Just when we thought all hope of finding honest Nigerians was lost, Mrs Josephine Ugwu emerged to clear all doubts. A former cleaner at the airports, Ugwu was the first of two employees of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria that President Muhammadu Buhari honoured this Tuesday at the State House, Abuja, for exhibiting integrity in the performance of their official duties.
In a rare display of honesty, Ugwu is known to have returned a total of almost N40million she found, on different occasions, to owners of the funds.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, people who had Ugwu’s moral credentials were not scarce in the part of the country she comes from: Nsukka cultural zone in Enugu State. But the situation has changed a lot since the 1980s even in her hometown Obukpa in Nsukka LGA.
Ugwu was first discovered in 2006. Her monthly salary then was N12, 000 but she returned over N10 million she found at the Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu where she was working as a cleaner. In 2014, she found and returned N8 million at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. In the same year, she found and returned N7 million at the same airport. In 2015, she found and returned $12 million forgotten in the toilet by an airport user. And, in 2019, she found and returned N200, 000 at the private wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport.
It sounds like a fairy tale, yet it is true. On each occasion she stuck to the credo that “Honesty is the best policy”, many mocked her. Some said she rejected an angel’s offer to be rich. Some even cursed her: she was condemned to living in penury because she didn’t make use of the opportunities created for her. Others were sure she wouldn’t be rewarded for her acts here on earth. In fact, some wondered why she had been the only cleaner that found forgotten or misplaced items at the airports. The truth, however, could be that the others who found money or other valuables at the airports did not return them to their owners as Ugwu did.
Some Nigerians from other parts of the country used to castigate Igbo people as lovers of money. It has taken a woman to prove them wrong. Indeed, there are Igbo men, women and youth who would never touch money they did not work for, no matter how poor they were. And foreigners who regard Nigeria as the land of scammers can now see that many Nigerians could be trusted with money.
We agree with President Buhari who, on presenting the integrity awards to Ugwu and assistant comptroller-general of customs Bashir Abubakar (who rejected $412,000 bribe offered him by drug traffickers),stressed the need for Nigerians to uphold the traditionally cherished values of honesty and integrity. In addition, Ugwu received the key of a house in a choice location in Abuja from the president.
Ugwu had humble beginnings. The last of 12 children of her parents, she lost her mother before her first birthday. Thus, she grew up a poor girl and suffered all the indignities associated with poverty. By her conduct, she has taught other children or young adults a big lesson in honesty and the values of diligence at work. She is a worthy role model for today’s youth. Those who take to crimes like robbery, theft or cybercrime presumably because of poverty or unemployment should turn a new leaf immediately. Girls and young women who turn greedy, looking for men to supply their needs, have seen the greater value hidden in hard work and honesty.
We rejoice with and congratulate Ugwu on the award she has just received. She has done Ndigbo and all Nigerians proud. A greater honour lies ahead.
With: The Oracle Today