Kano to Zinder – How Many Bribes Can You Pay in Seven Hours?

Theoretically, the road from Kano in Nigeria to Zinder in Niger should take about three and a half hours. It’s not that far (200 km), and the roads are actually quite good. But when travelling in an overloaded bush taxi, African style, things change.

The Nigerien driver, Moussa, was not too happy when we brought three pieces of luggage to the bush taxi stop in Kano. He was eager to get our business, but tried his hardest to get us to pay extra for our bags. We refused. Since everyone else brought lots of luggage, we weren’t quite sure what the problem was. Until the car started filling up.

Bush taxis are five-seat Peugeots that serve as public transportation between major cities. Often, this is the only method to travel in Africa. The goal of the driver is to cram as many people as possible into the car, and thus make as much money as possible on the route. Usually, this means three people sitting in the front seats and four in the back. But Moussa obviously needed more cash, so he made room for two women and a toddler in the trunk. The luggage was spilling out from the back, tied down with cords, and so we started our journey with nine adults and two children in a five-seat car.

Now, this method of travelling is not without problems, something Moussa must have taken into consideration when calculating the risks vs. gains. In Nigeria and in Southern Niger, there are police checks in every village. Given the bush taxis are legally only allowed to carry six passengers (and only carry as much luggage as would fit in the trunk), this gave the police a good reason to stop the car and get their bribes. In every village, at every police check along the 200 km route, Moussa paid the police a bribe of about a dollar. Which meant that every single policeman on the route, both Nigerian and Nigerien, was corrupt, and that it’s simply an accepted fact that no one even questions any longer.

However, the most interesting situation happened about 10 km before the border, at the Nigerian customs check. Suddenly the car stops, three men get out and get onto moped taxis. All the luggage is reloaded to fit into the trunk, and the poor women in the back finally get to sit on proper seats. We drive 2 km, and the car stops again. The men who had driven away on mopeds are sitting under a tree waiting. We reload the car and the two women get to go back into the trunk again.

Apparently, if the customs see that your car is overloaded, you need to pay a fine of 10,000 Naira (~$60). Unluckily, someone tipped off the customs guy, who caught us as we were reloading the car. A bribe of 2,000 Naira satisfied him.

Strangely enough, the immigration officials at the Jibaya border crossing were of the honest kind, and Eduardo and I didn’t need to pay any bribes this time. Phew!

So, in this style, seven hours and twenty-thirty bribes later, we arrived in Zinder, Niger.