Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Why Nigerians queue up at Heathrow

You see, I never look forward to renewing my driver’s license. Why? Well, if you don’t know anyone inside their office, the intimidating confusion will soon have you whispering to the stranger beside you: ‘Is there no ‘other’ way to do this?’ True, my brother, it is not fiction; it is as if the system is designed to make you ask it.

Because the policeman will wait patiently at the other side of the junction – the one that carries no indication that you’re not meant to turn left – for you to turn left. Tell me, who is not corrupt? I am waiting for you to raise your hand who has never seen a long queue and immediately asked for the chwa-chwa one. Tell me, how are you always so sure there is a chwa-chwa line? If not that you have seen it before? From the confines of the waiting room you were first referred to in the days of your innocence, and from where you watched how more experienced men shook hands, pulled rank, spoke language, dropped name, gave cash, gave kind – and passed one time. Tell me, who does not want to pass one time?

Yes. There is a poetry to this our madness. I realized it the day I said – I want to renew my papers, what is the procedure? And the man in uniform said – I can do it for you. And I said – No, I want to do it myself. What is the procedure? And the man in uniform said – Okay. Take a tally number and sit over there. And the 48 hours that followed would have tested the patience of a stone. Did I not tell you? There is a poetry to this our madness. Because if you ‘sit over there’ long enough you will eventually discover an urge building up in you – slowly, slowly – to jump to your feet, to march over to the man in uniform, to stand akimbo in front of him, to frown, to scowl, and eventually spit it out: ‘Oya, oga, how can you help me?’

Did you not know? Nigerians like to be asked for help. So, we build roads without directions, and employ civil servants to sit in front of empty computers while their own heads are bursting with the information you’re seeking. All to ensure that JJC cannot travel from Point A to Point B without – how do we call it in church? – favor. You know? So, VIO will hide behind the bend, and when they catch you they will tell you that for the completely amoral offence of driving without their permission you will have to turn around and drive yourself to car prison. And when you get there, they will tell you to come out of your car, to stand there and watch its tires deflated. And then (if you are still keen on ‘procedure’) show you the 2-day queue for valid papers.

Mister President, THIS is corruption. Yes. The way government behaves. The way it takes information that should be plastered on the wall outside and puts it in a drawer inside. The way it designs ‘the procedure’, with little consideration for time and dignity, just so it can turn around and profit from the commonsense decision anyone with a life to live would have to make when faced with the option of following ‘the procedure’. Do you understand? The way government wakes up one morning and decides that today is a day for righteousness and so, without warning, chooses the strictest possible implementation of rules that had up till that day been quite content to reverse into the shade of a roadside tree and watch traffic go by, and may well – after that season – revert again to stupor. Mister President, this is corruption. Everything else is…ehm…just stealing.

Because, to me, there IS a difference – and a big one too – between people doing bad things because they are bad people, and people doing bad things because the cost – in wasted time, opportunity and talent – of doing the right thing is too high. Did you not know? Leave the naira and the pump price of petrol alone for a moment, and try and regulate this one please, the cost of being an honest citizen. If you drive it down – and actually make doing the right thing the more convenient, time-efficient, and dignified option – you may well discover why these same Nigerians will land at Heathrow then quietly go and join the queue. 

Dike Chukwumerije

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