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Honesty still the best policy

Just when you are singing Hosanna for one good deed done by a compatriot, bang! Something happens to shatter all your optimism, making you wonder…

Just when you are singing Hosanna for one good deed done by a compatriot, bang! Something happens to shatter all your optimism, making you wonder if the intrinsic goodness of man is all but a myth. But then, from the very ashes of disappointment and doubt rises the spectre of hope, of goodness so habitual that it negates the bad and ugly narratives others had saddled us with.

Queen of the tube, Oprah Winfrey, has probably never heard of the Nigerian, Josephine Ugwu. The latter is too far down the social ladder to have attracted the attention of world celebrities. But Oprah could as well have had the Nigerian airport cleaner, Ugwu, in mind when she declared in her characteristic oracular manner, “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

Ugwu did the right thing over and over again and when it seemed her good deeds were never going to be acknowledged by the Nigerian authorities, fortune knocked on her doors and the nation rose up to salute a refreshing reminder that goodness still abounds within these borders.

Back in 2014, Ms. Josephine Agwu found N12 million forgotten by a passenger inside the airport restroom where she worked as a cleaner and turned it over to the authorities. She was praised and received cash gifts for the commendable act. On another occasion, she also found various sums — N10 million, N8 million, and N7 million forgotten by travellers in the airport, and each time, she returned the money to her employers. At the time she started returning those huge sums to her employers, her monthly salary was a paltry N7,800 (about $22).

When news of her good deeds broke on the social media, respondents were divided in their views. Some felt she had done the right thing while others felt she was the very personification of a ‘Mumu’ (or idiot). Why would a poor cleaner return millions literally thrown into her laps by Providence? They queried.

The Lagos State House of Assembly took notice. A member, Hon. Abiru,  noted that the first time Agwu picked a bag of money, it belonged to a Nigerian. In the second case, it belonged to a white man who compensated her with just $50 which she rejected until her colleagues forced her to collect it. In the third case, the owner of the monies did not even consider it necessary to show appreciation. House members said even though she worked with the Federal Government, she was resident in Lagos and that celebrating her would encourage others to imbibe the virtue of honesty, especially as the country was witnessing moral decadence. The House resolved to absorb her into the Lagos State public service if the federal government did not improve her status.

The Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC), Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) Division, honoured Ms Josephine Ugwu, presenting her with a plaque and a certificate. Chairman, PCRC, MMIA Division, Alhaji Falekulo Lamidi commended Ugwu for displaying exemplary honesty in the discharge of her duties. “I believe that with what she has done, she should be recognised by all. The money she returned was much, but there are some rewards that are bigger than money. PCRC is very impressed with your courageous and honest behaviour and this is worthy of emulation”, he said.

In a society afflicted with a shortage of good examples, the Catholic church added its voice of commendation through St. Leo’s Catholic Private School which, at its 2016 graduation and award ceremony, gave Ugwu a special award. Rev. Sis. Felicia Lewis, said part of the reasons Ugwu was being honoured was to let the pupils know that integrity, hard work and discipline pays. “We are bringing Ugwu out as a model to young people and the society at large. She has exposed the Nigerian society to the deeds of integrity and honesty.”

The biggest compensation was just around the corner. Last week, four years after she embarked on a career of honesty, President Muhammadu Buhari personally presented the keys of a new house to Ugwu in recognition of her integrity in the discharge of her duties. She has also been given automatic employment by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.

At the same occasion, an Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Bashir Abubakar, who reportedly rejected a bribe of $412,000 (about N150 million) offered by drug traffickers to import 40 containers of Tramadol, was also honoured.

Earlier in the year, a member of the Nigerian Air Force who returned 37,000 euros ($41,500) found in a parcel received double promotion as a reward for his honesty. Bashir Umar, a member of the Mobile Air Defence Team of the Air Force, was on patrol duties with his colleagues at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, when he found the cash.

For me, despite the many instances of graft, dishonesty and perversion of our cultural values that confront us everyday, despite the shocking discovery that some of our newfound heroes are but closet villains, despite the unfair narrative that characterises us all as thieves and double-dealers, here — thank Goodness — are examples of real Nigerians whose conduct recommend them to the rest of the world.

“Conduct reveals character, and we best understand integrity when we see it lived out in a person’s life”, says Charles H. Dyer. By the conduct of these three, an unsung aspect of the Nigerian character has been escalated to the world stage. Now you know why I won’t give up on Nigeria.

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