Cotonou, Republic of Benin’s commercial capital, is one of West Africa’s most visited cities. Many traders and businessmen from neighbouring countries throng the city on a daily basis to buy various goods, ranging from electronics to cars and even household items. Regardless of where you’re travelling from, everyone who has gone to Cotonou always has an interesting story to tell. This is the story of my journey from Niger state, Nigeria to Cotonou, Benin Republic.
My name is Mohammed and I’m a young Nigerian who had no knowledge of what awaited me as I prepared for my journey to Cotonou. Prior to the trip, I had heard stories about the city, mostly from merchants who had gone to buy fairly-used or ‘second-hand’ imported shipped in goods through the city’s buzzing seaport.
After a long and strenuous journey from Niger through Kwara, Oyo and Ogun all states in the south-western region of Nigeria, our bus arrived at the Idi Iroko border by 3.45pm same day. Then began the long wait at the border for the ‘formalities’, from where the bus will be cleared and granted rite of passage. Suddenly, my phone beeps; and it’s a text message from my mobile phone network provider in Nigeria wishing me a safe journey and productive stay in Benin. The network service provider also informed me that my services from that moment will be provided by their Benin provider. Upon seeing that, I was excited to say the least, as it means that I will be able to stay in touch with all future calls and text messages.
As soon as our bus was cleared by the Nigerian Customs Service and the Nigerian Immigration Service, then came the turn of the Republic of Benin side of the border where the Beninese Police, Customs and Immigration were waiting to begin their own formalities. Thankfully, that didn’t take as long as the previous encounter.
Finally, my co-travellers and I arrived in Benin, and everything changed to the unusual. The roads, houses, people, culture and the likes seemed so different from the homes in my home town in Niger State. Signboards and all road signs were written in French language. At that moment, I started recalling the few ‘Francais’ I had learnt during my elementary school days. And that gave me an insight into why French is offered as a subject in Nigerian schools.
As the bus moved on, I later learnt that small deposits of petroleum abound offshore near Cotonou, as well as other mineral resources like iron ore, phosphates, chromium, rutile, clay, marble and limestone. Unfortunately, these mineral resources are yet to be mined to its fullest.
Finally, we arrived Cotonou, the country’s largest city with a population of over 1.5 million people.
The city lies in the South-East region of the country between the Atlantic Ocean and Nokone Lake; and is home to many of the government and diplomatic services, making it a de facto capital. Cotonou is a major seaport of West Africa.
It’s also home to an airport
and a railway that links it to other towns
Other interesting facilities worthy of mention include the:
the colourful Cotonou Cathedral
a Central Mosque
and the Ancient Port Bridge
The city also has a 20-hectare Dantokpa Market (with a commercial turnover of about 1 billion CFA Francs a day)
Finally, Cotonou is home to the National University of Benin – an institution founded in 1970, comprising of 19 institutions and 6 campuses.
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