I have never received a bribe in my life. I know so many people may not believe this, but it is a fact. I have said this, times without number. It had been published before in some newspapers. Somebody even used an earlier interview published by a National newspaper as an extract of a book. Yes, I have never collected bribe, but I gave bribe once. I do once again; publicly challenge the public or whoever has given me bribe before to contradict this claim.
Today, I am writing on this, on a lighter note, to disabuse the minds of so many road users that all of us wearing uniforms as law enforcers are corrupt. Some also believe that we take “returns” from our boys. I challenge any patrol staff of FRSC who has ever given me returns to make it public and if it is proven to be so, I will resign immediately and offer myself for prosecution. I always told my God throughout the period I served as a Commanding Officer in charge of State Commands (Oyo, Lagos-twice, Adamawa and Kogi States) of the Federal Road Safety Corps that, if it remains a second for me to ask my patrol boys for returns from the money some bad eggs extort from the road users, He should take my life.
I still remember my mentor, Professor Wole Soyinka’s popular quote that I pasted behind my seat in all the commands I commanded. “Prof” says “I must continue to warn Marshals that those who accept bribes in return for defaulting on their responsibilities are taking blood money. The road is patient, but it does not forgive”. Don’t you think, it sounds like a curse?
During the Soyinka and Agunloye era in FRSC, I wrote a proposal for the setting up of a monitoring unit to police marshals, fish out bribe takers among them and flush them out. I was made the head of the monitoring unit when it was established. We pursued patrol teams from one state to the other. We covered all the states and we arrested many of them. They were sacked after trial.
You must have seen FRSC patrol men and now all staff with white tee-shirts under their uniforms. Now some other law enforcement agencies have followed suit. The FRSC white tee shirt did not evolve as a fashion arrangement. We got the permission of the Director of Organization and Chief Executive (DOACE) as the Chief Executive of the FRSC was known then, to remove the berets and the tops of arrested bribe takers. We ran into problem of removing the shirts or jackets of some of them because they had no underwear. Then we suggested that all patrol men should have the white tee shirts, so that if any of them was caught collecting bribes, at least he or she (sorry, we do not have a ‘she’ in uniform) would have something to wear home rather than leaving naked after removing their uniforms. That showed the level of FRSC intolerance for bribe taking.
The Surveillance team was quite impressive. We were not popular among staff but were feared. I remember, the present Sector Commander, Plateau, Koyejo Odukoya, once told me of a story that a marshal not on patrol was sent to Ibadan from Lagos with some money and he refused that as long as he was going to be in FRSC vehicle, the Zonal Commander, now the Deputy Corps Marshal Operations, Engineer Yemi Oyeyemi, must sign a document, indicating the amount sent through him. That Olagunju (Figaro) and Omiyale, a respected member of the team, could storm the road and he might not be able to give a convincing explanation and would not want to loose his job prematurely.
Dr. Agunloye, the then Chief Executive also did something I won’t forget easily. I had sent him a report in 1992 that the level of bribery in the then Oyo State Sector Command was high. This had nothing to do with the Sector Commander – a fine, hard working and honest professional. The present Corps Commander, Ogun State traffic unit known as TRACE. We decided to storm the patrol teams and twelve marshals were caught in the act. They were dismissed and just about a week or so later, he appointed me the Commander of the Oyo State Command. I did not really fancy the appointment as I was about leaving for the United States of America for a security course and I had hoped to become a Firearms (gun) Instructor after the course. The relevant issue here is that nearly half of the staff applied to be on leave as they learnt of my coming to take over the command. All the files were on my table when I took over. Of course, I did not approve the fear-induced leave applications; I only assured the staff that those who shun bribes and do their jobs correctly and diligently would be recognized. I also warned that we just sacked twelve of them and that I would be willing to sack more bribe takers. There was an instant sanity in the Command. Though when I finally left for the United States, many of them prayed I should not return to the Command. Of course, I did and served there for four years.
Sure, you want to know how I gave bribe. Let me share it with you.
One early morning, on an id-el-kabir day, I think in 1997 I got a call from a colleague, the Unit Commander of our Apapa – Lagos office, Baba Mai-Gana. He told me that his nine year old boy who had just arrived from the United States of America, had just died at the then General Hospital Ikeja, now Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH). What a sad incident? I was in tee shirt and a short as I was preparing for my early morning work–out. I immediately proceeded to the hospital where I met Baba Mai-Gana crying profusely. I went into the mortuary where the body of the boy laid. Baba then told me he would want the body of the dead boy released for burial same day, as the Muslim injunctions demand. We met a brick wall as we were told we needed a post-mortem report before the body could be released since the boy was not B.I.D that is Brought-in-Dead, but rather died at the hospital. However securing the post mortem report was difficult since the day was a public holiday. I was then directed to a doctor. I met him and he told me it would cost us two hundred naira to facilitate the release of the corpse. The word “facilitate” immediately gave me rightly, the impression that he wanted a bribe. I asked if the money was official and going to be receipted. He said no. I immediately told him that I don’t give bribes and would not want to be involved. I stormed out of his office to explain the situation to the father of the deceased.
