Thursday was my Community Development (CD) day; the day where all Corpers all around Awka assemble at their Local Government Secretariat. So as I kitted up in my loose khaki pants and fitted white t-shirt, my mind drifted through the would-be contents of this article. I thought of how much my country meant to me and what could be done to make it a better place. Top on my mind was the issue of corruption. I bordered mainly on the ideal and on how disappointed I was with stench coming from the corridors of powers. I intended to do a good job intellectually blasting the people who walk such corridors to smithereens. “Weren’t they to be blamed for the sorry state our country is in?” I asked myself. Couldn’t all these leaders be like Prof. Dora Akunyili, who stood her ground and spat on the hideous face of corruption? Or like Babatunde Raji Fashola, who is doing a great job revamping Lagos State? I certainly was going to give all who cared to listen, a piece of my mind. I was fed up. Little did I know that pretty Miss Serendipity had interesting eye-openers in store for me that morning.
I came out of my apartment and hailed a bike because I was running late. On our way, just outside my street, we met a police checkpoint. And since my okada man wasn’t wearing his helmet and, as it turned
out, didn’t have his license with him, we were told to stop by one lanky cop. After the usual, “Where is your license?” and “Why are you not wearing your helmet” from the cop, which was met with blank stares from both the okada man and I, I was told to come down from the bike and step aside. As I alighted, I tried to plead and beg the policeman, after all I was government pikin! I shouldn’t be kept waiting like this. But alas, my pleas met with deaf ears. As I calmly stepped aside, trying to put the little remaining pieces of my pride together, the policeman whispered to the bike man and moved away.
Curious, I walked to the bike man and asked what the policeman said.
“He say make I give am two hundred naira, and I no get anything. I just comot”
“Two Hundred Naira?!” I asked in alarm. In this part of Nigeria, the customary bribe given by the men of the wheel to the men of the force was N20. And I use the word “customary” as literally as possible. This point was made clear to me one day when I entered a bus headed to Awka from Enugu. The driver had a stash of N20 notes in one corner of his dashboard. I wondered at its purpose, till I saw him give it out one by one to men in black carrying guns at each police checkpoint. And were there so many checkpoints! The N20 bribe was status quo.
Yet this officer of the law, whose name was boldly written across his chest, had the guts…the effrontery to ask for a two hundred naira bribe!! What nerve! My head puffed up with indignation as I strode to where the rotten cop stood.
“Sir,” I said, “please let us go. I’m sure the bike man has learnt his lesson”. (Halfway through my walk to the cop, I reasoned that any acrimonious display would be unwise. This man had a gun.)
“I have told him what to do,” replied the cop, whose real name is Ifeanyi something…. “Let him do what I told him to do”.
At this point he decided to give me a lecture, seeing that I was educated.
“You see,” he said, “it is people like him that give us policemen a bad name. He knows what to do, but he didn’t do it. Simple license he does not have. I have told him what he is supposed to do. Let me tell you something Corper: I am corrupt. And I’m not ashamed to say it. He is not going anywhere until he does what I asked.”
His last few statements were like a slap to my face! I felt dazed. I walked subconsciously back to where the bike man was, gave him a N50 note and told him to go and pay up. As he stood up to go pay, the Oga of my self-proclaimed corrupt law enforcer came up and said,
“Corper, who stop you?”
Sensing a little ray of hope, I pointed.
“Ifeanyi, why you dey stop corper? Allow corper, make corper go.”
Feeling a little sense of relief, I was about to call the okada man back, hoping to retrieve my 50 bucks when Ifeanyi retorted.
“Oga, corper wan pay oh.”
“Corper wan pay?” the Oga said. “Oya make corper pay quick quick, make corper go!”
The man paid, I got on the bike and we left.
I was mad. I felt raped…felt victimized by the same set of people who were supposed to protect me. As the bike took me to my destination, my mind replayed what just happened, and I related it to the article I was to write. This is exactly what we’re talking about, I thought. How can this country be any better when people like this still prowl the streets? They ought to be disciplined! Punished!! Killed!!! Didn’t someone rightly say that desperate times call for desperate measures??
But this bout of righteous indignation didn’t last long, thank God. Blessed, as I was, with the gift of foresight and with a knack for introspective thinking, I started to ask myself some questions: why did I give the bribe? Couldn’t I stand for what I believe was right and demand that the cop did the right thing? Was my desire to get to my CDS on time greater than my desire to see a better Nigeria? And as
Coldplay rightly put it:
Am I a part of the cure
Or am I part of the disease?
