On Sunday July 7, when ACM Bashir Umar stumbled on 37, 000 euros ($41,000 or N14,820,000) at Kano airport, the Air Force personnel had two choices:
- Grab the cash and quietly walk away, resign from service and live a private life and his poverty will be in the past.
- Return the money to the owner, remain poor but honest.
He chose the latter, a decision that would have sounded silly in a country where integrity is scarce, and survival is for the fittest.
He was not the first to do something like that, so what’s the big deal? In 2014, a cleaner, Josephine Agwu, who works at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos, found 12 million naira and returned it to the owner.
There have been little instances of honesty here and there in a country where corruption is paramount. But not enough to disregard sincere efforts of fidelity that has become so insignificant because of the contagiousness of corruption that has tainted the image of Nigeria, and enabled the askance look especially from the outside.
You could recall that it was in the same month of July that five Nigerian soldiers were declared wanted for absconding with millions of naira belonging to a VIP they were escorting. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in many cases of fraud and disloyalty growing with disheartening prevalence. Mockery and ridicule have been employed as recruitment tools by the majority who have accepted stealing as a way of life. The stories fill the news everyday.
There are excuses though, “Nigerian Leaders are thieves, they are only there looting public funds in large sums. And they do so with utmost impunity. So why should I not do the same when I have the chance”? This is the defense line of an average Nigerian whenever the question of honesty comes into play. The soldiers who scampered with the millions of naira they were escorting had been handling such transactions involving huge amount of money for so long. So they know the drill, most of these transactions are illicit, and their principals live off it to the penury and jealousy of their subordinates.
The Nigerian Army has not been able to explain what the millions being escorted from Sokoto to Abuja was meant for, and the VIP, Mr. Okiti, an Army commander, is yet to make any explanatory statement about the huge sum. It’s a constant display of impunity that has always put sensitive conscience on a state of dichotomy, and it’s only those who developed their conscience on the staunch of fidelity that can resist the urge to join them when obviously they can’t beat them. ACM Bashir Umar is one of those. There is always a question of what do you have to gain on the side of morality when there is impunity to be enjoyed on the other side?
Bashir Umar received a double promotion to corporal, Josephine Agwu also was promoted at her place of work, and appreciative Nigerians donated money to her to the tone of 1.4 million naira. But the objective in being honest is never to be promoted or to be praised financially by people.
It’s more like being a good example to a fragile conscience, or a personal hygiene awareness campaign in a time of deadly virus. “But it’s just some drops of clean water from the dirty stream,” says the man who has not read the Bible’s story of the 12 Spies. The insignificant 2 numbers with positive claims won over the 10 who had negative reports. And God was pleased.
In fact, their testimony resulted in victory for the rest of the Israel nation. But the two Spies were different because of their mental attitude, they had trained themselves to see through the good and bad, and to take sides with the good. So fidelity is like a personal hygienic attitude that protects a person from diseases, and it starts with little things like:
- Picking up a wallet with a stash of cash and fighting off the urge to keep it.
- Picking up a lost phone and returning it to the owner.
- Paying the bus conductor when he has forgotten to take money from you.
- Returning money to the owner when your account is mistakenly credited etc.
No doubt, these traits helped Bashir Umar and Josephine Agwu to develop a measure of honesty that has stood the test of our corruptible time. And it has also inspired so many others to do the same. The benefit of honesty goes beyond you being a reference point of trust and all the public applause. It comes with peculiar peace that its source is rooted in your heart.
Examples of rare virtues of honesty should be study cases at homes and schools. The younger generation needs to replace what is immorally common with what is morally scarce. A corruption free future cannot be attained by anti-graft laws only, but through a mindset that sees graft as an unwelcome guest in the mind.