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In Nigeria, A Culture Of Bribery Turns Deadly

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When reporter Nick Schifrin went to Nigeria to cover the country's notorious culture of corruption, he was immediately hit up for a bribe by the man behind the Lagos airport X-ray machine, then by a police officer outside the airport and by a soldier on the road from the airport. You get the idea. As Nick reports, corruption isn't just an annoyance and a drag on the economy. It can have tragic consequences.

NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: On the streets of Lagos, there's a saying. Every day is for the thief. Godwin Ekpo’s thief was supposed to be his protector.

Do the police often ask for money?

GODWIN EKPO: Police taking money from people by force.

SCHIFRIN: Godwin drove a taxi called a tricycle. He made $25 a day, enough to support his wife and four children. Last month, a police officer stopped him to demand a bribe. He refused to pay.

EKPO: All of a sudden, I heard a gunshots, twice. And now I went down, and the blood was just gushing out.

SCHIFRIN: The officer had shot him for refusing to hand over the equivalent of $10.

And so the bullet came in through your shoulder?

EKPO: Bullet cut here - cut here as well.

SCHIFRIN: He's pointing to his shoulder and his jaw. He can't use his arm. He can't eat solid foods. He hasn't worked since he was shot.

EKPO: Up 'til now, I'm still thinking, what came on him? What motivated him? What gave him that audacity to shoot the gun to innocent people?

KEMI OKENYODO: The perception has been that the police is corrupt.

SCHIFRIN: Kemi Okenyodo is an anticorruption activist.

OKENYODO: The police has been - always been used as a tool of oppression.

SCHIFRIN: She says low salaries and a culture of impunity mean police try and get away with anything. Corruption has become the grease the system needs to function. And police usually have gotten away with anything. Local TV stations air videos of police officers inside of people's cars asking for money.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: (Foreign language spoken).

SCHIFRIN: That's an officer saying, settle up and demanding the equivalent of $50. He exhibits no shame. His victim reveals no surprise and hands over a bank card.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is my ATM card. This is the number of the ATM. This is the code.

SCHIFRIN: Earlier this year, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was elected on a platform of fighting this corruption. He's investigating ministers accused of stealing billions. He hopes that serves as a warning to corrupt police. But it's too late for Godwin.

EKPO: I heard my children shouting, mommy's dying. Mommy's dying. Mommy's dying.

SCHIFRIN: Godwin Ekpo's wife, Comfort, had been nursing their newborn in his taxi. A second bullet missed him and hit her in the head. She died instantly.

EKPO: And now I went back to police. Why do you kill my wife? Why? What have I done wrong? All of them get inside their vehicle and left.

SCHIFRIN: Godwin talks to me in his living room, in a working-class district of Lagos. He's surrounded by his children. The oldest daughter wears a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. The youngest daughter wears a frilly yellow dress. His song leans against his father's shoulder.

EKPO: My wife cherished me so much and our children. She loved me so much. So my friend died and left me. And my wife that would have assisted me is gone. I used to tell my wife that I would like my children to be great men and women in this generation. And I'm going to train them. (Crying) My God.

SCHIFRIN: The police have promised to prosecute the officer who shot Godwin and killed his wife. The trial hasn't happened yet. The police promised to pay for his kids' school. He says the tuition funds haven't arrived yet. Corruption steals so much from Nigeria. It stole Godwin's wife. And unless something changes, he fears it could steal his children's future as well. For NPR News, I'm Nick Schifrin in Lagos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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