January 22, 2016 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
By whatever name we call it, extortion is extortion is extortion is extortion.
I must confess that I have been putting off writing this piece. I am a master at procrastinating, but I cannot even attribute my unwillingness to put fingers to keyboard on my bad habit. I simply did NOT want to write on this. The simple truth is that whenever I think about this topic, I am filled with rage: rage at the culture that created this; rage at the system that allows it to continue to happen; rage at the perpetrators; rage at the helplessness of the victims; rage at the country itself. I refused to write this because I feel that I am being consumed by rage due to the chaos that is Nigeria. Controlled chaos, I can handle, but nonsensical, brain damaging chaos I am ill equipped to handle. I don’t want to feel like the only intense feelings I have of my country are intense disdain, rage, and all their kin. Therefore, I tried to distance myself from my strong emotions by refraining from writing, but tried as I might, the thought just burrowed deep in my brain and threatened to drive me insane. Here I am!
Some may call it corruption; others bribery. Me? I call it by its old fashioned name: extortion. This problem is so endemic in our country that no institution, from State institutions to religious institutions, is exempt from it. From the highest office in the land to the poor church mouse, everywhere you turn, there is an instance of extortion. This problem is so pervasive that it has a club of its own.
The presidents and reigning champions of this club are security personnel. This umbrella includes policemen, military men, road safety agents, and all other hooligans employed in the “defense” ministry. I have always maintained that policemen are just criminals licensed to carry weapons [this is a post for another day because I DO NOT want to go off on a tangent] and the army and road safety guys are not better or exempt. Bunch of lowlifes, the lot of them. They call their own brand of extortion “roger.” Commercial bus drivers, cab drivers, Keke Napep operators, Okada riders, ordinary road users, and even barrow pushers are harassed everyday and forced to part with their hard earned money. I am sure this started as some people just wanting to appreciate these men with 20 or 30 Naira, but now, they have come to expect it as their birthright. People who refuse to pay are beaten, detained, and sometimes KILLED. On what planet, no I take that back, in what galaxy will a policeman feel that a human life is worth 30 Naira? How does the human brain process the order that says, “raise gun, cock it, and shoot” because someone refused to part with his/her money? Lives are ended in their prime because a fool decided to play God. This is perfectly exemplified in the case of Mr. Godwin Ekpo, who was injured and his wife murdered by a good for nothing, waste of human DNA/oxygen policeman simply because he refused to be extorted. How long will the people we pay to protect us harass, extort, and then kill us when we refuse to cooperate?
Assisting the presidents and champions are the vice presidents: the touts that litter bus stops harassing and extorting innocent people. These are the people that have refused to be useful to themselves, their parents, and society, so they decide to make life miserable for those actually contributing to society and managing to eke out a living in a country that is designed to frustrate them. On what authority they are able to “tax” fellow citizens for personal gain I have never been able to comprehend. They will claim that once you are doing business on “their” land or area, then you must pay tithe to them. Which land? These are people that do not own a cup to piss in let alone land, but somehow, they feel entitled to other people’s hard work. This is where I will borrow one of their expressions: wetin concern agbero with overload? A couple of months ago, Battabox profiled a tout, Abiola AKA Biggie, with disability; he uses a wheelchair as a result of Polio. The fact that Battabox attempted to legitimize this insanity left me puzzled. At a point in the video, the presenter claimed that Biggie does not want to beg by the roadside, so he “hustles.” My only thought was, “yes, extortion is so much better than begging. He can’t beg, but he can extort people. Surely, he deserves an award for that.” The reprehensible thing is that these are people that beat up people and destroy the properties of those that refuse to pay up. As a result of not earning the money through sweat and tears, they waste it on Marijuana, prostitutes, and instant gratification. How our government allows this to flourish I don’t know.
In the positions of secretaries are our educators, the noble individuals that are supposed to be educating our future: the young men and women that are the future of our country. Vice Chancellors, Deputy Vice Chancellors, lecturers, invigilators, etc. all attempt to be “chief secretary” in the exploitation of the youth. Students seeking admission are extorted for the very few slots available. Courses are prized according to their desirability: Law, Medicine, and Pharmacy are at the top of the chain with going prices nearing a million; mid-desirable courses are in the hundreds of thousands. It is only in Nigeria that after the list of students admitted has been released, people will still be waiting for Vice Chancellor’s list or registrar’s list to come out. Who and who are on those lists? Young people that have been extorted to the tune of millions. Also, lecturers expect students to staple their “sorting” money to their assignments, tests, and exams. Expect your assignment/test to come up “missing” if you refuse to sort. Invigilators? I don’t even know how to quantify their greed. People that are sent to monitor exams and prevent students from cheating take pride in extorting students in order to allow them to cheat. The irony. It is a racket and our society is paying for it.
Taking the positions of voting members are landlords. I get it. They made some money, saved, bought land, and developed it. It is a very smart thing to do. I don’t even begrudge them overpricing their properties. It is their prerogative and if there are people willing to pay what they are asking, good for them. However, the other ridiculous fees that can sometimes be higher than the rent itself that these landlords demand from tenants, especially first time renters, are just mind boggling. That is extortion capitalizing on people’s basic human need for shelter. Fees like agreement, agency, ego oji [money for kola nut], etc. all combine to make finding shelter hellish for those looking to rent. For my own clarity, I must ask: do renters pay agreement just for signing the lease contract? In essence, they are paying to sign their signature on a document; which agency fee are they paying for? A renter sees a “to let” sign in front of a gate, inquires about looking at the place, and then decides to rent. In a fair universe, shouldn’t the renter pay himself/herself the agent’s fee seeing as he/she found the place?; is it now by force to buy kola nut for people and since when did ordinary kolanut start costing tens of thousands? It is their property. They can do whatever they like with it, but extortion should not be it.
Finally, serving as spiritual advisers are religious places of worship. From the warehouse prayer temples to the mega churches, all engage in this act. Convincing members to pay for miracles that never happen, taxing members to buy private jets, fancy cars, and houses, using members’ donations to build “private” universities their children cannot attend, and generally living large by extorting gullible people. “Home” [village] churches eagerly wait for when you will need something like the forced announcement of banns of marriage to remind you that they have been waiting for that moment. Obscure groups come out of the woodwork to claim you have not been paying dues. A random high number is thrown out to cover your “delinquencies” with your impending nuptial held hostage. Couples are extorted into making forced donations. The church needs money to function, yes, but shouldn’t all gifts be voluntary? So much for morality.
Ask any Nigerian, and corruption, corruption, corruption will be the indicting cry against politicians and those in authority. However, how are Nigerians acting in their own corner of the universe? In the places where they are kings, how are they treating Nigeria and Nigerians?
A country where extortion is the order of the day is doomed.
Photo Credit: Google Images