When we lived in Nigeria, we lived on the outskirts of Bukuru which was a suburb of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, the vacation spot of Nigeria. We lived in a teacher’s house in the school compound of Kuru Special Science School. Just up the road from the compound, there was a road block before you could go into Bukuru or Jos. Every time we left home, we had to go through that road block unless we decided to visit people who lived off the Plateau or in another town besides Bukuru or Jos. The policemen were always there poking around trying to find a problem and hoping for a bribe if they could find something wrong, but we never paid a bribe, and usually got through pretty easily. We had heard that the policemen at some of the road blocks down south were there at the road blocks with their guns and drunk, but ours were never drunk, but they did carry big guns. They even helped once when they caught the Muslims intent on killing Christians at that road block. However, we had a mishap once that gave them cause to think they could bother us.
We drove a small brown Volkswagen bug. We were going down the road one day, and a huge goat, almost as big as deer, appeared at the side of the road. He came running across the road, so we stopped. We didn’t want to hit him. As we were sitting there waiting for him to cross the road, he came charging toward our car and rammed our windshield with his horns that were big enough and strong enough to shatter our whole windshield. The windshield was sitting in our laps in small pieces. After the goat was done, he just happily went trotting on across the street. He was unscathed, but our vehicle wasn’t. We were sitting there in shock! We took the vehicle to the garage immediately to replace the windshield. We didn’t realize the goat had also shattered a side mirror.
We went home going through the road block like usual. The policeman noticed the broken side mirror. We explained to him what we had been through with the goat. He saw an opportunity for a bribe. He began telling us we were lying and that we had actually had a very bad accident, but we were covering it up. He asked who we hurt with our car. We told him we were telling the truth and the goat really did run into the road and hit us with his horns. He then screamed, “You hit the goat! You’re lying!” He walked on around the car. He came to the back of the car and began kicking the car and screaming, “Boot! Boot!” Unfortunately, it had been many years since I was a little girl in England, and I knew what the bonnet of the car was in British English, the hood, but I had forgotten that the boot was the trunk. We looked at him dumbfounded and didn’t understand what he was doing. He just kept kicking the back of the car and screaming, “Boot!” I finally figured out he wanted us to open the trunk, but he was just getting angrier and angrier. He poked around in our trunk, but didn’t find anything he thought was amiss.
I had my two year old son sitting in my lap, and my husband had been driving. The Nigerian policeman came around to my side of the car and stuck his head in the window screaming at the top of his voice and scared my little boy to the point he began crying. The Nigerian policeman just kept walking around the car, kicking the car, and screaming. He began threatening to take us to jail. He thought he had a way to harass us to the point that we would pay him a bribe not to go to jail. Bribes were very normal in Nigeria, but we never bribed anyone. It was against our principles.
We sat there for several hours with him trying to find reasons to scream at us and threatening to take us to jail. It was starting to get dark. We told him that if he wanted to take us to jail, just go ahead and take us to jail, but he didn’t. He just kept harassing us, screaming through my window, and kicking the car. We were getting really tired, and I don’t know how he lasted so long.
Finally, a van drove to the road block. There was a white man in it. He saw what was going on. He came over and talked to us, and we explained to him what was happening. He told us he was a missionary. We had never met the man before, and we didn’t know what church he was from or anything. He said, “Don’t worry. I know this policeman, and he owes me a favor.” He went through the road block with his van easily. He pulled his van up just on the other side of the road block and parked his car. He called the policeman to his car, and the policeman seemed happy to see the man. The policeman got in his car to visit for a few minutes, and then he got out. The policeman was smiling and waving bye to the missionary in the white van.
The policeman came back and let us go through the road block without any trouble. The man in the van drove off, and we waved and tried to thank him. We drove on home. We didn’t end up in jail or have to pay a bribe, but the policeman at the road block had taken several hours harassing us. Some say bribing is the system in Nigeria, but if we had begun bribing, we just couldn’t feel good about ourselves. The missionary was a hero, but we never saw him again.