What do you have for me….
To a Nigerian, this is a very common phrase. He or she will also be familiar with “what do you have for the boys?” These are common phrases for asking for money…and sadly, the color of your passport is usually indication of whether you will be asked for a bribe. The Abuja airport is full of land mines that must be cleared before you successfully board your plane. There are security agents inspecting your luggage but a bribe will help you clear the nuance quicker. The agents checking your passports before entering the waiting area will ask if you will “bless them” because as you know, it’s Easter weekend. And finally the security inspector, after checking your carrying on items asks, “Is there anything for me?” Corruption in Nigeria is a rampant problem and experiencing a shakedown is part of the course.
Once they see I have a blue passport, I usually get a pass. They glance at the passport than glance at me and say move along. But there are the occasions when I am asked “to bless them.” I normally play dumb. “Bless you, what do you mean? Should I pray for you?” And I have also learn the longer you stall, the less willing they are to pursue the bribe.
But the airport is not the only place where bribes are extracted. A few months ago, I was returning from a work trip in the Northeast when we were asked to pull to the shoulder after stopping at a police check. It turns out that our vehicle identification number (VIN) on our paperwork was one digit off. Clearly a clerical error when we registered the vehicle but to the police, this was an offense. We were told that we would have to pay 10,000 Naira (about $60 at the time) or have the car impounded. They never once promised to correct the error but only wanted the money so we could pass. After about an hour and several phone calls to high ranking officials, we were allowed to pass without paying the bribe. Sadly, this is a common occurrence for Nigerians and one of the reasons that many Nigerians voted for the president-elect. While he had a track record of violating human rights during his time as a military leader, he is known for his anti-corruption stance and bringing law and order to the country.