There is every reason to believe that there are institutionalised corrupt practices through the activities of government agencies and parastatals.
Nigerians are always subjected to tortuous processes to procure any government product, be it drivers licence or international passports.
Equally a citizen in breach of government policy like road traffic offence is also subjected to pay high fines that on the face value are not payable.
For most Nigerians, government through its policies and execution is unwittingly promoting corruption.
“You pay minimum wage of N18,000 and institute fines of N50,000 and above on mere infractions. Where will the offender find the money? Of course, he will have recourse to bribing his way out and thereby induce government officials to the extent they now extort money on any guise,” a businessman told Independent.
The above scenario is evident in the implementation of various laws and functions in the country as most government officials like policemen and customs officers are wont to ask and receive bribe from offenders, while immigration and road safety officers demand money to quicken an otherwise long process.
However, some law enforcement agents disagree: “The problem is not totally from the implementation but on the conditions for the implementation,” according to Police Superintendent Mike Kehinde at Meiran Police Station.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Anthony Okonkwo, the Divisional Police Officer in-charge of Meiran Police Station in Ojokoro, said laws by various agencies of government are meant to prevent people from committing crimes, saying high rate of fine or complicated bureaucratic procedures is, in most cases, a function of individual organizations. This is even as he admitted that huge fines or long bureaucratic processes can actually lead to cutting corners.
“I am not entirely denying the fact that such heavy fines or long bureaucratic procedures can encourage people to cut corners, so it rests on you journalists to report same.
“You should devote time to make a thorough report and educate some government organizations that impose heavy fines against such practices; tell us why such should not be done.
“But generally speaking, I do not think any government institution should encourage corruption in whatever guise,” he said.
Countering Mr. Okonkwo, a transporter, who plies the Oshodi-Sango Ota route, who gave his name as Wasiu, said even though government has good intentions in setting up some agencies, they (agencies) have compromised.
“In all government agencies, Nigerians have issues with authorities. Last year, only to renew my drivers licence at Agbado Oke-Odo, I waited for many months. I had to pay extra money to one man working there for me to do it fast.
“Sincerely, the people government put to work for them are the main problem and not the government,” he said.
But a trader at Meiran Bus Stop, Ojokoro, who gave her name only as Blessing, said Nigerians are the ones encouraging corruption among government agencies, exonerating the government from any wrong doing.
“We seem to be in a hurry in everything we are doing; that is why we have issues with the authorities. The other day, people from the local government asked us to observe two days of environmental cleaning, as we usually do.
“Do you believe that some people ignored that order and they were arrested? Later they complained that they bribed their ways to come out. In that situation, who is to blame? We are the major reason why these agencies are induced,” she rued.
The police as an institution come for scrutiny on this matter as they allegedly depend on fleecing the public to run their operations, because money budgeted for operations hardly get to the divisional police stations. So police depend on the people to do their jobs.
A police patrol team leader, an inspector, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Independent that the bosses in the office do not always provide enough money to fuel the patrol van.
“The patrol van has to have fuel before it can move and it requires maintenance on a regular basis. We have to use the vehicle to our work and the work has to be done at all cost. We are duty bound to fuel the van so that we can do our work.”
When the leader of the police team was asked if he does not feel bad and embarrassed to be the leader of a team that extorts money from members of the public, he said that was the culture he met when he joined the force, adding that the culture would be there when he leaves the force.
When he was asked about bosses in the office collecting part of the money that was extorted from members of the public, he declined to respond, saying: “I do not know anything about that”.
Independent gathered that police patrol teams that are not on the road, visit hotels, eateries, and other outfits to collect money on a regular basis. Indeed when our correspondent visited a hotel in Lagos, he was shown an exercise book where police officers signed that they had collected money from the management of the hotel on a regular basis.
When the correspondent asked the manager whether he was paying the police on a regular basis, he said the demand was resisted but the management was threatened with reprisals and it had to cave in.
Last Tuesday, police were sighted at the ACME Junction close to Guinness Breweries collecting money from tricycle operators. When asked, the tricycle operators say the police come to collect money on a bi-weekly basis, that they don’t understand why the monies are collected.
The police are not the only institution active in this form of corruption, indeed traffic management institutions are often seen with both hands in the cookie jar.
It is said that the often too heavy penalties slammed on traffic offenders encourage corruption. For instance, a traffic offender is liable to a fine of more than N50,000 if convicted in Lagos State. Yet this is a state where the minimum wage is N18,000. The result in most of the cases is that the offender is encouraged to “settle” the traffic official instead of paying into the coffers of the state government. This is effectively depriving the state of revenue and making its traffic officials richer.
On fines, Joseph Ekeng, a marketing executive, insisted that there was nothing wrong in the fine imposed by the agencies, stressing that it was meant to correct behaviours and attitude of Nigerians
He said: “The whole essence of the high fee is to curtail repeat of such offence. They want you to see that if you do this thing, you will suffer big consequence. That in itself should deter you from wanting to do that thing. They believe if you acted disobediently, you will suffer big consequence. It is meant to deter you. Even if I have N50,000, this is not where I want to channel my money into. It would make you to do the right thing. I don’t think the punitive measure or penalty fee attached meant to enforce civil order is out of place. I think the government should keep at it”.
Another commentator on the matter, an architect, Aniete Mfon, urged government to reduce the fee, noting that the price was doing a lot to aid corruption.
He said: “I think the government is not helping matters with the high penalty being attached to some of these offences. You would imagine someone who struggles to buy a ‘tokunbo’ car now asked to pay a fine of N50,000. I think it is way off the mark. If they continue like that, they are helping to breed the corruption. “Government is doing a lot to encourage their officials to bypass the system. I think the penalty should be reduced to help government raise funds from erring offenders”.
An accountant, Michael Essien, believes government needs to soft-pedal in its approach by ensuring that the fees are commensurate with the offence committed.
It has been observed that in some states and local government areas, revenue officials who got the job as political compensation are in the habit of defrauding the government.
Adebola Adeniji-Adele, President, Citizens Liberation and Advocacy Initiative (CLAI), a non-governmental organisation, disclosed that many of the revenue officials both at the local government and state levels, usually print fake receipts in addition to the original one given to them by the authority which they usually issue to unsuspecting customers from which they line their pockets.
This attitude, according to Adeniji-Adele, has been going on for a long time. “It is not true that authorities concerned are not aware of such sharp practices but allow it to go on because they feel it is an opportunity to compensate those that worked for their victory during elections,” he declared.