Rankled by a culture of corruption foisted rough shod by military rule, Colin Powell, distinguished recipient of the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Secretary of State to the United States government, had famously remarked in 1995, that Nigeria was a country of “scammers”.
Powell, who was denounced by Nigerians for such an unfair and sweeping generalization, had further said:”Nigerians just tend not to be honest. Nigerians as a group, frankly are marvelous scammers. I mean, it is in their national culture”.
Perhaps, if Powell, who died on 18th October 2021, were alive, he would have added that we were a country of bandits, kidnappers and terrorists. And he would have been on target.
Thank God, ordinary folks have, in recent times, been carrying themselves with such exemplary integrity and honesty as to, not only change the negative narrative and insalubrious perception, but are exploding the myth that Nigerians are congenitally corrupt.
One of such outstanding persons is Aishatu y’an Guru Nahuce. A Nigerian pilgrim from Zamfara State. She returned a handsome $80,000 to its owner in Saudi Arabia while performing the last Hajj.
Hajiya Aishatu, aged 58, from Bungudu Local Government Area of Zamfara State, was performing the Hajj for the first time. A widow, she trained her seven children who in turn put together money for her to make the pilgrimage. She had found a purse containing the said $80,000 while going round the Holy Kaaba, a part of the Hajj ritual.
The other exemplary Nigerian is Mary Ngozi Kwekwaaru. A staffer of Eko Hotel and Suites Hotels, Victoria Island, Lagos, she had returned a sumptuous $70,000 forgotten by a guest. Aged 32, Kwekwaaru hails from Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Yet another person of high integrity is Auwalu Salisu. A commercial tricycle driver, he had returned the princely sum of N15million forgotten by a passenger from Chad Republic. The thirty-two year old Auwalu hails from Kano State.
In the aftermath their uncommon display of integrity and honesty, the troika of Aishatu, Kwekwaaru and Auwalu, has rightly been celebrated by their respective communities and the media. Though there was no evidence of monetary appreciation for Hajiya Aishatu, her community and relatives felt highly honored by her pious and ennobling conduct.
In the case of Kwekwaaru, she was presented with a cheque of N2million by the Ikwerre Local Government Area Chairman, Samuel Nwanosike. In addition, she was unveiled as Brand Ambassador by the Chairman of Emohua Local Government Area, Chief Chidi Lloyd. For good measure, the General Manager of of her hotel, Danny Kioupouroglou, latched onto her exemplary conduct to chime. Said he:”The incident is a testament to the honesty and integrity of our staff”.
Auwalu Salisu has since received a cash donation of N100,000 from the Kano State Chapter of the Arewa Consultative Forum(ACF). Besides, members of the Kano State House of Assembly(KNHA) are said to have promised to contribute some percentage of their salary to the tricycle driver. This gesture followed a motion sponsored by Alhaji Salisu Mohammed, representing Doguwa Constituency.
Three things stand out about this edifying triumvirate: The first is that they were impelled and galvanized by their faiths, their fear of God and their upbringing. Auwalu, who returned N15million, said he was motivated to return the money by his conscience and fear of God.
Second, these were ordinary, less heeled Nigerian folks. Aishatu is a widow. Kwekwaaru, even though a graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, is a hotel staffer. Auwalu is a tricycle driver.
Third, even though the monies they returned were huge by our standards, the three appear satisfied, even proud, of their actions. Except Auwalu, who came under pressure to keep the money, the two ladies were unrestrained. All did as their conscience directed.
In spite of the fact that the three feel satisfied and recognized by their respective communities for their integrity, they deserve to be celebrated and recognized by the Nigerian government by way of being awarded national honors. Their actions have rekindled hope, inspired Nigerians and burnished the country’s image.The government, through such agencies of conscientization and mobilization as the National Orientation Agency(NOA), should hold up and advertise them and others who have similarly displayed integrity and edifying examples in recent past as icons to be emulated.
Beyond celebrating them, the integrity displayed by these three Nigerians knocks the bottom out of unseemly claims or myths that we are “scammers” or that we are “fantastically corrupt”(apologies to former British Prime Minister, David William Cameron). Most of our ordinary folks are honest and decent. It is the few who occupy public offices who pillage the public till with recklessness. They are the culprits and they deserve the sternest rebuke and punishment.
It is such perverse persons who have access to public office. And it is they, who rather than serve with merit and integrity, morph into intrepid and shameless thieves. They abuse their positions. And they use them as conduits to salt away public funds. Witness, for instance, the alleged tale of the former squalid recharge card vendor who made such stupendous wealth under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch as to reportedly purchase an aircraft. Witness the lurid stories emanating from Nigeria’s Central Bank. Witness the recent report of the Nigeria Extractive Transparency Initiative(NEITI) which alleged that fourteen government agencies failed to remit $9.85 billion in revenue to the federation account. Witness also the same NEITI report which alleged that not less than N200billion was spent between 2021 and 2022 on repairs of our refineries which are in comatose state.
The amounts are so gargantuan as to, not only confound and to beggar belief, but inflict searing pain that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are walking free, luxuriating in their filthy lucre, while Nigerians wallow in penury and the country uses not less than 96% of its income to service debt.
For the sake of the Nigerian people, as exemplified and personified by Aishatu, Kwekwaaru and Auwalu, the government must bring to book those who have stolen the country blind. They must return to government coffers what they have pilfered so it can be deployed in the service of development. Such a measure will not only put us on the path of rectitude, it will encourage millions of Nigerians to tread the high and narrow path of honesty. Verily, “righteousness exalts a nation”.