I met Mai-Gana crying uncontrollably as he offered to give me the two hundred naira to give the doctor if I did not want to part with my money and that what was the two hundred naira to us that we should not just give and collect the corpse. I could understand his feeling as I immediately realized that was not the Mai-Gana that I knew. There was no convincing explanation I could offer to a grieving man at that level.
I went back to the doctor and I handed over the money to him. Pronto, he gave me the post-mortem report. I then dropped the hint that we might not have heard the last on the issue, though I refused to introduce myself. The doctor had already put the money in his drawer and I did not allow him to give any explanation as I rushed out of his office to the mortuary. We collected the corpse and buried the boy.
The second or third day my Personal Assistant, Wunmi Fasakin, now the Head, Information Processing Centre, of the Ogun State Sector Command told me that some doctors from the same hospital wanted to see me. My Unit office was then located at the Okoko-Maiko in Lagos. I asked them to come in. One of the hospital vehicles had been impounded by my boys. No I had nothing to do with it and the boys were not instructed to do so. In fact the patrol team was not aware of the bribery incident.
I was furious as they entered my office, calling them bribe takers and that I think I showed them a newspaper article I was writing titled “My first bribe!” They felt humiliated and demanded for full details of the incident. I gave a vivid account of what happened. They then abandoned the main reason of coming to my office and rushed to the office to investigate.
I came to the office the second day and my Personal Assistant, handed to me an envelope with my two hundred naira and a note from the doctor enclosed. He apologized and begged that I should not “finish” his career and that he would never do that again. I later discovered that the doctor was an NYSC doctor. So, my two hundred naira came back to me and I forgave the doctor. I appreciate the two senior doctors from the hospital who actually restored the credibility of their hospital.
Sometimes, the societal perception of gratification becomes a problem. I remember when I resumed as Oyo State Sector Commander in the early nineties, Sarkin Sasa, a well respected community leader had sent me ten thousand naira, which was considered a huge sum then. I rejected the money as I did not see any need for the gesture. He later sent for my deputy, Bisi Kazeem, the present Corps Public Education Officer of the FRSC. He complained that it was culturally incorrect and disrespectful of me to reject such an offer from a traditional ruler. He got Dr Agunloye’s (our Chief Executive) phone number from Kazeem and bitterly complained of the “insult”. Dr Agunloye, in order to assuage Sarkin Sasa’s royal ego directed that the money should be collected but paid into the Commission’s account for fuelling of patrol vehicles.
Interestingly, I later became Sarkin’s friend when I refused to be involved in the deal to over-inflate the cost of his special fancy number plates “SARKIN 2”. Same Kazeem was asked to ensure the “extra slush fund”, running into tens of thousands of naira, got to Sarkin. He was so impressed that he paid me a visit in the office and made some political offers, which I turned down.
One of my public enlightenment officers in the same command once collected on my behalf “fuel money” from the officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers in Ibadan after I addressed an enlightenment rally. The union did not immediately understand the rationale for my returning the money with a memo and the same officer serving as the courier. My mind raced back to a similar encounter I had in 1988, as a very young officer when in company with Tope Akintoye, a friend and a colleague we were offered a small bag full of money on a public enlightenment visit to the headquarters of one of the biggest transport companies in Nigeria, located in Onitsha. The huge sum which we never bothered to find out the actual amount as we instantly rejected it was also dubbed “fuel money”. Till today, Tope and I still laugh whenever we discuss the memorable incident.
I have gone this far to encourage fine officers in the system that they don’t have to collect bribes to live well. Their conscience will make them be at peace and with hard work, commitment, dedication, courage, honesty and fear of God, they will definitely rise. Temptations will always be there and you could pay certain prizes in an attempt to maintain your integrity. I almost paid dearly with my life when I vowed to break the drivers licence and number plates’ racket as Lagos Sector Commander in 2002. I made the syndicate quite uncomfortable and on the 13th of July, 2002, four fully armed assassins stormed my residence around 8pm and shot me in the stomach twice. That I am alive is a miracle and I give God the glory. I still don’t regret all the actions I took that led to the attempt on my life. Rather I believe my life was spared for a purpose. Even when I went back to my seat after several weeks of hospitalization, I refused to be cowed. Sure that put the criminals on great pressure. And to those who are still collecting bribes, one day will be one day as the “road is patient, but it does not forgive.” apology to “Kongi”.
Well to those who offer, remember both the givers and takers are culpable under the law. May the Lord continue to bless all law enforcers who resist temptations and shun bribes. And to those that collect these “blood money”, may you be caught and get punished accordingly. There is no justification for bribes. Let us continue to do our best as we remain safety conscious.