– (Coldplay, Clocks)
I realized that by succumbing to the pressure and giving the bribe, I inexorably made myself an intricate part of the malignant tumor plaguing this country. I imagined 10 years from now, when I’ll probably be holding one post or the other; if I encounter a tight spot like this, would I give in, and give (or receive) the bribe? It starts from giving N50 bribes and quickly escalates to giving N50million. Who says every corrupt public office holder assumes office with corrupt intentions? More often than not, these men go into office with the bid to ‘change’ things, but get sucked into the black hole of corruption. If you can’t beat them, they say. Would I become like them? I have started showing promising signs already: giving N50 bribe just because I didn’t want to miss my CDS!! And here I was thinking of writing a note, trying to point the finger at the people presently in power! Who was I kidding? Their eyes housed a speck. Mine, a NEPA pole!
At this point I had to be completely honest with myself. And I decided that when next I’m faced with a decision that would question my integrity in any way, I’d stick to what’s right. I won’t give the bribe. Neither will I take it. This is no longer a case of espoused theory. I have been there, done that. I know what it feels like feeling trapped and thinking there no way out, save the easy street. Next time it will be different. I made the promise to myself.
And this is my plea to all youths all over this country, whether you’re serving, or still in school. Make up your minds to stand for what is right. Get ready to sacrifice that CD, that event, that position, that amount of money, whatever. This way, ten years from now, twenty years from now, a new set of political leaders would emerge – a new breed of incorruptible people impervious to all the antics of men of the earlier years. This set of people, you and I, I believe, would move this great country to where it belongs.
Some people would argue, albeit correctly, that the problems of the nations have nothing to do with me and my miserable N50 bribe. There’s a lot more at stake. People at the top echelons are siphoning billions every day, right before our very eyes! The problems originate from the top, and therefore the solutions should come from there. I agree. This is a matter of a problem having two or more solutions. For instance, 2 plus 4 equals 6. Also 3 plus 3 and 1 plus 5. They are all correct. If we look our problems in a top-down fashion, then the only solution would be like one proffered by a Liberian insurgent cum dictator, who practically killed everybody close to that aforementioned corridor, or his Ghanaian counterpart who, in a space of four months, purged his country of alleged corrupt government officials and business leaders, executing a few of them in the process. In spite of the brutal effectiveness of that solution, two wrongs can’t simply make a right. Ask that particular Liberian leader who left his country is a worse state than he met it; himself having a shameful end. But I prefer to consider our problems using a bottom-up approach. It starts with me. If I change, only then can I effect change.
Look at it this way: consider a certain Minister who was said to have spent a huge amount of money on a wedding anniversary party. This minister cannot hold that position forever. One day, it will be you Leke. It will be you, Amaka. It will be you, Bello. It will be one of
you reading this. At that point, will you throw your own N500bn party for your son’s graduation from Yale, and begin a fresh round of denunciation, complaints, objections, newspaper columns, Twitter
tweets and Facebook notes?
The sad part is that I’ve listened to some of my colleagues who have voiced out their opinions that if they get ‘there’, they’ll chop their own! As Asa creatively put it:
I hear my baby say
I wanna be president
I wan chop money
For my government
What he don’t know
What he wouldn’t know
What he can’t know
– (Asa, Jailer)
With this kind of mindset, we’d just be going round and round in this vicious cycle. We have to pause, really think deep, and make up our minds as to what our decision would be when we get to that crossroad. Will we be like me on that Thursday morning, and give/take the bribe? And then blame it on the corrupt system? Or would we have the guts, the temerity to stand up for what we truly believe in? As someone said, only time will reveal the true threshold of our
I’ve said enough. As Asa ended that song: “be good oh, be good oh,
We come into power
Into a place yet unspoiled
then it all becomes sour
no thanks to our lack of toil
We steal, we kill, we plunder,
We get away with silky smooth lines:
“No dull youself oh, I tell you, my brother.
You better make hay while the sun shines!”
How long shall these vices last
I observe with disdain
The labours of our heroes past
Shall they now be in vain?
But amidst the dirt, the soot, the grime-filled fiefdom
Still, what can I see?
One nation bound in inextinguishable freedom
Peace and unity!
We will get there!