This first appeared on my Facebook Timeline
You go into a gas station with your keg. At the pump, you ask for 5 litres of gas, worth, say, 500 naira. The attendant gives you 4.7 litres, which should be worth 470 naira, so you give her 500 naira, expecting your change. But it doesn’t come. Where’s my 30 naira change? you ask. No change, she says. But you sold me 470 naira worth of gas, you say, confused. Yes, 30 naira na keg money. Na so we dey collect am, she explains. If to say you bring car now, we go sell am complete, but you no bring car, so we remove 30 naira for keg money. You nod – or shake your head – and walk away.
How many corrupt people are there in the scene?
I remember a particular night long ago. I had gone, with my cousin, to a gas station down the street from our house, bearing a black keg, a one thousand naira note, and my mum’s NUPENG ID card. (She always asked us to take her card along to the gas station and flash it at the attendant we met. Whenever we did this, they always grudgingly not ‘remove keg money’.) We were supposed to buy one thousand naira worth of fuel, about 15 litres then, I think. But that day, our little cheat didn’t work. We flashed the card, but the attendant hissed and went on to remove keg money. This irked us, obviously, and being helpless on our own, we marched home to report to mum. She was enraged.
She marched with us back to the gas station. My memory is all shifty now, so I don’t recall the actual sequence of the event, but I remember that mum caused a scene at the gas station that night, then made a dramatic exit once she had gotten what she wanted. (I remember this as she taking our one thousand naira note from the attendant, flinging 970 naira – in change – to him, ordering us to pick up the fuel and ‘e n’iso nle!‘) On our way out, she yelled a promise to make a report to the branch manager the next day.
Sadly, she did not make that report. But that didn’t not diminish the immense pride I had in her. Here was someone, my mum, standing up and saying no to a ridiculous new practice. Here was someone, my mum, standing up and saying no to corruption. Of course, if we must be critical, the whole business of flashing the card to get better treatment is also a form of corruption. But imagine what everyone present at the gas station that night must have thought. When that despicable new practice started in those days, everyone simply sighed and got used to it, so what my mum did that night with that spectacle was to remind everyone that this was new, and we didn’t have to live with it if we didn’t want to. Imagine what would have happened if she had lodged a formal complaint, as she had threatened.
Now, thankfully, that practice has been widely abolished, but it didn’t stop because the government signed a law banning the ‘removal of keg money’. No, it stopped because we, the people, people like my mum, refused to tolerate it any longer. We, the people, refused to be corrupt any longer. Not doing anything about corruption is essentially corruption.
Gripe as we may about all the corruption happening high up in the government, nothing will change, I believe, if we don’t do something about all the corruption happening down here, amongst us. The ones that we see every day, every second: that LASTMA officer that collects bribe from road users, that okada rider that prefers to take the wrong lane, that lecturer that forces you to buy his books, even though they are below standard. Corruption is all around us.
Recently, I was invited to join a protest against wide-spread corruption in the country. My immediate thought was, yes, we are doing something about it, finally! Imagine my disappointment, then, at learning that the protest was aimed at people in government offices only.
My opinion is this: the people we need to fight aren’t the government workers, but ourselves, one another. Our families and friends whom we know are corrupt. Instead of a protest, what we need is mass education. We need to make that okada rider understand that by taking the wrong lane, he is disrupting traffic, not aiding it, and even though he will get to his destination early, many others will not – and that’s not acceptable. That corrupt LASTMA officer should know that hundreds of people will die in accidents because, instead of arresting that reckless driver, he let him go after collecting a bribe. That lecturer perhaps doesn’t know that by selling mediocre textbooks to the student, he is reducing the quality of education, and that is why there’s a high level of mediocrity and unemployment in the country. Let the man/woman that watches them without saying anything know that he/she is also complicit in their crimes.
Corruption endured because no one said anything about from the beginning. But now is the time to start saying something. In addition to hitting the streets and drawing attention, we must also educate ourselves, and one another – forcefully, if need be. That, I believe, is the true way to fight corruption.
A quote from Soyinka comes to mind here: ‘The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.’ Corruption is tyranny, and the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of corruption.