Police Bribery Along Nigeria Roads: Good Deal or Bad Deal

By Revival Ojedapo.

The three-hour trip from Ibadan to Ilorin is really enjoyable for anyone who loves the view of hilly forests and pastoral life. If you are not driving your own car, chances are you will be boarding one of those 15-seater buses, common to Nigeria roads. Also common to most Nigeria roads are the “men in black”, officers of the Nigeria Police Force. During the three-hour trip, you could meet up to half of a dozen units of policemen and policewomen; also typical of many Nigeria roads. It is a reassuring sight for travellers, given the high level of banditry that could occur on these otherwise empty roads. However, the police are notorious for collecting money (a sum ranging from 50 naira to 200 naira) from public transport drivers. Naturally, one would see it as a tip, but the recurrence of it and a number of other experiences has led me to believe that it is indeed bribery. While the police are at the receiving end, we can’t dismiss the complicity of drivers… and, most times, passengers.

When an exchange of cash occurs, there are usually three main expressions to note. First of all, the police is adamant to make it look like nothing happened. They try to hide their faces as much as they can while collecting the naira note. The only time you see a different reaction from them is if the driver is not compliant. Secondly, the driver is mostly indifferent about the exchange; sometimes, he’s perfectly glad to give, even exchanging trivialities with the officer. Thirdly, there are the passengers, who do little to mask the disdain on their faces. Prompted by the ease of the exchange, some passengers would question the driver as to why they’re seldom reluctant to give the money. To this, the drivers would mostly reply with such ambiguous statements as: “it is their money” or “what can we do?” However, this simple exchange of cash would prove more than the eyes meet.

There are those who have made the case for the police. They rightly point out that the low-rank officers, mostly stationed to the roadside, receive only paltry salaries. Thus, they’re excused to collect a token from drivers. For a little perspective, a constable receives a monthly salary of just over forty thousand naira. The people who make this case see nothing wrong with the exchange, because they see it as a tip. However, tips should never be enforced, neither should any driver be coerced into paying it. This brings us back to the reaction of the police whenever a driver refuses to oblige. The police would have the driver park, and the resulting event could vary. Usually, the police would take it upon themselves to perform the real police functions, for which they were deployed to the road. They would probably have the driver unload the boot of his car while they screen the contents of the luggages therein. This is the moment where most passengers would get involved in the matter. Always in a hurry to get to their destinations, most passengers would urge the driver to “give them the fifty naira or hundred naira or whatever”. By this time, however, it would be too late; and the policeman or policewoman, adamant to spite the driver, would pursue his or her duty. At the end of the “delay”, the driver might find himself paying even more cash than he should have, if he’d been compliant from the get go. The reason is that the police would certainly find something wrong with the vehicle or the contents of the luggages.

As cinematic as this scenario may seem, it is very plausible and several passengers have experienced such “delay”, as they’d put it. In the proper sense of the situation, however, this should be the normal procedure. The police have the right to stop transport vehicles and search through luggages randomly. They have the right to stop the driver and check his papers. The have the right to “delay” the passengers. But, as we’ve come to see countless times, the driver can escape the ordeal if he obliges to pay a token to a very willing policeman or policewoman. The passenger, still contemptuous of this act, is always in a hurry, and would be glad to escape the “delay”.

When you consider the whole situation, it seems like a deal. But, is it a good deal? We should also consider the fact that drivers could inadvertently, or even purposely, transport unlawful goods. Also, the vehicle could be in poor shape, and the police would completely overlook this fact when the driver ‘tips’ him. It may not be the police’s work to ensure the roadworthiness of vehicles, but they shouldn’t overlook the fact that a bus looks and sounds half-dead. All these, along with several other security issues point at the fact that we have a bad deal on our hands.

(Note: This article is not an attempt to paint the Nigeria Police force with the usual stereotypical brush. It is rather an attempt to reveal the complicity of drivers and passengers alike.)

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