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The “nail boys” are at it again.

No, not the manicurists and pedicurists you see operating on the sidewalk, at the taxi parks, or in some restaurants and offices in Jos, Nigeria.

These so-called “nail boys” specialize in creating eight-foot lengths of 4 x 4s studded with spikes. They set up roadblocks on the main highways near Jos in order to collect “taxes” from hapless travelers. Those who refuse to stop risk having their tires punctured by the spiked boards. Those who do stop are often subjected to verbal abuse, may be threatened with physical violence, and seldom get away without paying. The “nail boys” work from dawn to dusk; they can outwait any traveler who refuses to pay.

Since the beginning of the year, the number of “taxes” being levied at these stops has steadily increased. The government insists that most of these taxes and all the roadblocks are illegal but seems helpless to prevent them.

No matter how many stickers and permits and badges we have, it seems we’re always in need of one more. If we were to paste all the required stickers on our windshield there would be no clear glass to look through. It’s an apt image for the lack of transparency that is such a large part of Nigeria’s corruption problem.

I begin to understand more and more why tax collectors were so hated and despised in Jesus’ day, and why Christ’s preference for their company over that of the religious leaders was so utterly shocking. If Christ were to visit Nigeria today, would he prefer the company of the “nail boys” over that of missionaries? That does give one pause.

Next time the “nail boys” stop me, I’ll try to bless instead of curse them. Maybe I could create a sticker of my own—“Jesus loves tax collectors and sinners”—and see if I can swap it for one of theirs.

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