By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat
Nigeria Police Force is generally regarded as one of the most corrupt institutions in Nigeria, but how corrupt really is the Nigerian Police and to what extent do they perpetrate their acts of corruption? This is what I tried to find out in my recent trip to Ilorin from Abuja.
On 8th May 2018, I embarked on a road trip from Abuja to Ilorin. This is not an ordinary trip like others; it is more like going on a fact finding mission.
Before embarking on the trip, I had gone through the route many times and i understand that commercial drivers often part with their hard earned money at every police check points. However, my mission on this trip was to find out, if it is possible for a commercial driver to drive pass these police check points without paying a bribe.
On the day of my journey, I woke up early, so as to get to park early and have brief engagement with the drivers. When I got there, i requested to see the driver that would drive our vehicle. A tall fair man identified himself as the driver and i asked him, after greetings and other jokes, if it was possible to drive us from Abuja, all the way to ilorin without paying police bribe on the high way. His response was, lai lai (impossibility).
I asked him again, if he has ever attempted to drive without paying or he his just assuming, but his response wasn’t straight forward. So, to cut the long story short, i requested that he should resolve on driving us to Ilorin without paying any police on the road. The driver told me it was impossible.
According to him, this is more like going on a journey to nowhere, because no matter how much we try, we would end up paying, even more than we should have paid. At the end of our discussion, we could not agree to embark on the journey, so I had to look for another driver.
Finally, I saw a driver willing to do this with me. Immediately i spoke with him, we seem to connect almost instantly. While discussing with him, he told me that there is nothing he dislikes like giving police bribe on the road.
According to him, these officers make it seems like you owe them money and it irritates him. For this driver, he often try as much as possible not gives police money, but he has been forced to do so on many occasions.
He opines that, one of the reasons he usually succumb is pressure from passengers. He said to me, if you don’t want to give police money, they will ask you to park and keep you there waiting and soon after, the passengers will start mounting pressure on you. Some will beg the officers and you will be left with no option than to part with some money.
As we agree to embark on the journey for experiment, the driver seems happy that a passenger is willing to support his long held view on police bribery and at exactly 7:45 am, we departed Abuja for Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
Driving out of Abuja didn’t give us much stress because the security officials are not usually the demanding type. While they will stop you briefly, hoping to see you extend your gifted hand of bribe to them in kind. If they didn’t see anything, they will let you go without much ado. However, this was not the case in Kogi, the state of Yahaya Bello. Immediately we drove into the confluence state, the security officials became more hostile.
At checking points in lokoja, police will stop the vehicle, hoping to see the gifted hand of our driver extend some squeezed naira note into their tactically stretched hands, but if they didn’t see the bribe as expected, they will ask the driver, why is there nothing for them and irrespective of the response, they will reluctantly let him pass. The situation was the same all through lokoja, until we got to Okene, the drama scene.
Police officers at Okene are extremely mean and corrupt, they are always determined to extract bribe from drivers at all cost. It doesn’t matter if you have all the papers, all they want is money, which you must be forced to pay. To them, not paying bribe is a crime.
The first police check point we encounter at Okene taught us some bitter lessons. As is the usual practice, the officer stopped our vehicle, hoping to get the naira note, but nothing came fought. He looked at our driver with that kind of eye that says, you are in trouble today, but the driver didn’t bother.
Park, the officer said, in a harsh and angry tune. The driver oblige.
Where is your driver’s license was his next question, as if he is a road safety official mandated to check license? The driver gave him the license. Where is your vehicle papers, he demanded again and that too was handed to him. After seeing that all paper were intact, he walk away briefly with the papers to attend to other vehicles.
Moments later, he came back to complain about what was written on the change of ownership document. In his words, Kwara was supposed to be written in a particular place and not in a particular place. The government produced it that way, the driver said, but the officer interjected. This is a fake document the officer said, accusing the driver of crime, of which the driver disagreed, while making it clear that, if indeed it was a fake document as claimed, that means government actually produced the fake document, because it was obtained from the government.
As the arguement continued, the officer insisted that we must wait so that he can show us the document was fake when compared with other kwara vehicles. It was at this point that I came down to speak with the officer. When I asked what the matter was, the officer explained that our driver’s documents were fake and he has told him that, but he is arguing with him. So, he has to hold us here until other kwara vehicles come, so that he can prove to him that the documents were indeed fake. You know, it some times feel good to hear the lies, when you already know the truth. After much interaction, I asked him the final question. Should Kwara vehicle come here and the documents were the same, will our vehicle be allowed to go? And he responded in affirmation. I went back to speak with the passengers and urged them to calm down and be patient so we can sort out the issue.
As we were waiting there for confirmation of our document, more than 5 kwara vehicles without documents came and pass. The drivers would simply tell the officers, I don’t have papers and right before our very eyes, more than 5 of such vehicles drive pass after paying bribe.
Can you imagine? The same police holding our vehicle which has all papers, simply because our driver refused to pay bribe, is the same passing vehicles without papers at all. Ha, naija police.
Any way, we were there for almost an hour waiting for a vehicle with complete papers like ours.
At some point during argument with our driver, the police threatened to take us to their station and I encouraged them to do so because it is better than staying on highway without headway. I asked the driver to enter the vehicle so we could go to their police station, but the police didn’t go through with it. Obviously, it was just a threat to force the driver to plead and pay bribe, but it didn’t work.
At the end, a Kwara vehicle with complete papers showed up and lo and behold, all his papers were the same with ours. But again, while this other vehicle was allowed to move on after paying the usual bribe, we were still held back, this time with no more reason. It was at this point that our driver began to vibrate for the officer. They engaged each other along with other officers until we stepped in to calm the situation. After speaking with other officers, i went to meet the officer in charge and asked why we are still being held after our papers have been confirmed, pointing out what he had told me earlier that should our document be the same with others, we would be allowed to go.
I asked them again, why they are still holding us after confirming our papers, but they have no response.
I had to school them on the consequences of what they were doing. While these was happening, I took pictures of all the officers, but and somehow, we were asked to go. I thought I would post their pictures on line, but I didn’t feel that would solve any problem. Police corruption is an institutional menace from top to down; making scapegoat will not stop it. So, I deleted the pictures.
After leaving that spot, the situation seems to have empowered our driver and he felt even more confidence. At some point, when the police ask our driver to give them money, he will firmly respond in negative, looking them straight in the eyes. A particular police officer even made it clear that if you do not give me the money, I will waste the time of your passengers, but our driver will not burg. I don’t have any money, he declares.
This was how we continued, until we got to Ilorin around 6:30pm. It is my understanding that, if Nigerians want a better country, we must be willing to pay the price to have it, starting with insisting on doing the right thing. Just imagine, if every driver suddenly decide to have their documents intact and decides not to pay police bribe, what can the police do, other than letting them go? While we can continue to urge the authorities to do the right thing, nothing stops us the people, from doing the right thing too.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat is a lead researcher for Nigeria Peace Index, a Human Right Ambassador and Executive Director of Foundation for Peace Professionals (FPP). He can be reached at [email protected]