HAPPY INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY, MY FATHERLAND!

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As we celebrate 60 years, Nigerians have been in the vanguard of great things and the spirit of a Nigerian is all conquering. At the same time, however, the bad name Nigeria is given is as a result of some bad eggs amongst us. I remember the glorious days of Nigeria when the norm was taking road trips and enjoying the scenery. Those days are gone today because of the bad roads, crime or the excesses of the authorities.

I was bereaved recently and I needed to travel to Benin, so I decided to do a road trip to see the beauty of Nigeria again. But it saddened my heart the deplorable state of the roads. The stretch connecting Lagos Island to Epe was a nightmare! This experience continued until we linked the Shagamu-Benin express road. The road only got better as we got to Ondo State.

Bad roads and the terrible stress that come with it are prevalent in this country. I wonder how tourism is going to thrive with these roads…

Many checkpoints with police officers openly collecting bribe. It is shocking that bribe collection has become a culture. What I noticed is that the policemen at the checkpoints, once you declined to give, they let you go but the Customs officers… those ones are the cesspit of highway corruption, especially as you get into Benin.

I was stopped and asked for my car’s customs paper, which was presented to them. But the Customs officer said it was fake. I asked him what makes it fake, he said the font size!!! He then went ahead to seize my paper and started the corruption dance. He said he was going to take my car away. At that point, my driver was confused and perplexed.

I reminded the officer that there were verification numbers by the customs on the paper through which they could verify. I had in the past called Customs to verify. It’s shocking that the Customs does not have a website to verify the authenticity of the paper!

An average Customs officer becomes the judge and jury in any case on the highway. The officer’s insistence was malicious; his eyes were ready for attack like the constrictor boar. After he heard me speak, and perhaps because of my accent which he thought sounded foreign, he said I must pay N300,000! Prior to this time, the first officer that talked to me had begged for N20,000 for the weekend. This back and forth continued for over an hour. I asked him: was the customs receipt on the customs paper bearing the customs logo forged? He had no answer but insisted I must give him N300,000!

I walked away, and while I did, my driver came to tell me how jubilant they were that they had caught a big fish. At this time, I made some calls… it is so sad you have to do that in Nigeria; it shows how people have to suffer if they do not know anyone who could help them… Anyway, I told my contact to help me reach the verification number; he did; and after he made further calls… thereafter, the Customs officer (the boss, perhaps) came to me and instructed them to return my car to me.

So, this is what the Customs do. They make a false claim that your papers are fake once they stop you… they normally target SUVs; then they ask you for bribe. If you do not comply, they take your car to their yard and auction it to themselves.

It is a cultural ring of corruption and many Nigerians have been cheated that way. Many people have told me that the Customs officers stationed as you enter Benin are notorious. When the officer gave me my key his colleagues looked deflated. They had planned to share my money.

I have a few questions: What if I had a foreigner with me that wanted to explore Nigeria? Why can’t the Customs have a working, verifiable portal to check custom papers on the website? Why do they have checking points on the roads? On a road trip to Benin you have customs, police and army on the road. Is Nigeria a police state? Why is the road from Lagos to Epe so bad yet there are regular adverts for ‘weekend getaway in Epe’?

As we celebrate 60 years, a few bad eggs in our institutions make the diamond not to shine bright as it should.

Rufai Oseni, rufaioseni@gmail.com