In 2001, homesick, I returned to Nigeria after staying away for nine years in the US.
My destination was Ife, and I lodged in a hotel in Lagos for the first week. I used the hotel rental car, with a hired driver, to run errands. One day, the rental car driver who drove me around Lagos, said “Prof, why not just buy a car instead of spending all your money on car hires? Don’t you plan to stay in Nigeria for a couple of months? It’s best for you to get a fairly used car.”
He gave me an estimate and said he could get me a car the following day, fully registered.
I paid him. And some 48 hours later I was the proud owner of a Mercedes Benz car.
The next day, I checked out of the hotel and got on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, heading for Ife in my “new” car.
As soon as I got to the outskirt of Lagos, I arrived at a police checkpoint, and a rifle cocking cop waved me down. “Your car particulars,” asked the cop.
I gave them to him.
He did not bother to check them. He folded them and placed them in his pocket.
I asked for my papers back, confused by his action.
“Come down,” said the cop.
I complied. He sauntered with his pot belly to the back of the car.
“Open the booth.”
I gladly opened it.
He surveyed the content. His face showed no expression.
“Do you have receipts for all these goods?”
I wasn’t sure I heard him right. Was he really asking me to produce receipts for clothes I had worn several times? I said, “I beg your pardon.”
Another officer had joined us. “Alákọ̀wé ni eléyìí o,” he said.
“Your receipts, Mister Man.”
“I bought them in the US. I’ve worn them several times. Perhaps couple of new ones I got as gifts for friends and family. I did not bring the receipts with me,” I said.
“They are all stolen goods,” the officer who just joined us remarked so very casually, without even bothering to look in the car booth. He was poking his head into the backseat of the car, his eyes fixating on some deli I bought at a gas station in Lagos.
“Officer,” I said, “they are not stolen goods. They belong to me. And I still have a long way to go. I’m on my way to Ife.”
“Stolen car, and stolen goods,” the officer said, adjusting his rifle.
“But you are wrong, sir,” I protested. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“Where are the receipts,” the officer demanded.
I was determined not to give any bribe. I didn’t want to contribute to the national corruption.
My eyes welled up with tears. “I’m not going to let them see me cry,” I said in my mind.
“Are you not a man? Why you dey cry,” the cop said. “Don’t you know what to do?”
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