Thursday, 5 July 2012

Nigeria: No Gas Mask for the Tear-gas of Corruption


The proposal
We were partners, him twice my age, a lawyer and moving in the big political and business circles that included being one of the directors of the United Bank of Africa.
I came to his notice by reason of work I was doing at a legal publishing firm after he had parted with a princely sum to acquire the Nigerian Supreme Court Cases in 40 volumes, one of his side businesses was a printing press that used conventional methods, he now wanted in on the desktop publishing craze that I had become of the experts of.
We met and talked, I was impressed but never in awe, my demeanour was quite unusual for me because I did not fawn, genuflect unnecessarily and spoken my mind with confidence on my area of expertise.
We agreed to form a company, we called in NextStep Ltd and I was the Technical Director with a 30% stake to optimise the design to printing process of his printing press. It looked like an exciting prospect though it was never one I could devote my full time to, I had many commitments as a consultant.
Taking the next steps
We won a few jobs and began to make some money when we decided the equipment needed upgrading – this all included getting a new computer, a new scanner and software for optical recognition, design and a few other things.
We also agreed that it would be best to get all this stuff from England and we set the ball rolling for that, that was when I noticed that there were many ready to work the system to their advantage in what became a catalogue of corrupt activity.
As a bank director, he had the means to acquire foreign currency beyond the stated limits to be taken out of the country at any one time.
My passport could only be endorsed with £1,515 though we needed £5,000, arrangements were made to get the whole lot and then have me handle just the amount endorsed.
Leeches and fleeces
He had a sister, not qualified for much and she just happened to have a plumb job at the bank in the foreign exchange department, one will not suggest nepotism but there was enough evidence around the place to show that it was rife.
In exchanging Naira to Pounds, she creamed off 20% for herself in cahoots with a few other wolves that included the assistant and somewhat close confidant of her brother. They hated the fact that I would not join in their enterprise to cream off more and still expected me who to their minds was the sudden “interloper” partner of a company I had all the rights to be part of to feather their nests, I refused.
Then I was to travel to the UK with an ex-partner of my partner with whom there was a great falling out years before only to be resolved for the purposes of keeping an eye on me and him being known and I barely known; it did not bother me.
Leave with ease
My getting a visa was easy, I did not need any references, I had enough evidence to prove I was born in the UK and I had legitimate work going on in Nigeria. We had a jovial conversation rather than a tough interview as consulate officer shared jokes about many who had visited with tall tales to tell, it was hilariously shameful.
What probably impressed him most was that I felt I had much to do in Nigeria and just wanted the opportunity to visit the UK at will when I needed to.
Meanwhile, as my air ticket was being arranged, another group of leeches were there to cream off bits for themselves too; they were all just a reprehensibly hungry bunch looking for scraps anywhere money seemed to be present.
At the airport, going through customs, all the money budgeted for what we needed to do, there were official beggars at each stage seeking bribes with seemingly friendly questions asking what I had brought for them.
My passport in her pocket
I got away with a lot just because of my accent, I was firm and probably cheeky by Nigerian standards because I said I believed they were paid to do their jobs and let legitimate passengers through the system without seeking gratuities.
This all worked until I got to the final checkpoint where this pregnant woman took my passport, leafed through the pages and on seeking the endorsement thought she could have some for herself. It so made me angry but what she did was pocket my passport and walk away.
You only pocket someone else’s passport if you are up to no good and since I was not used to any of the obsequiousness that appeals to the egos of abusers of power, I sought my travel companion and pointed out the woman to him to sort out the situation.
He had once worked for the Nigerian Airways and he knew how to pull a few strings though I cannot say what he did, he retrieved my passport as I half cursed that unborn child of a rottenly corrupt woman – how the brood of such can ever turn out right escaped me – that child will be about 23 years old now.
Everyone gets a piece
My companion had his own plan which he executed to perfection in the UK, he had all the VAT receipts paid into his account in London and so everyone walked laughing all the way to the bank whilst I watched the rot that exemplifies Nigeria – corruption is in the fabric of the personification of the country, it is not just in leadership alone.
When I returned from the UK, I gave complete account of how the moneys were spent but all my honesty simply exposed me to criticism from all corners including my partner, he went on post false stories about me to all the contacts we made in the UK after I left Nigeria. The man just had no integrity and thought he could use his powerful status to destroy me, it took a while but by the time I constructed the litany of atrocious behaviour I condoned to my relations, they came to appreciate my side of the story.
My staff in the slammer
Meanwhile, dabbling in the business of selling Christmas cards having joined up with some hustler out of town, his staff stole some of the cards and went selling them around town.
The partner then corralled all staff including mine without the courtesy of informing me and had them locked up. I only heard the next day that they had been in a police cell for the night.
I made for the police station and in my characteristic Un-Nigerian manner told the officer in charge that I will not be leaving the police station without my staff. I took a seat and left the system to work itself out.
In the end, my staff negotiated a fee that I paid in cash and I signed a form that clearly stated that no money had exchanged hands in obtaining the release of my staff – it was the last straw for me.
At that point, I had reached a decision, in all my working life in Nigeria I had been able to evade all the issues with the Nigerian way of doing things, people respected my views and did not expect of me things I was not ready to condone.
Our parting
In the case of this man who literally hated my guts but wanted my genius, it was an uneasy clam that had evolved into a perfect storm.
I will not be talked to in ways I have never been talked to by my parents. I will not have money thrown to me across the table as if I was begging for it; it was like I was putting him through a boot camp of attitude adjustment that he had perfected over years with impunity.
He could not understand why because of what I had in my head I did not bend to his authority like all the others did and I had one answer for him.
“You don’t give a 24 year old 30% of a company and think that is the end of his life; I will throw it away and start all over again somewhere else with even greater success.”
Yes and the postscript to that tale was summed up in the words of a friend. “Akin, when you left NextStep, there were no other steps to be taken.” We could have done something great with that company but there was just no scope for such with the kind of people I had to work with.
That was it
Everyone seems to be steeped in some activity for some sort of corrupt enrichment, even cashing checks at the bank, tellers wanted a cut too apart from those who wanted me to inflate my contract fees to accommodate kickbacks.
It was difficult doing business because rent-seekers were at every turn, if I was in competition for a job with a female; I will not catch the man’s fancy for possible sexual favours. In the end, I told the fixers to pad the numbers as they want but it must not reflect in the invoices I submitted – the straight and narrow just made you look square – the time to leave Nigeria had come and it was done in just 28 days.

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