Our light affliction

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory – Apostle Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 4:17

Otunba Lateef Owoyemi was a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) whose canny way used to present a lecture had ingrained in my mind the truth about corruption. As part of the Mandatory Continuing Professional Education (MCPE) for her members, ICAN had requested Otunba to deliver a lecture to us at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

All of us were well seated in the Auditorium when Otunba was invited to the stage to give his lecture on how to tackle corruption in Nigeria (not so sure of the exact framing of the subject but it was about corruption). He chose to address the issue through a series of soul searching question. He started by asking anyone in the hall that doesn’t know what corruption was to indicate by raising up his hand. No hand came up. He followed with another question asking if there was anyone in the hall doesn’t know what to do to stop corruption to raise his hand up. Again, no hand came up. Following these two questions, he concluded that it was a waste of time, at least that of his, for anyone to ask him to deliver such lecture and then took his seat.

Well, the moral of his approach is that the issue with corruption in Nigeria is not a lack of understanding of what is or what is not corruption or how to address it but the  lack of willingness on the part of the populace to put a stop to it!

the experience that I am about to share has been kept hidden in my chest for almost a decade and is known to only very few close friends of mine. I am letting it out now to show that there is a very costly price to pay to stop corruption and the larger society is not only unwilling to pay the price but also, in many cases, castigate anyone who dare to stand up against corruption. Please ignore the words that come out of the mouths of many and focus more on their actions.

The dateline was the first week of April 2010 and preparations were in top gear for for my maternal cousin wedding. I had committed to make my vehicle available for the use of the couple and everything was looking good. At church, the previous Sunday, it was announced that the next Sunday Service would be an Area Service and because of the expected attendance of larger numbers of worshippers, the venue would be in the premises of Kings College, Lagos (Annex Campus). I had never attended any of these Area services but was determined to do so this particular Sunday. So early in the morning of 4th April 2010, we turned into Adeyemo Alakija Street from the Lekki-Epe Expressway. We were unaware that the entire stretch of Adeyemo Alakija beyond the left turning into Badaru Abina Street was a “one-way” street. There was no traffic sign conspicuously posted to draw motorists attention to this. So we continued on Adeyemo Alakija and was busy engrossed in finding the vehicular access to the King’s College premises, which was on our left, when our journey was suddenly brought to a stop by two Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials who emerged out of nowhere and jumped in front of my vehicle.

After a couple of word exchanges with me making the argument of my ignorance of the traffic rule on that stretch of road as well as the absence of a traffic sign to convey the rule, one of the LASTMA officer was allowed into my vehicle. All my plea were to deaf ears so I drove as requested heading to their office not far from Simpson Street in Lagos Island. Midway, around Ikoyi, the officer started telling my about the steep fines and penalties that I would have to pay once my vehicle was in their yard. My response was whether there was an alternative to this and I was calmly told that if I would “play ball” by paying N5,000 that we could settle the issue. I said rather than paying the N5,000, there was another alternative which was for him to release me and let me go knowing that I did not commit the offence intentionally.   He refused and I drove into the compound. Once inside, the four tires of my vehicle were immediately deflated, my vehicle keys collected and I was issued with a Medical Request for Psychiatric Tests that must be done only at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba. 

Well with a lot of pains, and feeling humiliated by a corrupt system that thrives on laying traps for the unsuspecting, my family and I trekked out of the compound and  found solace in a nearby Church where we worshipped. Thereafter, we took a Taxi home.

To get the test done at Yaba, I sought permission away from work thrice – the first time for the test and the next two to collect the result. On 8th April, I was at Yaba where, on listening to my story surrounding the need for the test, I was approached to pay some facilitation fees so that I could get the result without doing the test. I refused and chose to rather pay the N8,500 receipted cost of the test and took the test. I visited on the 9th April to collect the result as previously advised but I was told it wasn’t ready because they did not have power supply from the electricity company and as such cannot print out the result. I had to go the third time on the 12th to collect the result.

On collecting the test result, I went back to the LASTMA yard and was then issued a fine of N50,000 which I had to pay into a Lagos State Government bank account in a particular bank on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. I made the payment that same day. On the 13th April I went back to the LASTMA office hoping to collect my car. I was then asked to pay some fees in cash. When I asked if these would be receipted, I was told they won’t. I stood my ground and refused to pay. I was ushered into the office of the station commandant where I threatened to make a scene if my car was not released pointing out that I was willing and ready to pay any fees as long as same is receipted but nothing that would not. He got the message and directed that my car should be released but that I needed to pay demurrage fees for the 9 days the car had been in their compounded and they should issue me a receipt for this. Thereafter I paid N4,500 and got issued a receipt.

