Just as the some the greatest features of Nigeria are in Lagos, most of the official and economical events of the Benin Republic takes place in Cotonou even though the capital is Port-Novo. Cotonou also has the largest population in the entire Benin Republic.
It takes less than forty-five minutes to drive from Lagos to Cotonou through Badagry. The city looks a bit similar due to the sharing of the same land border and bridge.
The city is surrounded by nice beaches and coconut trees because of the Atlantic ocean coats the entire country. Cotonou and Lagos used to be the same land dominated by the same people according to history, but everything changed immediately after the colonists arrived.
Brief history of Benin
In the 1600s and 1700s, the major language of Benin people was Yoruba. This was because many of them drifted from the old Oyo Empire, Abeokuta popularly known as Egba people and the massive population from Lagos. The language later changed to Fon and they were finally recognized as the Dahomey people when king Agaja who drifted from the Abomey ethnicity of Plateau State gained fame by taking over some lands such as Allada and Whydal in the olden autocratic system of government.
However, the security function still lays in the hand of Bariba, Mahi and Gedevi people which are the descendants of Oyo Empire. The famous Soldier of the Dahomey was basically female and recognized as the Ahosi which means “kings wives”.
Internationally, Benin Female soldiers gained popularity and they were first called “The Black Sparta” by a British tourist, Sir Richard Burton in the 19th century.
Presently, people in some parts of Benin especially Cotonou still speak the Yoruba language, but the official language is French due to the colonial era that started immediately after the slave trade ended in this region.
The capital was named “Port-Novo” due to the activities of Portuguese who traded slaves in the area for 300 years, which means “New Port”.
Benin obtained her independence from France on the 1st of August, 1960 in the same year Nigeria gained independence ( the 1st of October, 1960) The leader who initiated the fight for freedom was Hubert Maga.
Contrary to these similarities shared by Lagos and Cotonou, many things are now very different. I had the opportunity to observe the dissimilitudes by Nigerianreporter.com during last weekend’s Africa tour. Some of the uniqueness of the two cities (Cotonou and Lagos) are analyzed below:
Structure of the city: Cotonou is a very small city compared to Lagos.
It has a very good structured drainage system and relatively good roads within the city as motorcycles have their separate routes/roadway from automobiles.
The motorcycle routes are so busy while the major roads are always free as there are a small amount of vehicles operating in the city.
Traveling by motorcycle in the morning is time consuming because of the traffic on the Okada route that is always terrible. There are no sky scrapers or tall buildings in Cotonou, which might have beautified the city.
Security forces are so disciplined but they don’t really have the physical gallantry look in terms of body shape and security devices like the Nigerian Mobile Police popularly known as Mopol.
Nature of work and business efficiency: Transportation and selling of automobiles and motorcycles known as Okada are the major business in Cotonou.
Women are the major operators in businesses especially the Okada riders and fuel retailers.
But they are not heads of business for reasons you might think, people in Cotonou believe that it is the duty of the woman to provide massively for their family. More marriages in the city are polygamous vs monogamous, which does not encourage the total support of a man towards one of his wives affairs. The women have to struggle for the survival of their family, and also pledge their loyalty to an individual husband, regardless of any circumstance.
There are no modern facilities such as POS machines to enhance the rate of transactions in Cotonou. Coins are the major currency used for daily transactions. The ATM machines occasionally accept international cards. Businesses are so easy to start up in this zone, because things are more affordable especially hotel reservations.
Official dress code is – not much required – especially for the daily activities of the Cotonou people.
What they cherish most is the traditional ankara which men use in sewing several styles that fit different jobs. The women prefer sowing only the top clothes known as ankara blouse, and then tie wrapper beneath the blouse just like the Yoruba buba and iro.
Fueling: The rate of fuel consumption is very low compared to Lagos. It is very official to buy and sell petroleum on the street at black market value. It is also more affordable to buy fuel from the black market instead of fueling stations. People in Cotonou believe that fueling stations are made for the rich people, thereby making it more expensive than the road-side black market.
How foreigners are being welcome: People in Cotonou find it difficult to warmly accept foreigners because they are not ready to learn any other language apart from French compared to Lagos, this is in my short stay opinion. Their methods of speaking are so loud to the extent that it is very difficult to determine maybe if they are happy or not. A lot of foreigners always thinks that they are being disrespected while communicating with people in the city.
The major foreigners in the city of Cotonou include Indians, Chinese and Togolese.