The Nigerian Bribe Takers

The Nigerian Bribe Takers

The Nigerian police topped the list of reported cases of bribery.

The Nigerian Bribe Takers

Charles Ahmed needed a job and so in February last year, he was asked to part with N250,000 to secure employment at the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. He said that he was able to talk the staff of the para military outfit into collecting N150,000 but by December, he was still unemployed. For Mohammed, another job seeker, the N20,000 he paid to secure employment in a construction company last April had not yielded any result. "I have not been employed by the organization. I feel cheated. I do not even want the job again. I just want my money back," Mr. Mohammed wrote on egunjedotinfo, an anti corruption website.

In November last year, the website, dedicated to crowd-sourcing trends in bribery and corruption in Nigeria, was launched by the Integrity Organization Nigeria, an anti corruption, research and advocacy organization. "The primary goal of the project is to track, name, and shame corrupt individuals and organisations in Nigeria," said Soji Apampa, the founder.

World’s corruption capital

After the website’s launch, complaints of staff of public and private organisations soliciting for bribes began to appear on the site. The complaints ranged from an immigration official demanding N1,000 before he would stamp an international passport to a police officer claiming that they were mandated to make "returns" of at least N40,000 to their commanding officer mostly on Fridays. Within five weeks of its launch, the website has recorded N1.2 million as having been paid as bribes to both government and private officials, with the police leading as the top bribe-soliciting department. Nigeria has continued to remain rooted to the bottom of the global corruption rankings since the return of democracy in 1999.

In December last year, Nigeria was rated the 35th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International, scoring a dismal 27 out of a maximum 100 marks. One month earlier, a Gallup poll had rated the country’s leadership as the second most corrupt in the world, with 94 per cent of Nigerians believing that there is widespread corruption in government. But corrupt practices are not limited to government officials. Writing on the website, a student travelling to Malaysia for a Masters Degree programme narrated his experience in the hands of an airline official. The student, who did not state his name, said that he was forced by the airline staff to tender an "irrelevant" document or part with $300 or he would not be allowed to board. "I thought of calling police but police also collected N5,000 before allowing me in, I thought of calling Custom but they also collected N1,000 too after checking my luggage. I had to call him (the airline staff) and pleaded with him to collect N5,000 which he refused. After serious begging, he collected N10,000 and they later clear my document and allowed me in,' the student said.

Lukewarm response

There have been 30 responses since the website was launched. Of the 22 posted in December, only two gave kudos to the government agencies involved for not asking for bribes. One of them stated that he offered four police officers N4,000 after they drove him home in their patrol van from the Abuja airport at about 2 a.m. The officers turned him down saying that "it was too much." Mr. Apampa admitted that the response had not been encouraging as anticipated. "However, we realised only a bit later that people are a bit shy to put stuff on the internet themselves," Mr. Apampa said. "We got a better response after we started to advertise numbers that you can call. We found that we got better responses from the phone lines than people going themselves to the site," he added.

The website was established to name an official who had requested for a bribe, describe the events leading to the request, and how much was demanded or paid. It also targeted officials and agencies who carried out their duties diligently without seeking for gratification. A breakdown of the information on the website showed that out of the N1.2 million paid as bribe, the police collected N528, 050, followed by Internal Affairs ministry with N358, 000. The departments of Education, Foreign Affairs, and Construction received N295, 500, N41, 000, and N20, 000 respectively. However, a surprising trend crept in. About 20 per cent of the responses came from people who willingly agreed to part with their money, mostly in exchange for employment.

"You would find that the reason why most people have been duped or have had to pay a bribe which many times is knowingly, they consented to it, and they pay hefty sums, is in search of employment. That is the one we were not expecting. We were expecting a lot of the usual, maybe police harassment and so on. It looks like private companies, government agencies, many people are ripping other people off for the sake of employment,” said Mr. Apampa. As a way of creating more awareness for the project, Mr. Apampa said that striking stories would be fed to the Brekete Family Show, a popular programme in Abuja, where they would be discussed, and the organisations whose names crop up repeatedly on the website would be "followed up." In addition, more awareness would be created outside the Federal Capital Territory, where almost all the responses had emanated from. The Integrity Organization said that a study it conducted last year involving 1005 people across the cities of Port Harcourt, Lagos, Kano, and Abuja revealed that they do not use public feedback mechanisms due to distrust and retribution. "We found that the way people will be encouraged to use the site is if they feel their report will lead somewhere, somebody will take some decision based on the report. And secondly, if their identity will be protected and they will not be harassed," Mr. Apampa said.

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