At a certain time in Nigeria, the Federal Road Safety Corp was considered the most honourable and upright of all the law enforcement units. It was famed that once you were in violation of a traffic or road safety rule, paying a bribe to get off was not even an option. It was better to pay the approved fine and move on. In fact, Road Safety officials were known on occasions to have slammed more fines on offenders for offering to bribe them. That is how thorough and full of integrity they were known to be.
But all that is in the past.
I recently made a routine trip from Port Harcourt to Uyo, boarding an old Volvo wagon vehicle from the motor park at the popular Eleme Junction. I sat in the front of the car. Shortly after departure, we drove into a filling station just before the NNPC junction to top petrol. On getting back behind the steering wheel, I noticed the driver neatly place a N500 note in the centre of a few folded blank A4 papers. He kept it above his dashboard. I found this rather strange, but didn’t go beyond an uneasy frown.
A few kilometres ahead, just after the Trailer Park at Onne, our vehicle was flagged down by a team of the Federal Road Safety Corp. The officer indicated that we ‘clear’ off the road to the right. We did. I noticed there were half a dozen cars similarly parked and their drivers lurking around and following the officials about. I also noticed that a few yards forward on the road was a well manned military checkpoint.
Without waiting to be asked, the driver stepped out of the car grabbing the folded paper with the N500 note in it. He walked over and handed it over to one of the officials who took it and walked towards a parked vehicle. About 10 seconds after, he quickly turned around, walked back to the driver and handed back the paper. Not a single word was exchanged between them, and the whole affair lasted about 1 minute. When the driver returned to the car, the paper he dropped on the dashboard was no longer folded, neither was there any N500 note in it.
I had seen enough. I asked what happened and the driver burst out laughing. He told me he had gone to pay his toll for the day. I asked how much he was made to pay and he said it was N500. At other checkpoints along the road including those mounted by the Joint Task Force and the Police, the driver paid different amounts.
In the entire sordid affair, what surprised me most is the routine and ‘matter of fact’ manner the affair was coordinated. Both parties acted as though this was an established template and they had been doing this for a long time. They didn’t even need to utter a word.
I had just witnessed corruption. The blank folded paper was actually a decoy to give the impression that the driver had handed over his vehicle papers, the real intent was to exchange the N500 bribe, a compulsory payment for all commercial motorists plying that route. It then made sense to me why I had to pay so much for the short trip to Uyo from Port Harcourt, the balance was the cost of corruption, I am the real victim.
I am a Nigerian and this is my corruption story.