My First Bribe

The drive to Ibadan took 3 hours. As we made the transition from citified Lagos to the wide, open stretch of the African hinterland, the buildings, the hawkers, the honking – it all disappeared. The roads, in decent condition, were littered with oil tanker wreckage, and from time to time, small villages could be spotted alongside the highway. Huge, bold-texted billboards passed by – City of David, Fire of Mountain, Redeemer’s University, Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. “Names of prayer cities,” my driver explained. Unfortunately, I missed out on most of the explanation, as I still have not grown the ears for Nigerian English. I heard something about plots of land, Church classes, and mega-events, but I’m still not entirely sure what a ‘prayer city’ is. Any pundits out there care to fill me in?

Traffic was nothing like Lagos, but the occasional bottlenecks were still a marvel. Transport trucks, motorcycles, and filled-to-the-brim passenger vans, they were all there. When movement slowed, the selling began. The products were practical (iced drinks and biscuits), and the merchants scuttled between vehicles to hurry after potential customers. I was spotted a few times – white skin! – but with a short gesticulation of the limb, I waved the sellers on.

The hotel in Ibadan is (to repeat a word that I’ve used in the last two updates) seedy. It’s a cash-only establishment. The manager gave me an oral tour of the hotel. “Gym and pool, free. Internet, over there, 200 Naira for one hour. You see sign? Massage parlor, you pay, eh, whatever you want.” He chuckled. The elevator, the one that works, smells like the rudder of an out-of-season speedboat. My room is comfortable, though, with a built-in radio above the headboard and plenty of soccer on TV.

Today, at 3:30pm, I found myself in a small, two-storied grocery store off the main Ring Road. In Africa, securing permission to record prices has not been a problem so far – I shiver when I think about Russia. This particular establishment, however, would not budge. “I am sorry, but we do not allow it, your economic research,” one of the floor officials said. I was persistent, and so was she. I chose my words carefully. “Listen, I do not know what to do here. My company comes here every 6 months and it was not a problem. I will only be a few minutes. Is there any way we can make this work?”

The last two surveyors have both had problems getting permission, so that part about it not being a problem was a slight stretch. “Go ahead,” the official said. I walked upstairs, and a few minutes later, I was told that I had to give the workers something in return for “helping” me write down the prices. Right. After I was done, we negotiated a bit. At first, one person wanted me to purchase an entire handle of Vodka. After settling on a few small snacks, we all laughed about it, and I made them promise to not harass the next surveyor.

Pringles, a red bull, and some yogurt – my very first bribe.

13 thoughts on “My First Bribe”

  1. hahahaha amazing again!!! Good work on that one. Can’t believe you got out just by purchasing chips and redbull! After fighting for permission like that I probably would have bought the vodka without them even asking me and started on it before I got out the door. oooh good times!

  2. alan…i didn’t know about this blog…expect one more avid reader. ahhh, africa…fun to see how you can always make things work. enjoy buddy

  3. Alan: Great blog piece, especially the part about your first bribe. I got a great laugh from that. Keep up the good work. As always, I’m proud of you and I’m impressed with your handling of the many local customs and people you have dealt with.

  4. I would never have thought red bull was quite that powerful hehe.

    Hey, found your blog through TBEX (excellent site!) and I really love it! You write in amazing detail! jen x

    1. @jen Glad to have you aboard! TBEX is a great resource for fellow travelers. I dig your blog too, and yes, Red Bull is that powerful.

      @POPS You’re the man. Will call you soon.

      @Ryan King Wait, the real Ryan King!? Hope you’re doing well – have you made it back to China recently?

      @Josh White Sweet nectar of the gods indeed. Should be back in Nashville for USN graduation. Hope to see you then. Ibadan’s got nothing on Athens of the South.

      @eliza Miss you wildly. Will call you when I get back to the States to catch up in a few weeks. Much love from Nigeria!

      @Meghan A shame I did not meet your friend in Addis Ababa. See you in ‘wicked cold’ Boston in a few weeks! Be safe.

  5. Okay, I hate to be that guy, especially since I was that guy about your iced latte in Abuja, but I would not consider that a bribe. I think it is a tip.
    I am not trying to be funny, but we don’t say that we bribed our taxi driver for getting us to the airport on time. The way I see it, you wanted to walk around a small grocery store for a long time and write down prices without any intention of contributing to the owner’s bottom line. You were asking him to open himself to you without recompense: you were asking him to perform a service for you. It might seem like I’m stretching the line, but I don’t think that’s true; you asked him to do something before you above and beyond the normal duty of a store owner, and he did. In America, we tip for all sorts of (shitty) service.
    Now, the owner/employees may have gone about their tip asking in a pretty obnoxious, non-subtle way. Their method may have been obtuse, but I see it more as a market transaction than anything else. Think of it more like your lunch with that “rebel fighter” in Kenya and not as “African corruption.”
    Also, how much is vodka there? In Cameroon, I literally bought vodka in slurpable packets, and there was plenty of the cheap stuff too.

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