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Cabby who found millions in his car and returned money to owners:‘After national award, I’m now a different person’‘…house to be given after Sallah’

Weekly Trust: What can you remember about your childhood?Umeh Usuah Jaja: I am from Akwa Ibom State. My mother and father told me in the…

Weekly Trust: What can you remember about your childhood?
Umeh Usuah Jaja: I am from Akwa Ibom State. My mother and father told me in the village that if something does not belong to you, go and ask the person and if he or she refuses, let it be. My dad was a petty trader and my mum was a potter.
WT: How long have you been in the taxi driving business?
Jaja: In 2002 I joined Kaya Services at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, here in Abuja, after I lost my job at Julius Berger. I was a foreman. They maltreated us, so instead of staying idle I decided to do something else, believing that if one way closes another would open.
WT: Can you recount your experience when you recovered the now-famous package left in your car?
Jaja: When I got into car hire services in 2002, I drove for someone, earning N4,000 per month. I took two men to the Hilton with their luggage. When they got there, some people came to collect the luggage from them and they went inside the lobby. I did not know anything was left behind until at the car wash, early in the morning around 5:30, the car wash man pointed out a bag to me under the seat. I called my Chairman, Mr. Alex Ekwueme and told him what I had discovered and he said I should take it back to the Hilton as our office was not yet open. The office is usually where we take such things. When I got to the hotel, I saw them standing outside, so I parked and gave them the bag and they thanked me.
At that point, I still did not know the contents of the bag. They asked for my phone number and I gave them. After a month, they called our office and the office got in touch with me. When I arrived they asked me if I knew that the bag I gave them held N18million and a small laptop. They then asked me to prepare, that EFCC would give me an award. That was the first award I collected at a ceremony at the Yar’adua Centre. In 2012, I got about six awards from different organisations. This year, I was unaware that my name had gone as far as the presidency.
WT: Did it matter to you whether you were honoured or not?
Jaja: Yes, it mattered. I am from what is seen as the lower cadre of society. It is important to me that I was honoured. I receive the honorarium with all my heart and my whole family rejoices with me. I’m a different person after this award, especially now that the whole country knows about me.
WT: Have you been given the flat you have been promised?
Jaja: The CSO to the Minister has already collected our names, phone numbers and residential addresses and told us that we should wait till after the FCT Minister returns from Sallah break.
Since 2010, when I was in Bassa village, I saw people buying unapproved land. We have a family of three boys, three girls, so we came up with the idea to get a portion so that we could have ours.
We built a three bedroom flat, but in 2012 it was demolished and I was in a very sad mood. I went to Kuje and rented a two bedroom flat at the price of N150, 000. We always struggled to pay the rent since. So this house Mr. President gave to me has made me very happy.
WT: Will you live in it or rent it out?
Jaja: I will never rent it out. Even If I die or my wife dies, my children’s children would live there because it is property given to me by the federal government.
WT: Was there another incident where you had to return anything?
Jaja: In 2007 there was a day I took a man working with the African Independent Television (AIT) to his office around 8pm and he forgot a camera and a mobile phone in my car. I did not have a phone then and didn’t know how to operate one. The camera was worth a lot of money. I returned the car back to the airport late that night and in the morning found the camera while cleaning the car. When I took it back, the whole staff there (AIT) were very happy. They paid me the exact money that one pays to get to the airport.
WT: Jaja is a name common to Rivers people and you are from Akwa Ibom. How did you come by the name?
Jaja: My father was working in King Jaja’s palace in those days, so if you have a strong man in your family or in your village, when you give birth to a child you wouldn’t want that name to die. That was how I was named Jaja. I believe that in the future my son too would still do something that would carry the name on.
WT: Are you looking forward to retirement?
Jaja: They say ‘An old soldier never dies’ so I will retire myself anytime I feel like. But before then, I would be like a rabbit that moved from an old house to a new one. He would still go back to old house to pick something.
WT: What was it like for you, growing up?
Jaja: After my primary six, I went out to hustle. Then I got into the company and then someone trained me as a caterpillar driver. At that point I said, yes, this is my dream. If you see me in the field, there is not a single type of caterpillar, tipper or trailer that I did not operate till I became a senior foreman. Then I came to Abuja here and joined Julius Berger, and among about seven foremen, I was number one because I worked like a machine. Up till today, I exercise myself.

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