At the Akure Npower device collection centre, Sunshine Herald investigates the delay and bribery that played out before devices are collected.
Inside the hot sun, people stood disarrayed and disorganized, sweating, as those who could find no strength to stand again, found a harbor to take refuge.
It was the MTN connect office along Oba Adesida road, Akure and they were Npower beneficiaries who came to collect devices distributed by the empowerment scheme.
I had sighted a friend who is a beneficiary.
Altogether, there are two collection points in Ondo State both of which are MTN offices; Ondo and Akure offices.
From afar, one could sense that the process lacks organization, which was what aroused inquisition.
As I tried to maneuver my way through the crowd who had defiled the sun, on that Tuesday afternoon, there came voices that were obviously angry. From one end rose a voice, "we have been here as early as 4.am and some are paying money to go inside."
In a bid to debunk the voice, I took some steps further into the crowd as I heard another voice, "that guy, he collects money," pointing to a relatively young dark man about six feet tall having a yellow t-shirt bearing logo of MTN.
Another voice came out; he will make up to N100.000 in a day.
To confirm my curiosity, I set out the following day, 25th October as early as possible. My intent was to confirm or debunk what had been said about the collection process.
I took a cue from the lamentation of one of the beneficiaries who, despite being at the centre around 5 a.m. the previous day, struggled to register his name on number 109.
I arrived at the centre 6:30 a.m. and I was already beaten to first arrival by persons who woke the morning before I did.
While the office was still locked and with no staff at sight yet, I stepped forward to register my name into a list that was supposed to determine who goes in first according to our time of arrival.
1-77 was filled up and I registered number 78 as Adeola Tunji.
A message was sent the previous day giving people the day to come collect the device, reason why the crowd had not been much like previous days.
As I moved around, I overheard some women discussing a re-cap of how the waiting period had been.
"When I came here yesterday by this time, it was the crowd that was much that made them say we should go and come back until some people went to the Bank of Industry office to protest," said one of the women.
Asked if people paid, she said, "that was last week, people were paying. It depends on how you play your card."
Another woman who was carrying a child complained, "I've been coming since Monday, the person I stayed with came here around 5 a.m and he registered as number 158 on the list. I got here today around six, I register as number 48."
She narrated further, "after they noticed that the crowd was much, they now said it was not available that people should go. So some people went to the Bank of Industry to protest."
The morning was becoming clearer and I was getting closer.
A young man who sat close by confirmed to me that some of the staff were collecting money.
"Some of the workers are doing it, they are collecting money but when I collected mine I didn't give them money o."
According to him, he collected his device on Monday. He later narrated that the demand for the money was not open but privately.
"If you come and you know you cannot bear the crowd, you can go and see one of them."
The collection process has been a slow one that discourages men from waiting.
"Don't they want to release the device," I asked and he replied, "they will release it but only want to make money from it. Some of their guys are doing it."
"Did you mean the security men", I probed further. "I don't know o but the security man could be doing his too," he answered.
A step further, I ran into a familiar young man who had come to get his device.
After a few pleasantries, he narrated the even that played out the previous day as I opened up a discussion.
"I heard yesterday was even more hectic," I started.
"I was here yesterday, In fact, we went to protest at Bank of Industry. It was after we came back that a handful of us received."
"They didn't send a message they ought to have sent to us before until we had gone to protest. After we protested, they started sending the message," he said.
"I even heard some of the staff are collecting money," I broke in abruptly. "Yes, now, they are using the means to collect money," he replied.
He continued, "The message should have indicated the day each person will come for the device but the whole process has not been organized."
While we waited for the arrival of designated personnel to continue the distribution process, the crowd was growing bigger yet not as big as the previous days.
The process could have been a less stressful one but according to a young man, "they want to be doing their own work. They want to distribute twenty or thirty in a day so that it will not disturb their work."
Why they do that? He explained, "the whole thing is for them to make some money. If people are much and are lobbying to go on time, they will settle them," he said.
A tally serves as an entrance ticket but one tally could carry more weight than the other.
Some few minutes before nine, some of the workers were arriving already.
A little more patience will pay off, I had thought.
At the sight of one of the security men, I approached him, discussing how he could help to get me into the office. He assured me to remain calm and that would be possible as soon as the workers are around and the office is opened.
All the while, my mind was on "that guy" whom I was told the previous day "collects money" so I could understand when the security man gave his assurance.
