It has been said that when the head is rotten, the body gets spoilt. There is rampant corruption amongst the top hierarchy of the Nigerian political system. Staffs of government establishments fear for their future on many fronts fronts; they know their pension after serving the nation may not come in time, come at all or come in bits that render the payments almost useless. Many have then looked to other means of guaranteeing themselves more than enough while they serve. The other side is the fear of losing their jobs considering the rumoured cash crunch in government that never seems to go away.
Whenever you drive down to the Abuja airport at night, chances are that the ticket you collect for paying a toll at the airport gate had been bought and resold by another motorist, most likely a cab driver. This is what happens. Everybody who drives into the airport gets to pay a toll for a N100 ticket. This is normal and is the procedure. Some cab drivers and airport officials have found a way to make money for themselves out of this. I was in a cab to the Abuja airport when I saw this play out. I had noticed the driver had a pack of used tickets and he was concerned about the fact that I was paying attention to them. He asked if I was an SSS agent and I replied in the negative – was I going to say “yes” even if I was one?
I put up my “comradeship smile” in order to probe him on the tickets. I started speaking pidgin and reduced the communication barrier between us. Within minutes, he started speaking. He said was going to sell the used tickets at the airport. I asked him how he got that much ticket in the first place and his answer was expected as he said he saves each one he pays for at the gate. When he saves enough of those, he then gathers them and resells to the airport officials at the gate. I brought out my phone to take a picture of the tickets but he staunchly refused. I laughed through his refusal and tried again but he asked if I was an SSS agent again. I then told him SSS agents are busy on the internet looking for “cyber terrorists” not thieving civil servants. We got talking about other things as is my way with cab drivers. He made me realise there are more houses without occupants in Abuja than there are with occupants. It was then I paid attention to the estates on the road to the airport. They were mostly deserted. He promised to drive me round the city on my return to see what he was saying for myself – funny how he made the offer look like he was going to be driving me without charging a dime. We spoke about Pape the quarry part of Abuja and the evacuation. He said there were some 15 million people living there who would be driven away by the government soon. I told him Abuja’s total population would not even reach 15 million within the next 5 years at best. He then reduced that to 1.5 million. I let go.
We finally got to the gate of the airport. He paid for his toll and I saw the lady at the gate clearly tear out a new ticket as she gave him one. He then told the woman he had tickets for sale and just as I expected, she was mum and acted as though she could not understand the cab driver’s language. She clearly heard but chose to ignore for obvious reasons – there was a third party around and she’d be setting herself up like the naïve lawmaker who went around collecting money from a suspect billionaire in the middle of the night. After we drove past the gate, I told the driver that if she tore out an unused ticket for him, it would then mean the used tickets were only useful at night. He laughed and said “oga, you be proper Lagos boy o, you don understand everything sharp sharp.” When he parked for me to alight from the cab, he called an airport “tout” who could also be a staff of the government. He signalled to him and the young man showed recognition and came to the driver’s side of the car. While the driver was trying to bring out the used tickets, the “tout” quickly pushed his hand down. Apparently, there was an official around whom the “tout” feared could catch them.
This is what happens. The officials not selling tickets at the gate would walk down to the car park. They’d buy the used tickets at the airport and then resell to motorists at night, pretending to be tearing out new ones while doing so. I don’t know how much this gets to cost the nation but I know they all feel justified going by the words of my cab driver. As far as he was concerned, “all these big thieves steal all the big money, let the poor man steal small too” and I said it is true “where corruption is a national sport backed by government, it is only normal for everyone to try to game the system.” He told me he’d sell his 20 used tickets for just N500. Those would be resold for N2000. The officials make N1500 off my driver’s deal alone. It won’t be a lot of money compared to what one campaign organisation made off the nation as it helped a presidential candidate take over the airwaves. The same *campaign organisation also came to the rescue as it bought front pages of newspapers campaigning for the increase in petrol. Many people believe the said campaign organisation uses government money. Many also believe a minister who has the powers to get these airport officials arrested for corruption is the chief executive of this campaign organisation. In the land of thieves, the big thieves feel justified, while the small thieves risk being jailed by the big thieves for daring to steal the little they are able to.
I’d expect someone from the aviation ministry reading this, look to get to the end of this ticket scam matter but even if they fish out the culprits and send them to jail, this acts of theft will never stop until we clean each ministry from the top, starting from the minister, starting from A which in this case would be the ministry of Aviation. Until then, may the best team win the National Corruption Olympics. I have the cab drivers card, who knows, I could be interested in his drive-around-town offer on my return to the city.
* Neighbour to Neighbour was founded by the Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah and Chief Godsday Orubebe who was rewarded with the Ministry of Niger Delta. Mike Omeruo the National Coordinator became the Director General of the National Orientation Agency. President Jonathan ensured that Neighbour 2 Neighbour was well oiled the last term but the principal actors even have more juicy oranges to squeeze more from in preparation for 2015.
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