Though situated in the very heart of the city of Port Harcourt, my sister’s new residence, a three-storey building with 12 tenants, was one of the few unfinished buildings in the area. Part of what was yet to be done, was a proper electrical connection. It was said that immediately after the rooms of the building were ready, the first tenants of the building, who were very eager to move in, contracted electricians to do a temporary connection pending when the landlord was going to contract electricians to do a proper electrical connection. But from tenants to tenants, the temporary connection lasted. It was a connection that merged the apartment of different individuals into groups, and resulted in joint bill payment.
The compound had about four groups and the bill was always shared equally amongst apartment owners of each group. Although the area like many others in the city could not boast of at least a daily 3 hours of power supply, at the end of the month when bills were served, tenants were cooperative with payments. At least for my first five months living with my elder sister, I could say this was true for our compound, until this particular month. Two groups, my sister’s group, and another group in the compound were unable to pay their electrical bill. For my sister’s group, the reason was that one of the members had relocated the month before, and the other one couldn’t afford his own part of the three-person bill that was now shared between the two of them, he and my sister. For the other group there was just one defaulter, it was a married man, who clearly stated to his group members that he wasn’t going to pay his electrical bill from that month on. According to him, he was fed up with the scanty power supply and was ready to use his electricity generator only.
I was sitting outside by my balcony one evening, when staff of Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company’s (PHEDC) pickup truck stopped by my compound. Seeing the personnel walk in, I knew we were just about to experience blackout for some days if not weeks and there was really nothing I could do about it. So, I casually went down stairs to the house of my neighbor whose husband refused to pay the bill and jovially informed her that PHEDC personnel had come and finally they were going to disconnect my sister’s group and her’s. She laughed and said “For what? They won’t disconnect me oh.” I laughed and then asked her if her husband had paid the bill. She said he didn’t. Then I chuckled and said “They will surely disconnect us then.” She just chuckled as though to say: “You don’t know what’s up,” and then went back to what she was doing. It wasn’t up to 5 minutes later that one of the company’s personnel knocked requesting for the bill.
She quickly went into the room, spent some time, after which she came out and went straight to the door and said “The bill?” “Yes ma,” the personnel replied. “We don’t have any bill, we forgot to pay,” she said in a rather carefree manner, and then she took his right hand with her left hand and put something in his palm and the personnel chuckled and said “Madam, make una dey pay una bill oh” and then she said “ah don hear you. Next time we go pay.” And then he turned around to leave.
I was shocked. Firstly, I didn’t expect that from her, and secondly, I didn’t expect the personnel to take the bribe that easily. While he was making his way down the stairs, she came back to me and said in a whisper “Won’t you call him back and tip him off?” I chuckled, and replied, “I can’t do that, Ma.” She looked at me as though she was surprised that I was willing to make what she thinks is a terrible mistake then asked:
“You won’t? Would you rather have your line disconnected and then pay the bills and also the reconnection fee of N2,000 later? Whereas you can tip this guy off even with a small amount as N500, and you won’t have to pay the bills for this month.” I was staring at her in surprise. Then she added “You think it was a big money I gave him? Only N700. And the bill from my husband is supposed to be N2,500. That’s what I do when my husband is unable to pay oh. Yes, I tell them I will pay later but sometimes I am not able to. But I think it serves them right. After all they don’t supply power as much as they should.”
I looked at her with so much amazement with the thought of the event in mind. It was a wonder.
I am a Nigerian and this my corruption story.