My first post on this website was published five years ago and titled “Your N20 or your life”. It focused on my experience as a passenger riding in one of those famous Danfo buses in Lagos on my way to work in the financial district, and how police officers used verbal and physical violence to coerce a 20 naira bribe from our hapless driver. Well, let’s see what changes have happened in 5 years and after almost 10 years of democracy in Nigeria.
Change of scene: from Lagos to the eastern part of the country. I have been vacationing in Nigeria for two weeks and decided to use the opportunity to visit friends in the beautiful state of Cross River and tour the famed Obudu Ranch. From my base in Northern Nigeria, I took a bus headed for Calabar that arrived late to pick passengers, had two serious breakdowns and seemed to have every crying baby on the planet on board! Not forgetting dilapidated highways displaying treacherous versions of carnage by the roadsides to remind me that na only Papa God fit save person, I said the Lord’s Prayer with extra vigour. Nevertheless, I was mentally prepared to enjoy myself in the motherland and not allow the vagaries of Nigerian stress and infrastructural problems spoil my adventurous mood.
All went well until my original bus schedule changed at Aba, where I had to switch from a luxurious bus to one of those death traps called an intercity shuttle. No seat belt, no fire extinguisher (na the law for Naija) and tires squeaking louder than anything that I had ever heard. I could only think to myself: wetin man go do, time don late (it was 9 pm) and person no sabi anybody for Aba. Abeg, make man carry go reach Calabar even if na midnight.
As our bus proceeded into the night, I prepared myself to, at the maximum, witness some subtle manipulation by the cops at extracting some cash from the drivers. After all, I am still Nigerian and not so optimistic as to expect a full reformation of the boys in black in just five years. However, nothing prepared me to see road blocking and machine gun-toting police officers walk calmly to our vehicle and stretch out their hands with no suggestion that they wanted a bribe but an ungodly confidence that cash should be made out. The driver pulls out a N200 bill and hands it out to the officer who wryly examines it and waves us off without once checking to see if the vehicle was full of innocent passengers or armed robbers headed to their next operation. If disappointment in these law enforcement officials wasn’t enough, I had to witness the same transaction take place 8 times between Aba and Ikot-Ekpene in Akwa-Ibom State. In one instance, as we approached a road block and I noticed that the police officers were sitting idly in their patrol vehicles, I whispered to the driver that finally we could catch a break. He smiled and surprisingly brought his vehicle to a halt, got out, walked over to the officers and handed them a crisp N200 bill. Once we were out of earshot of the patrol team, I leaned over and asked why he had to do that even when he was not physically flagged down. He then explained to me that if he hadn’t stopped the vehicle, the officers would embark on a hot chase and probably have gunned us down in anger and then filed a report that we were suspected robbers who refused their calls to stop and made threatening movements that warranted the use of deadly force. I cut him short mid-sentence and explained that he was probably exaggerating since that would be too gross an act of police brutality for people not to raise serious dust. He chuckled and said it was not a matter of alleged conspiracy theories but the reality on Nigerian roads for commercial vehicle drivers and as such, the risk was not worth taking over N200.
My question then is: if 5 years have gone by and corrupt cops are no longer demanding N20 but N200; has the value of a Nigerian’s life increased or what?