Nigeria’s saints among sinners

We all face temptations ever and anon. It first surfaced at the Garden of Eden when Satan, the ultimate tempter who is blamed by every tempted till date, slithered into the environment and got Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. And she discovered it was tasty. She then approached her man, Adam, and told him what God was hiding from them. Adam too took a bite. Mission accomplished, the Deceiver sneaked out of the Garden. The rest is a familiar story.

There are three major sources of temptations: Satan, women and money in that order. Even Judas was tempted with money to betray his Master, Jesus Christ.

It is not easy to fight off temptations at all, especially when money is at the root. I have faced a couple of temptations in my life that bordered on money. We shall come to that later.

What actually led me to pen down this piece was a recent report about an Enugu-based housewife that resisted a princely sum of N14m mistakenly wired into her account.

The tempted was Mrs. Josephine Nchetaka Chukujama Eze. On August 3, this year, the temptation banged on her door, armed with the N14m. Her integrity alarm was instantly set off.

According to Mrs. Eze, she was in a salon when a credit alert sounded on her phone. The full-time housewife and mother of three immediately put a call to her husband, informing him of the “miracle’’.  The couple did the “unthinkable”. They alerted the bank about the error and the cash was recovered from her account. The transaction was originally meant for Sankiya Global Investment Ltd, a private company, based in Lagos Island.

Some dishonest Nigerians, especially of Pentecostal confraternity, that heard about the couple’s show of integrity were not impressed. They derided them for not being smart. They were oblivious of the fact that the transaction could be traced to the account of Mrs. Eze. Keeping such money, though mistakenly lodged in her account, is a criminal offence. I am sure the duo do not belong to any Pentecostal church. You will get to know why I leapt into that conclusion shortly.

Mrs. Eze’s demonstration of honesty came on the heels of another reported case of a Nigerian who returned an unspecified amount of cash to the owner somewhere in the East. The carton was thought to contain noodles, marketed by the owner. The Nigerian, named Chidiebere Ogbonna, had gone to buy the noodles and the seller mistakenly handed him the carton of cash paid for the supply of the commodity by a customer. Surprised by Chidiebere’s honest act, the owner of the business decided to reward him with free cartons of the commodity for six months.

As for Mrs. Eze’s exhibition of honesty, nothing has been heard about a reward for her action after some weeks now.

However, Mrs. Eze and Chidiebere were not the first Nigerians to wear the halos of honesty. First to shock the country with acts of honesty in recent years was Mrs. Josephine Ugwu, a cleaner at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, who had at various times from 2014 returned huge sums of money totalling N40m while on duty. She was given an award of recognition by President Muhammadu Buhari last year.

The interesting thing about the trio of Mrs. Eze, Chidiebere and Mrs. Ugwu is that they all belong to the Igbo tribe. There is no Nigerian tribe that matches the Igbo’s love for money… which is why there is this popular belief that if an Igbo man or woman kicks the bucket, the corpse should not be rushed to the grave. You can’t even rely on the doctor’s certification. All you need to do is to jingle coins in his/her ears or pass wads of mint across the nostrils. If he/she does not sneeze back to life, then the corpse should be prepared for committal to mother earth.   

In a country swarming with larceny and high-wired corruption, other Nigerian tribes have also stood up to be counted for being epitomes of integrity.

Last year, a Customs officer, Bashir Abubakar, rejected a mouth-watering bribe running into N150m offered him by drug traffickers to import 40 containers loaded with Tramadol, a drug banned by the Federal Government. Bashir would have pocketed the cash quietly, thanked the Almighty Allah for the rare “favour”, turned in his resignation letter and vamoosed from the system to enjoy the rest of his life as an instant millionaire.  

Also in July, last year, a non-commissioned officer of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Bashir Umar (another Bashir), caught national attention with his act of honesty. His truthful deed manifested in his return of 37,000 Euros he found in a parcel at the Hajj Camp Market in Kano.

In recognition of his show of integrity, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar, at a special occasion held later, spoke about how Bashir stumbled on the parcel during a routine patrol but concealed the contents, amounting to an equivalent of N14,843,300 which he handed over to the owner, Alhaji Ahmad, without the knowledge of his colleagues.

As a reward for his honesty, the chief of air staff gave him a commendation letter as well as a two-step promotion to the rank of corporal. This was besides detailing an aircraft to fly him and his parents to Abuja for the historic ceremony. He praised the parents for giving their son a sound moral and home training that produced honesty and integrity in him. Has anyone heard about what the Customs did to honour one of their own, Bashir Abubakar, for painting the organisation with dignifying brush?

Now, let us talk about my own temptations. I will start with the kind that visited Mrs. Eze. In the early 2000s, I received an alert for N200,000 in my bank account with the defunct AfriBank located along the Murtala Mohammed Way, Jos. The money, huge cash in those days, hit my account at the time I was a bit tight financially as it is usually the case. I knew instantly that there was an error.  Nevertheless, I went to the bank to find out who did that favour to me. They checked the transaction route and discovered that it was a huge mistake on their own part. They did not reward me for being honest.

About five years later, I relocated to Abuja and joined one of the high-profile Pentecostal churches. During one Sunday service, an announcement was made for testimonies to be rendered by the congregants. One of the testifiers announced to the excitement of everyone in the massive auditorium that a couple of days earlier, some good cash was miraculously lodged in his account. After the huge crowd chorused Halleluiah that shook the foundation of the building, the senior pastor, stepped forward, yanked the microphone from the beneficiary of the miracle and informed his followers that there was an angel attached to his commission that ferried (unmerited) favours into committed members’ accounts. I was stunned. My mind raced back to the N200,000 an “angel” lodged in my own account at the Afribank which I “stupidly” alerted the bank of… and lost the booty!

Earlier in the 70s, my immediate boss who was the chief correspondent of The Nigeria Standard of Jos, Mr. Simon Shango, left me in the office located then at the Zaria Bye-Pass. Others too had left the office on break. I had stayed back to do some stories. When my biro ran out of ink, I went to Oga Shango’s cabinet to get another one. Then, lo and behold, I was hugged by a cash temptation manifesting in wads of naira notes. Judging by the way the money was scattered in the till, if I scooped two handfuls of the cash, he would not have discovered the heist. And though I was not going to touch the cash, I reasoned that if I left the office as the last man and someone else with itchy fingers stumbled on it and decided to clean up the till, I would be the prime suspect. So, I decided to stay put until Oga Sango returned to the office. When he came back, I mildly berated him for being careless with the company cash. He was impressed with my show of honesty and rewarded me with some cash.

When Muhammadu Buhari emerged on the scene on the last day of December, 1983, there was non-payment of salaries for three months at the Nigeria Standard, Jos. By the end of April, 1984, we were paid the arrears of three months. Temptation again winked at me. It happened that the training editor, the backlog of the iconic Baba Rasak Aremu (now late) was mistakenly added to my own arrears. The total amount given to me was enough to pay for the balance of a piece of land at Jenta Adamu, Jos, which a colleague, Mrs. Philomena Shilong, sold to me. I resisted the temptation and returned the difference to the cashier named Dennis. He was so grateful. I got no reward for that because of the circumstances surrounding the error.

No doubt, there are many bad apples littering the whole place under the sun. Nevertheless, there are still some saints in the city of sinners. And Nigeria is one of such cities. 

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