I was standing on the queue of a government office and had been standing on it for three hours now. The queue was barely moving and I was exhausted. I was thirsty and hot and in a foul mood. The reason for my being on this queue was that I urgently needed a certain government document. Being a stickler for details, I had made sure that I had filled out all the forms correctly, attached all the necessary documents and paid the requisite fees. I did not want to reach the front of the queue and be sent back for a minor error and then have to return and queue again.
I had been informed that people requiring services from this government office started queuing as early as six o’clock in the morning. This had sounded like an exaggeration to me and I had decided to report there at eight o’clock in the morning, which was the usual time that government business commenced. Upon arrival, I was shocked to find a queue so long that it went around the building!
I took courage and joined the queue. If others could queue, then so could I. However, my courage began failing me after two hours of queuing. By three hours of queuing, I was ready to give up. Maybe I should just go back home and then return before six o’clock the next morning so that I could at least be at the front of the queue.
These thoughts were running through my mind when an official came around checking documents to confirm that they were accurate.
“No need to waste time queuing if you don’t have the correct paper work,” he said.
He was also issuing queue numbers so that those who were sent away and were able to correct their documents could come back and take their former places on the queue.
The official reached me and took my papers. I was looking at him and noticed that he was not looking at them. He was also looking at me. Sort of assessing me. I could not make out the reason for this.
After a thorough assessment of my person, he looked down at my documents and said, “Madam you are missing an official signature sheet here.”
“What is that?” I asked. It was not one of the requirements on the list on their website.
“Just go to my colleague standing over there,” he said, pointing to an officious looking man who was standing a distance away. He will help you with the signature. Take this number and once you sort out your paper work, you can rejoin the queue here.”
As if he wanted to reinforce the message while at the same time announcing to the rest of the people why I was being pulled out of the queue, he announced in a loud voice, “Ensure you have all your paper work correct people. Please counter check with the official list on the website and if you find that you are missing a document, go back home and get it.”
Downhearted, I took the piece of paper he handed to me with my queue number printed on a piece of paper. I was number 322!
I walked dejectedly to the colleague I had been sent to. Some of those who had escaped being sent away smiled smugly. I could imagine their judgmental voices saying, “How could such a smartly dressed, seemingly educated woman not have all the required documents? That is the problem of depending on personal assistants and secretaries to do your paper work!”
As I drew closer to the colleague I heard a guy actually say loud enough for me to hear, “The government has equalized us this time. These rich people will have to queue with us. Kwa ground vitu ni tofauti!”
I was not a rich person but I wouldn’t correct him. “From his mouth to God’s ears,” I consoled myself. Let God hear his remarks and make me truly rich.
“Hi madam,” the colleague said to me, putting out his hand for a handshake and smiling invitingly.
“Hello,” I responded, pleasantly surprised that the guy was actually smiling. This was a great contrast from the document inspection guy who wore a serious uninviting face.
“My name is Leo by the way,” he said. “And your are?”
“I am Didi,” I responded.
“Wow, Didi?” he asked smiling even more broadly. “What a beautiful name!”
“Thank you,” I said, not sure if the guy was now flirting with me and why he would do that.
“Well, Didi, from the look of things you seem to be missing some documents?” he asked.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “According to your colleague, I am missing an official signature sheet. I don’t know what this is for it is not on the official list on the website.”
“Don’t worry about this,” Leo said. “We will sort you out. Follow me to the office and my supervisor will sign and stamp the sheet for you.”
“Thank you,” I said surprised again at the friendliness of this government official. If I was a government officer faced with a queue like this that started at six o’clock in the morning, I would not be friendly to anybody.
I followed him into the building, by-passing the front-liners on the queue who, I am sure, were feeling relieved that they were about to be served. “Lucky them,” I thought to myself. “After I get this so-called form, I will go home and return very early tomorrow morning.”
We left the customer service floor where we were all to be served and climbed one flight of stairs onto the next floor. We then walked along a long corridor until we reached a door marked “Supervisor.”
Leo stopped and knocked on the door. He did not wait to be invited inside but opened the door and walked in.
