“Corruption don reduce since Buhari enter”
This is the kind of conversation you listen to when PHCN has decided not to give you light for two days and all your gadgets are dead. You step outside your hot room into the equally hot sitting room that serves as a common room and listen to your housemates argue about government policies, the dollar, and different economic policies you are not sure they have adequate knowledge about. Later, you reminisce about their discussions, has corruption reduced in the lives of the average Nigerian? Has your life gotten better?
You are a very ambitious woman and you want to have a Ph. D before you turn 30. So, you apply for your transcript to be sent to your prospective school, after a month, nothing. You ask about it, they say it hasn’t even been touched. A well meaning person offers to help, but you have to pay double of what you paid to apply for the transcript, it is a business, the people in charge have to be paid. You sit and wonder, your dream will not come true because a man will not do his job, his job that he gets a salary for, if you don’t offer him a bribe. Nigeria is a poison, you know. It kills dreams.
At the tertiary institution you work, it is that time students defend their dissertations. The lecturers should have refreshments, so the students are asked to pay N1000 each for project defense, in a school where each class has about 200 students. For seminar presentation, it is N500. Even to collect their results they buy the exam officer recharge card.
“I can’t even use N500 to eat”
You have absconded from your place of primary assignment again, you need a breath of fresh air, you tell yourself, this place is suffocating you. You take a sit in front with the driver, you love front seats. He stops at a police check point, hands the officer N200, and says “oya, give me change”. This rattles you. When did the relationship between a driver and a police officer become like that of you and the tomato seller? He parks, gets down from the car and follows him to the banana tree by the side, when he gets back, he is with change. You ask him:
“Is it change you went to collect?”
You smile and shake your head. It is a gesture of Nigerian understanding, a silent way to lament and show amusement at the level to which the police has degenerated. He tells you, “that is how they collect it, even if you give them N1000, they will give you change” and goes on to lament: “if you don’t give them, they will just delay you for nothing. Last week, I was going from Auchi to Ibilo, there were 7 check points and I had to give them N100 at each point. Before I buy fuel, before I fix little little things, I’ll give the police money too, I can’t even use N500 to eat”.
Your wallet has been stolen, with your ID card. To process a new ID card, you are asked to get an affidavit and a police extract. At the court, you are told “its N700 we do it”, you pay and get an affidavit with N200 written on it. At the police station, the officer looks at you as if gauging how much you should be charged, she says “Na N2000 we dey do am but because you be corper, bring N1000”
“Ah! I don’t have money o”
“You don’t have money? Toh, take your affidavit, na so we dey do am, even if you meet oga. Your mates, that how we do it for them, why is your own different.”
Oga is not around and from the looks of things Oga may never be around. So you pay. You get home and ask your father how much he pays as tax, and you wonder if getting a police extract was intended to be a source of revenue, the amount fixed for it, if discounts really exists for corpers, if the government will get that money.
We are our own Problems
Travelling from Ilorin to Offa, your bus gets stopped at a police check point, the driver complains of not having change to give the officer and pleads with them, he is asked to park and the passengers start shouting at the driver:
“Didn’t you know you’ll meet them on the road?”
“You know they would collect their own”
“You know you’ll settle them”
“You should have kept their money aside”
It is night and no one is blaming the police officer for the delay because of N50, the passengers seem not to think that it is wrong and the police officer is not shy about it. So here they are, outraged at a bus driver for not giving a bribe, fighting for the ‘right’ of a police officer as per ‘the police is your padi’.
The corrupt practices of the police is nothing strange, it is a very normal fabric of Nigerianness. And each time you are travelling, the exchange between the driver and a police officer is something normal and expected. But the demand for change and the colour nicknames of the currency amuses you. They call N50 white and call N100 brown. You hear them say “gimme white” with so much normalcy it seems it is legal. The wrong things have become a norm and corruption now feels like the law.
You have a thing for soldiers, and you think the Nigerian army is amazing. You respect soldiers and you love the way they always emanate some aura of discipline and perseverance. And so when the driver was asked to park his car at a check point, and he picked up a N50 note and went to their patrol car, you hoped they would turn him back and punish him for even attempting to bribe a soldier. He comes back and you ask:
“Soldiers collect bribe too?”
“Yes oo, but their own style is different. You’ll take it to the car”
A passenger behind you scoffs and says “Nigeria”- a lamentation, in that scornful tone you are used to, you’ve heard it plenty times, when your neighbours complain about the PHCN bill, during fuel hikes, when civil servants complain about the Governor that received bail out funds and refused to pay their salaries…
Nigeria – it is a word pregnant with a lot of anger, frustration, depression and all round negativity, and sometimes, for the faithful, a tint of hope.