‘I Pay Bribe To Sell Plantain
Esther sells plantain along the abandoned rail track in Oshodi, in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.
She just wants to survive, feed her children and cloth them. She dreams of smart phones, a taxi ride and hopes that her children make it through primary school.
On a profitable day, she makes about N1,000 and works 6 days a week, sometimes 7.
She says she pays ‘tithe’ (one tenth) of her earnings to officials of the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) Brigade. KAI is a law enforcement unit of the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment, established in 2003 under former governor of the state, Bola Tinubu.
It was established to enforce the Environmental Sanitation Law by eliminating street trading and hawking and the indiscriminate dumping of refuse in unauthorized places.
Esther told Bounce News that the KAI officials who collect bribe, do so after taking off their uniforms. She adds that the officials, sometimes, commission individuals to collect the illegal sums on their behalf. Those who railway line to harass them and confiscate their goods.
“They don’t allow us display our products on the streets in the morning.
“But any time from 4:00 p.m., they allow us do our thing. For this, they charge us N100 per day.’
Asked why they must pay every day, she said: “We have to pay if we don’t want the KAI officials to confiscate our goods”.
“What are we to do if we do not sell? This is our only livelihood.”
“It is hard but we have no other choice. I have to sell for my children’s school fees and for food.”
Another hawker, who simply identified herself as Bukky, also narrated her ordeals at the hands of the officials. The middle aged petty goods seller, whose wares are not worth half the N18,000 national minimum wage, says most times the traders contribute about N300 per day as bribe to KAI officials and other security operatives.
When asked to blow the whistle on the officials who allegedly collect bribes, Bukky declined. She, however, said some miscreants, who called themselves Omo-Onile (land owners), are among those in the extended ring of exploitation.
“It’s been happening for long,” Bukky said in Yoruba.
Arrested For Crossing
Some of these traders claim that the KAI officials also make brisk business arresting people crossing the expressway instead of using the provided pedestrian bridges.
In Oshodi, the KAI officials position themselves in strategic places under the two pedestrian bridges in the area waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting preys.
When caught, the victims are hauled into the waiting KAI vans (Green Maria).
Our correspondent in his undercover reporting observed a man cross the expressway. In a twinkling of an eye, a KAI official swooped on him, dragging him over to the parked in the Green Maria. He was released about 30 minutes later after ‘cooperating’ by paying some amount as ‘fine’.
The man, who refused to disclose his identity, told Bounce News that he parted with N2,000 before he was let off the hook.
When our correspondent approached the KAI officials to ask questions on their activities as well as the bribery allegations, they became aggressive and almost started a fight.
Later, an official who said he is their spokesman, but declined to mention his name, attended to our correspondent.
He debunked the claims by the traders and pedestrians saying that the hawkers are only trying to blackmail KAI officials.
When contacted by Bounce News, KAI’s Public Affairs Officer said some of the allegations against the officers were false and cannot be proven.
She said the management of the agency is aware of some of these allegations and steps are being taken to address the matter.
She said the organization has established the KAI Transformation Centre, where erring officers are sent for reforms. When asked if the organization punishes officers found guilty of extortion, Alabi said such officers are removed from such posts, demoted and referred to the Transformation Centre for about three months.
She urged members of the public to report any KAI official demanding bribe to their office in Alausa.