where there was no electricity from the grid available. As it was very cloudy with rain showers now and then there was no other option than to charge with a generator. Not a green solution, but it was the only way to cross this country over land.
When we told people we would cross Nigeria for our expedition, we often were told stories about it being unsafe. Kidnapping, strikes, robberies, and more. However, while crossing the country, we never saw any real danger with our own eyes. What we did notice is that because of all the stories we had heard, we did see a lot more potential danger, but if this was right, we truly don’t know. Looking at the facts, we did see some differences compared to previous countries:
- The officers at police stops were always armed. They looked quite hostile at first, but when we stopped, they were just checking if we were OK. The more east we drove, the nicer the police o military men were. A friendly chat, asking what we thought of the country, never a hassle or asking for a bribe. If we compare this to other countries in West Africa, it was easier and more friendly even.
- There were several stops where nobody was wearing a uniform, but they did stop us to check. Why? We don’t know.
- Local people were very happy to see us and thanked us for visiting. Even more, compared to other countries we crossed.
- On the day of the election, the 18th of March 2023, nobody was allowed to drive in the country for safety reasons, so we stayed in a hotel all day.
- At hotels they always had security walking around with guns.
To conclude, we felt a lot safer in this beautiful country than we expected. In addition, we were surprised by the kindness of the citizens as well as the beauty of nature here. After two days of driving with an escort, we, therefore, decided to say goodbye to the escort and continue ourselves.
Quality of the roads in Nigeria
The roads in Nigeria consisted mostly of very smooth tarmac. Sometimes with potholes, so we always had to be aware, but often reliable as well. There was only one very big ‘but’ for us…
All border crossings from Nigeria to Cameroon were closed, except for one – driving from Nguroje to Banyo. As we wanted to drive all the way from North to South Africa overland, we decided to go for it… However, this road was far from good. We knew it was a dirt road and it would be challenging for us, but we wanted to give it a try. As our slogan is not for nothing; #DareToGoElectric
The most challenging road up until now!
All 120km from Nguroje in Nigeria to Banyo in Cameroon was a dirt road. We drove fast through previous countries, to be here before the months with heavy rain, but it had already rained some days. The road was muddy, rocky, and steep; for a jeep with high ground clearance a fun road, but for us it was emotionally and physically challenging. There were not just some parts challenging, it kept on going. On day one we drove 25km in 6 hours, the next day we drove only 30km from sunrise to sunset, followed by a charging day as we consumed way more energy than expected. On the last day we drove 10 hours to cross the last 60km. Our car got some dents in the bottom plate, but as Renske walked a lot in front of the car to guide Maarten through the tracks, the damage was limited. We did it! But I think both of us got one year older in those 4 days…
We think it will take some time until the next electric car will drive here… However, we do hope it is sooner than we think.
The difference between driving this road with our all-electric expedition car
As said this road is the only border crossing that is open for tourists at the moment. Therefore, all overlanders take this road or ship their car to skip the road. What would be the difference between driving this road with a regular fuel car compared to our expedition car?
Disadvantages of our expedition car:
- Our ground clearance is just 18 cm while every other jeep is a lot higher. This was our biggest downside while driving this road, as you hit something very quickly.
- The location of the battery, directly underneath the bottom plate of the car, made it extra important for us not to hit the bottom, as it would be impossible to repair the battery here in Africa. Besides, it is the most expensive part of the car.
- As our expedition car is heavily loaded with solar panels and our personal stuff, we are very heavy in the back of the car. If the road was a bit slippery and we tried to stay on a higher part of the road, not to hit the bottom, the back of the car could easily slide over to the lower part of the road. We just did not have any control over this because of the weight.
- We don’t have a “clutch-kick” which gives a quick strong force to drive over stones
Advantages of our expedition car:
- The bottom of our car is entirely flat, because of the battery and the protection plate beneath it. This was a big advantage compared to fuel cars, as something we could softly slide against this plate, but not break a mechanic part as there just are none.
- The bottom frame of our expedition car including the springs is very stiff. This resulted in the advantage that when there was a big dip in the road we had to conquer, we could whip over it. First one wheel would be lifted in the air, then we drove a little further, and then the other wheel would whip up. We could use this stiffness to prevent us from touching a stone or else. Of course, this is not what the car is made for, but as we had no choice it made a big difference for us.
- Once moving, we had so much control over the car’s speed. It did not matter if we went steeply uphill, steeply down, or on flat terrain… We could drive very slowly very controlled, and therefore drive precisely the part of the road we wanted. We would control the speed to the max. This is more difficult with a fuel car, sometimes the slowest speed is for example faster than you would like it to be.
- Last but not least, how silent our car is while it is on and standing still or driving. We could communicate very easily when I was outside the car to guide Maarten, and we could enjoy the scenery or focus on driving without a loud engine sound by hiring bird sounds
The border crossing from Nigeria to Cameroon
In the end, we made it out of the country this way, overland!
Where it took us 16 hours to get into the country, it only took us 16 minutes to get out. The officers at the border were very nice and most surprised to see our car at a location like this. We can definitely understand why!