Over the last five days, a video of a Nigerian policeman demanding for a bribe of N25,000 ($156) permeated the twittersphere. Such instances of bribery occur daily in Nigeria, but it’s rare that corrupt policemen get caught on video. The steep bribe coupled with the publicity garnered a lot of attention, and the policeman was eventually relieved of duty. Without the video evidence, this avaricious case of bribery would have faded as another commonplace example of police corruption. Technology-1 Corruption-0.
The socioeconomic role of technology cannot be understated. During my 2011 internship with Transparency International, I researched into the use of information technology, particularly crowdsourcing, in fighting corruption. Crowdsourcing In India, ipaidabribe.com is a site that invites people to share their experiences of bribery, the purpose, location and cost of the bribe. After the State Transport Department of Karnataka, India was repeatedly cited in bribe reports; the Commissioner was forced to act. Twenty senior officers were cautioned, and technology was introduced to minimize the opportunities for bribe taking. Similar sites have successfully taken off in Russia, Kenya, Pakistan, and other countries.
However, such technologically fueled fights against corruption remain rare in Nigeria. As of yet, the nation has not completely tapped into the potential of information technology. Public data on incomes earned by Government officials remain offline and hidden. Only as of 2011 did voice or video evidence become inadmissible in court. Fortunately, burgeoning Internet and smartphone adoption creates a greater avenue for information technology: particularly in crowdsourcing against corruption. The #girlnotbride saga demonstrated the power of combined voices: offline and online.
Will video evidence of bribery incidents become the new instrument to deter policemen from bribe? Well, it might temper police willingness to demand for bribes. Nigerians can be frustratingly tolerant of corruption, but are less tolerant when one is caught ‘red-handed’ (ask Honorable Farouk Lawan). Some worry only the small fries were caught and that Nigerian police officers may become more cautious when demanding for bribe. Technology has to target those ‘Ogas at the top’. Without severing the roots of the tree, plucking the leaves offers little solace. For now though, the victory from the video evidence shows that ordinary people can change from being the victims of corruption to becoming part of the solution…when they cry out with one voice.