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Road trip to Benin: An encounter with Customs’ bad eggs

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 the bribe. If you donot comply, they take your car to their yard and auction it to themselves.

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 but those days are gone today because of the bad roads or the excesses of the authorities.

I suffered a bevereament 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 to 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 in Nigeria with these roads…

Many checkpoints with police officers openly collecting bribes was what I saw all through the trip.  It is shocking that bribe collection has become a culture.  Anytime I was asked for bribe I declined.

I also observed that once you declined to give the officers bribe, they let you go but the Custom officers… those ones are the cesspit of highway corruption, especially as you get into Benin. As soon as they stop you, they want to collect money!

I WAS stopped and asked for my car’s Customs paper, which was presented to them. But the Customs officer said it was fake because of the font size of the lettering. I  asked him what makes it fake, he affirmed 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 papers through which they ccould verify my papers; and which I have 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! So, the officers use this to fleece people.

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. He was hell bent!

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, so he would spend alone as bribe.

This back and forth continued for over an hour. I told the officer to call the customs number to verify and he said no. I asked why he concluded that the paper was fake since there was no evidence except for the font size. I asked him: was the customs receipt on the customs paper bearing the customs logo forged too?  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 any one who could help them…

Anyway, I told my contact to help me reach the verification number; he did; and after he made further calls… that was when the customs  main 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 the 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, especially as you drive into Benin.

My driver told me that right there, the officers were making plans for the weekend, thinking I was going to pay the N300,000.

At some point, I told the officer to take me to court and prove the papers are fake. He told me he was the judge in the case and at the checkpoint. Many people have told me that the Customs officers stationed as you enter Benin are notorious for this corruption. When he gave me my key his colleagues looked deflated. They had planned to share my money but it wasn’t possible. My driver was elated to the high heavens

I HAVE a few questions to ask?

What if I had a foreigner with me that wanted to explore Nigeria and he sees such an experience?

Why can’t the Customs have a working, verifiable portal to check custom papers on the website?

Why are some customs officers so corrupt and they are hell bent on destroying Nigeria?

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 still make the diamond not to shine brighter.

I know that those officers that stopped me and asked me for N 300,000 bribe are the few bad eggs in the Customs service. I know there are good honest Customs officers that stand by the truth and believe in Nigeria. For the good Customs officers, I appreciate and celebrate your service.

Rufai Oseni is a writer, broadcast journalist and TV anchor, presenter

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