“Hey, Leo what’s up?” the supervisor asked, turning away from his computer.
“Hey Jared, meet Didi,” he said introducing me to his supervisor.
“Hi Didi,” the supervisor said, standing up and shaking my hand. He too was wearing a friendly smile. Maybe the government was now investing in customer service training for its staff. That was the only explanation for the number of smiles I was receiving.
“She needs assistance with her documentation,” Leo explained briefly.
“Very well,” said Jared. “I will take care of it. You may return to your post.”
“Thanks Jared,” Leo said. “Best of luck Didi. See you back outside.”
“Thanks Leo,” I said.
“Have a seat,” said Jared, pointing to one of the visitors seats across his desk.
“Thank you,” I said, relieved to be taking the weight off my feet.
“Would you like some tea, coffee?” he asked.
Huh? Is he offering me tea or coffee? What is happening here?
“I will drink some water if you don’t mind,” I said.
He dialed a number on his extension and spoke into it and then turned back to me saying, “My assistant will bring you some water.”
“Thank you,” I said. My mouth was dry and perched after standing under the sun for three hours.
“Let me have a look at your papers,” he said, reaching out to take them.
I handed them to him and he perused them, frowning now and then. He then put them down and turned to his computer and typed something.
“Wow,” he said. “I can’t seem to find your form in our online system.”
“But I filled it in online,” I said.
“Let me search using your surname,” he said. He typed something and then started drumming his fingers impatiently on the top of his desk.
“Slow network,” he said, smiling again.
His assistant came in with bottled water on a tray and offered it to me. I took it thankfully.
“Now Didi,” he said after a while. “I see your application here. What is lacking among the support documents you scanned and uploaded is an affidavit. You need that to get the authorized signature form.”
“Oh no!” I said. “What kind of affidavit?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jared said ignoring my question. “Let me call my friend James. He has a law firm across the street and will sort you out at a minimal cost.”
He now picked up his mobile phone and dialed a number and then spoke into it. When he was done, he turned to me and said, “You are in luck. James is free and is willing to help you. Leo is coming to take you to his office.”
“But why don’t you list an affidavit among the required documents?” I asked. “And what kind of affidavit is it.”
“Well, it is something they introduced recently,” he said. “It takes some time to update the online system.”
There was a knock on the door and Leo peeped inside, “Oh, you are not yet done? I have Mary here who also needs the authorized signature form.”
“Send her in,” Jared said, waving Leo into his office. “You will need to take Didi to James’ office across the road for an affidavit.”
“Okay, no problem,” said Leo, beckoning to me to follow him outside.
I gathered up my papers and followed Leo out of Jared’s office. We went out of the building and I noticed that the queue was getting longer and longer. What a frustrating day this was turning out to be!
We crossed the street and went into a high-rise building. “Kempton Towers,” the entrance of the building read. We walked straight past the security guards who saluted Leo and waved him in without any fuss. We went up to the eighth floor and then walked into an office. The receptionist smiled at us and waved us into James’ office.
“This is the client from Jared,” Leo said by way of introduction.
“Welcome, welcome,” said James, rising to his feet to shake my hand. “Do have a sit.”
“I will wait outside,” Leo said.
“Great, thank you,” said James. He then turned to me and asked, “So you need an affidavit? I will prepare one for you in a minute. All I have to do is just fill in the template with your details and then sign and stamp it and you are good to go!”
“What kind of affidavit is this?” I asked again.
“It’s an Affidavit of Marriage!” said James nonchalantly.
“But I have my marriage certificate at home,” I protested. “I can just bring a copy.”
“Just a minute,” said James standing up and going to shut his office door.
“Listen,” he said in a low tone, coming back to sit across the desk from me. “It’s like this. For a small fee, I give you an affidavit of marriage to a prominent politician and boom! You become an instant VIP and go to the VIP section to have your documents processed. No queuing, no stress, no waste of time.”
Dear reader, I was shocked by this revelation. I was flummoxed! Flabbergasted! Astounded! Dumbfounded!
James sat back silently and watched my facial expression. Was this something he witnessed every day?