The Npower scheme was launched by the Federal government over a year ago.
The main policy thrust of the program is the development of large-scale skills by addressing the challenge of youth unemployment.
The platform was designed for youths between the ages of 18 and 35.
Currently, the scheme has over 200,000 beneficiaries that cut across the 36 states of the federation.
The anchor program includes Npower Agro; Npower Tax; Npower Build; Npower Creative; Npower Health; Npower Teach and Npower Tech.
Another member of staff of the MTN Connect office (the guy we have all been waiting for) arrived without announcement. After spending few minutes inside the office, he came out with a list as he majestically made some steps towards his car while 'lobbyists' were looking for the slightest opportunity to speak with him.
His first statement, "I no dey come outside today o na inside office I wan work throughout (I am not coming outside today, I will be working from inside the office).
"So I cannot have connection with anybody. Until you come inside before you see me. I need a rest"
A man pleaded for his attention, "just few minutes of your time sir," as he beckoned on the man who will fix his tire.
I had joined the few persons pacing to and fro around him just to get his attention and steal a few minutes of 'negotiation' with him.
Taking up the chance that stood before me, I took an approach towards him as I asked, "oga, how e dey be?" (how are you sir?).
His response was a concise question indicating we didn't have enough talking time, "which one you wan collect?" (Which device do you want to collect?).
"Samsung," I replied.
"Your money na N2,000″ (you will pay N2,000), he whispered as he avoided an eye contact.
"Oya come write your name here," (come and put down your name here), pointing at the back page of a handbill where I entered my new name, Adeolu Tunji as number 18.
He instructed further, "Wait I want to give you something."
The "something" was a yellow tally that reads, "Npower queue tally. Signed: MTN connect store, Akure." While 055 was boldly inscribed on it.
Trying to be sure of how much time I would wait, I enquired, "How many minutes before it's done?"
"This is the first list we'd attend to," he assured me.
We had the deal sealed by his car. He closed his car as he walked briskly to the side entrance of the building.
I thought I could plead with him to collect a lesser amount but he was obviously not in for any further negotiation as he demanded, "oya now where's your money?"
After doing the needful, I made my way back to the frontage.
I quickly ran so fast to catch up with him with a question, "oga, if I get other people nko?"
"Ehn, you let me know. Let me give you my number: zero nine zero…", up to the last digit.
"Your name sir?"
"Joseph," as he opened the door and entered the office.
It was some few minutes before 9 o'clock, he probably had made much money and if he continues would make more.
I calmly waited for my name to be called.
Nursing mothers and pregnant women were priorities while others were to be called in fives.
It suddenly dawned on me that it was the list in which I had my name on number 78 that was used.
The lack of organization in the process was enough to discourage people of early collection.
Breach of Agreement.
"Hello! Hello!! Hello!!!" it was I on the phone trying to be sure my receiver was clear on the other side. I called the number Joseph had given to me. It was picked and hanged up as I tried to explain to him he was supposed to call my name on the list.
I called again but his line was now busy.
Just beside me was a young man who also had an "arrangement" with Joseph but the line was busy as he made several attempts to reach him on phone.
"The guy f**k up", he said as he hissed.
The collection process includes that beneficiaries present their BVN and pen before they get the device.
The distribution does not involve payment of money by the beneficiaries or collection of money by the distributing agency but this seems to have been flaunted here.
Daily post reported that the scheme encouraged beneficiaries to report "anyone who tries to take advantage" of them during the process.
According to the Manager of the Akure MTN office, Mrs. Rhoda, the process started over two weeks and was supposed to last nine days but obviously exceeded the stipulated time.
The manager who was contacted on phone by SUNSHINE HERALD denied knowledge of any bribery in the device collection process.
"Ma, are you aware some of your staff collect money from people before they gain entrance into the building? I asked.
She answered, "am not aware of that."
As I demanded more information, she rebuffed, "As a journalist you would not expect me to start giving you information on phone. I don't know who you are."
Also contacted on phone was the Coordinator of Npower in Ondo State, Barr. Sola Ajisafe.
After several attempts trying to get through to him paid off, he also denied knowledge of the allegation even despite investigation revealing such.
"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know" was his response.
He further explains, "Am not involved in the distribution. It's a direct relationship between MTN and Npower office in Abuja."