Cotonou vs. Tokunbo cars: Which is better?

Posted by: Testimony Olajire

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So you have the money and you don't want to go for a Nigerian used car that has suffered all the bad Nigerian roads and poor Naija maintenance culture? Ok, the question is: Tokunbo car or Cotonou car? Let's weigh them up with Naijauto insider!


Many might be confused by Tokunbo and Cars from Cotonou

First, just a clarification: More than 70% of cars in Nigeria are secondhand and that is the original meaning of the word ‘tokunbo.’ However, importers try to distinguish between cars brought from Europe and America usually through Apapa and Tin can port, and those brought in through Cotonou.

Cotonou is the economic capital of Benin, although the capital of the country is Porto-Novo. In the automobile business, it is recognized as one of the largest hubs of vehicle sales in Africa. Cars are usually brought from different parts of the world. As a result, many Nigerian importers find a way to get them into the country through the border.

Tokunbo cars, on the other hand, are cars imported directly to Lagos from the US, Europe, Japan by ocean freight.

Hope it is clear!

So for the purpose of this article, ‘Cotonou cars’ will refer to cars brought in to Cotonou from other parts of the world and then to Nigeria, while ‘Tokunbo’ cars would be cars brought in through Lagos.

So, Cotonou vs. Tokunbo, which is better?

1. Source of cars: not much different

There is not much difference where importers get their cars from. It depends on the specific importer. Some car importers ply Europe, visiting countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to obtain used cars. Some others prefer to get their cars from North America. Whether they finally end up in Lagos or Cotonou is immaterial.

>>> Here are 


Tokunbo cars might cost more for numerous reasons

2. Quality of cars: Tokunbo wins

Most car importers and dealers would tell you that ‘Tokunbo’ cars are usually neater and of higher quality than Cotonou cars. Let me put it like this, the chance of getting a high-quality car in Lagos at those ports is higher than in Cotonou. There are several reasons why this is so, but I would try to explain them.

  • Ease of Importing cars: Cars are way easier to import in Cotonou than in Lagos. An importer in Lagos would definitely spend more on accommodation, freight and clearance at the ports than in Cotonou. Indigenes in Cotonou are allowed to bring their products in for free and pay for freight after their goods are sold. It means that almost anyone can get cars into the country. Since there is a relatively lower threshold for importation, then it means that even people who are not so knowledgeable about cars can get cars into the country.

  • Some cars that have been already put off the road can still be brought in into Cotonou and sold. In Lagos, the chances are quite lower. As an importer, going outside the country, paying for freight in a foreign country, accommodation, feeding and other expenses, you would want to bring quality back home! When you then think of the customs issue and import duty, you most likely would not want to be tagged as a ‘seller of bad cars’ and this would guide your choice of vehicles you bring back home. But when things are a little loose, people get away with many things.
  • Some of the cars can be damaged before they get to Nigeria. This lowers their quality too.

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3. Price of cars: Cotonou cars are cheaper

It is common knowledge that cars cleared in Lagos are more expensive to clear than those gotten from Cotonou. It might take up to 400,000 to clear a Corolla at Apapa, while the same car can be cleared for 320,000 at Cotonou. You have a difference of 80,000, which is quite significant. This is particularly more significant if there are several cars to be cleared at the ports.

>>> Make sure you know all these insights before heading to Cotonou:


The clearance cost makes up a large portion of the price tags of used cars

4. Ease of clearing cars: equally difficult

Clearing cars at the border can be a very big deal. It is very difficult to clear cars in Nigeria sometimes. This is because of the fact that apart from the standard expensive import duty involved in clearing cars, there is also a lot of politics and power play involved. You might have to ‘settle’ some people to get your cars.

It is not always so, but the Nigerian Customs might be a difficult hurdle in the importation business. I mean, things can get really interesting and you might need very strong connections to prevent your car from being impounded.

In Cotonou, it is way easier. The government makes importation very easy for indigenes and the entire process of clearing vehicles is not as difficult as it is in Nigeria. Apart from lower import duties, you can even pay freight and money for other expenses incurred after making your sales.

However, even if you clear your cars from Cotonou, you would still have to clear them when you get to the Nigerian border and issues have actually become a little bit more complicated since the closure of the border.

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5. Transport of cars: Tokunbo cars get their advantage

It is easier to get your car from the port in the country. Once it lands in Lagos, all you have to do is clear it and you are good to go. But if you get a car through Cotonou, you have to clear it there and then find a way to transport it into Nigeria, most likely by road. The more you expose the car to the road before you actually begin to use it, the more likely you might get some dents or even worse, accidents or theft.

>>> If you want to import a car from the US yourself, definitely read this:


How to get your car to Nigeria safely from Cotonou is quite a headache

6. Terrain familiarity: Tokunbo definitely wins

It is true that you should only buy cars from places or people you are familiar with.

After all, the business is capital intensive.

But in Nigeria, you want to buy cars, you know Lagos well. It is our people at the border. You might have some problems but even if you do, you can always find a way around. But going to Cotonou, if you are not very familiar with the place, it might not be so easy to get support.

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In conclusion, there is a lot to be considered in settling where you get your cars from. You should consider your familiarity with the terrain and the people you work with. Do you have more people in either place? Are they honest? There are malpractices everywhere.

You gaz shine your eye!

With the recent closure of the border and the issue with customs, it seems like a better option to get your cars from Lagos.

After all, the real name is ‘Tokunbo,’ meaning it came from ‘the abroad,’ not Cotonou! Hope you have your own answer for the Cotonou vs. Tokunbo question.

>>> Find more helpful articles on in the Tips and Advice section!

Testimony Olajire

Testimony Olajire


Testimony Olajire is a witty and innovative content writer with He creates top quality educative content on automobiles that readers can both relate with and enjoy. He has a keen interest in understanding what lies under the hood of any car, practical driving and safety tips, automobile history and managing automobile-related businesses; all in the Nigerian context.   

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