“But haven’t you guys gone through a lot of trouble just to get a bribe to take somebody to the VIP section?” I asked incredulous.
“What do you expect the staff there to say?” asked James. “Come we do corruption? They can’t say that. Not with the Counter-Corruption Agency running around aimlessly, trying to meet their unachievable targets!”
“What if I tell you that I work for the Counter-Corruption Agency,” I said.
“No you don’t,” said James. “As you said, we have gone through a lot of trouble to avoid getting caught. We have done enough research on you.”
“Okay,” I said. “I have to leave now. This is getting scary.”
“No, don’t leave,” said James gesturing to me to stay put. “You are a smart woman and we knew you would ask these questions. Smart women always ask the right questions. We have dealt with many of them before. That is why I am telling you what we are doing upfront so that you can make the choice to participate or not. If you choose not to participate, our only request is that you forget all this happened and don’t report us to the authorities.”
“You are very trusting,” I said. “I can walk out this door right now and go and report you immediately.”
“Which is also well and good,” said James. “But as you said, our scheme is elaborate. Immediately you report us, you will find that this office does not exist. James, Jared and Leo do not exist!”
I sat quietly for a while contemplating what he had disclosed to me. Should I participate in this scheme or not? I thought of the queue and my number on it. 322! I was not going back there. I looked up at James and somehow, he knew that I was willing to play ball.
“So how does this work?” I asked.
“I get you an affidavit of marriage and you become a VIP, as I said earlier,” James said.
“No, from the beginning,” I said. “I will not fork out any cash until you explain to me the whole process.”
James laughed and sat back in his chair. He looked at me and then said smiling, “The actual supervisor, is the one who you saw going down the queue and checking papers. It’s his job, you know. Don’t keep the client queuing for nothing. Make sure that all papers are in order before you waste time on the queue. He picks an appropriate time to go down the queue, when everyone is exhausted and people are willing to do anything just to be pushed to the front of the queue. His targets are simple, middle-class looking like women who hate wasting time and who understand scheming.”
“What do you mean middle-class women understand scheming?” I asked.
“Never mind,” said James. “Anyway, if you fit the profile, he will withdraw you from the queue and send you to one of his staffers for assistance. In this case, you went to Leo. Leo will take your papers and read your name and place of work. He will immediately text Jared and I these details. Jared will look you up online and I will send your details to our contact at the National Intelligence Agency.”
“This is just crazy?” I said.
“By the time you reach Jared’s office, he will have known as much about you as he needs to,” continued James. “He will then wait for information from me. He will stall you by looking for your application online. Once he gets information from me that you are not a law enforcer, he will proceed and refer you to me. If he gets the information that you are a law enforcer, he will pretend to confirm that your application is actually complete and there was an error on the part of the officer who drew you out of the queue. He will stamp your form ‘checked’ and send you back to the queue.”
“Dear Lord!” I said.
“You have undergone this whole process and now you are here before me,” said James. “Let me get you that Affidavit.”
“So how do you select which politician to ‘wed’ me to?” I asked.
James laughed and then said, “We like politicians from upcountry whose wives are not so well known and whose wives are not in the public light. You know, these politicians are often polygamous so having an affidavit to prove a traditional marriage does not raise eyebrows. Once you are processed through the VIP, we let you go away with your affidavit and do with it as you please.”
“How much does all this cost?” I asked.
“A paltry six thousand shillings,” he said smiling.
“Paltry?” I said. “That is a lot of money!”
“But think of the inconvenience you will avoid,” he said. “The document you are applying for will be ready this evening and we will send it to you by rider this very evening or tomorrow morning. Whatever is convenient for you.”
Hmm. This was sounding very tempting.
“By the way, we only do cash transactions,” he said. “No credit or debit cards and no mobile money transfers!”
“No corrupt person wants their transactions traced,” I remarked.
“We are both corrupt, you and I,” said James. “And you are right. We don’t want the payment to be traced back to you. No need of getting you into trouble.”
I laughed. What an elaborate scheme! And yet it sounded so simple when he explained it. But he was right. In the current day and age, one could not just come out openly and tell another, “Come we do corruption!”