It was morning, that time of the day when the sun has come up but you wouldn’t want to leave the bed because sleep has a way of caressing your eyes after dawn. The sun had forced its way through the window blinds and Udo could feel the warmth of the morning even though he was trapped between sleep and wakefulness. He jumped out of bed and glanced at the clock on the wooden wall of his one room apartment; it was 8:07am. “O boy, I don late. I hope say this woman never carry another person go work o,” he muttered as he dragged himself to the door. Udo is a taxi driver. He doesn’t just drive a taxi, he uses his Wagon to transport illegally refined petroleum products for willing customers. He was billed to transport some jerry cans of ‘kpofire’ kerosene from the jetty at Nembe Waterfront to other retail distributors at Mile 1, Diobu in Port Harcourt. A customer had booked him the previous day, and they had agreed that 7:00am was the best time to move the products. At that time, security agents, especially the Police officers who had worked all night, would likely be off the road to take a rest from their night’s work.
Udo thought of cancelling the trip after considering the time. He would miss a whooping N7,000 if he failed to transport the products. What else would he do to get that amount of money in a day? Nothing! He has been doing this for three months now and it had been profitable thus far. He won’t let today’s money pass him by. Nobody will stop him; not even the police. So, he went out. On his way to his Wagon, the day was already busy with human traffic. The sun had become hotter. Now it was 9:14am. A fresh set of police officers must have flooded the road, he thought, but the thought of missing out on N7,000 kept pushing him to his vehicle. He drove, negotiating several bends of Port Harcourt roads to the site where he was to pick up the consignment of illegally refined kerosene at Nembe Waterfront. His customer was there, clutching her jerrycans like a hen shielding her chicks. Udo was pleasantly surprised to see her still waiting patiently for him despite the hours spent.
“Wetin happen na? I don dey here since 7 O’ clock dey wait you. You no even get phone sef wey person for carry call you,” Madam Uwah retorted. Noting his fault, Udo kept mute for a moment then explained how he had had too much to drink the previous night and had not been able to wake up early. “Carry the jerry can dem put inside make we dey go abeg. Why you no go sleep anyhow when you dey drink anyhow?” she chided again.
With the Wagon now loaded with illegally refined products and Madam Uwah heavily seated on the front seat, Udo drove the car unto the major road with his two hands tightly clutching the steering wheel; they were headed for mile 1. A lot went through Udo’s head. If they were accosted by the police, what will happen to his vehicle or will he be locked up? In his usual way, he waved the thought away. They had passed many unmanned police checkpoints and all was going well, then Udo suddenly sighted some police officers on patrol duty. This was at Abonnema Wharf Junction, just one more junction to their intended destination. He tried to play a fast one by trying to reverse almost immediately, but it was already late as the officers had spotted him. The vehicle was skewed to the left side due to overloading, which raised the officers’ suspicion. Udo’s biggest fear had become reality.
“Hey, hey, hey! Park here, wetin you carry?” an officer yelled at them and pointed to the direction he wanted them to park. Other officers had surrounded the Wagon stretching their necks to see the contents of the vehicle. Udo and Madam Uwah looked at each other without uttering a word.
“I say wetin you carry there, you no dey hear word?” the officer reiterated.
“Na kerosene, sir,” Udo said.
“Who get am and where you dey carry am go?”
“Na dis madam na im get am, I dey carry am go Mile 1”
“I see. Madam, so na una dey sell kpofire here, abi?”
“Oga, abeg no vex. Na wetin I dey carry feed my children. I no know say I go see una for here. No vex,” Madam Uwah pleaded.
“Erm, erm, you know wetin dey, oya see us make we go continue our job,” the officer said to Madam Uwah, looking elsewhere with the conviction that the woman already knew what ‘see us’ meant. She did, bribing police officers to transport illegal petroleum products was routine. Without an argument, she dipped her hand into her purse, brought out a 1000 naira note and squeezed it into the officer’s waiting left palm. Other officers who had been curious about the contents of the vehicle switched their attention to the bargain.
“Tell am say na 2000 naira we dey collect now,” an officer poked in.
“Bring 2000 naira, make we just help you,” the first officer said.
Madam Uwah understood their language perfectly. It was like a chemistry and obvious she had been “seeing” them before; it just happened that this was a different set of officers. She quickly removed another 1000 naira note from wad of notes in her purse and passed it to the officer.
“Oya, make una dey go,” the first officer said, shifting towards their own vehicle.
Udo smiled. He felt relief. What would have happened had Madam Uwah not bribed the officers? Would they have seized his Wagon or bundled him to a cell in one of the police stations in the city? All the while he had not left the wheel. He inserted the key into the ignition, started the car and drove to Mile 1, with all the contents still intact. He knew he had facilitated corruption, but he didn’t shudder, after all, everyone is doing it, he thought.
Udo is my friend, he is a Nigerian and this is his corruption story.