On getting the keys, I invited the vulcaniser located directly outside the gates of the compound to get my tires inflated. He requested to be paid N500 to inflate each tire if I bring the vehicle out but N1,500 per tire if he had to come inside the compound to inflate them. When asked for the reason for the disparity in price, he explained that for each tire he inflates, he had to give the LASTMA team N500. I wasn’t ready to get any money into the LASTMA pockets so I went home and brought my tire pump. All done, I finally got my vehicle out of the LASTMA “gulag”.

Overall, the cost of this event were as follows:

  1. Quantifiable – N68,500.00
    1. N54,000 paid to Lagos State as Traffic Infringement fine and demurrage;
    2. Between N6,000 and N10,000 in taxi fares;
    3. Psychiatric test at N8,500.00
  2. Unquantifiable:
    1. About 4 days of excused duty;
    2. Loss of dignity in front of my kids which I had to address
    3. Psychological torment and abuse
    4. Deprivation of the use of my car for about 2 weeks

Now, remember the upcoming wedding that I mentioned and my commitment to make available my vehicle? I had to call my Uncle to explain the sudden turn of event and the need to make a different plan. It is worthy to mention that my education and the majority of my moral upbringing was through my uncle. He remains an upright man that taught me never to tolerate nonsense and do what is right always. When I narrated my ordeal to him, he was mad at me for not having paid the N5,000 bribe demanded and spared myself the pains and headaches associated with insisting on doing right! I couldn’t believe my ears, listening to him uttering these words. 

Two colleagues that got to know about this, since I had to explain the reason for my excused duty, had the same advice to give me. I got told that “In hell, there are no laws”. I was also reminded of a saying by the erudite Gani Fawehinmi that “It is criminal to be law abiding in a lawless society”.  What no one told me was that the same had also said that one should “Stand for what is right even if you’re standing alone”. Listening to these people, that I had great respect for, made me feel stupid. I was like a fish out of water and felt that I really needed my sanity tested. Of course, the result from Yaba has indicated that I am mentally stable, so the problem was not with my cognition. I paid a very steep price for taking a stance – I was not going to bribe anyone but would rather pay the society for my running foul of the law. Yet, the same society was very critical of my actions pointing out that I should have followed the easier path – pay the bribe and save myself the headache.

Recently I was studying the book of Genesis with my family and came to the narrative about Joseph in Portipher’s house. Joseph was going about doing his work when Mrs. Potipher took an interest in him. Sleep with me, she requested but Joseph would not. Of course, if Joseph had slept with her, he could have saved himself the agonising years he spent in jail and Mr. Potipher might not have been any wiser that he was bedding his wife.

At Joseph’s trial and conviction, no one showed up. It must have been very difficult and an extreme anguish for Joseph’s good soul to go through the abuse, the slaps, the degradation of his being for standing for God. Yet, even our God did not show up for his defence! He stood alone and got thrown into the Egyptian jail. For days, I was unhappy that God did not show up for Joseph, I still am. However, I have resolved this partly by Isaiah 43:2 that basically says:

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

My interpretation of the above? This is God saying, I won’t prevent troubles from coming your way but I wont allow troubles to overcome you. Got it? Joseph made a choice, not to sin against God and he was made to pay a steep price. Has anyone thought of how Joseph must have felt while in prison – angry? Dejected? Sorrowful and even Regret? Regret at not having had the pleasure and avoid being wrongly prosecuted? 

However, his story ended well. Following his prison experience, Joseph got elevated to the rulership of Egypt and the rest is history. One could say that without his prison experience Joseph might not have become the Prime Minister of Egypt. So it was also for me. At a send-off for one of my bosses, someone chose to recount my ordeal to point out how I could be resolute on a course I believed in. My bosses counted it as righteousness and when an opportunity for elevation presented itself, they did not fail to use that as a reason for putting me forward for the position. Again the rest is history.

It was Apostle Paul, that looked at the Christian life and noted that these kind of challenges are bound to come and test us. However, in his parlance, these are light afflictions. Light afflictions that work for our perfection if we are patient enough to go through them. I could do well without them but it seems that’s the way life is designed to be lived on this side of eternity. So dear friend, carry your cross and be challenged to do the right thing, always.