Mr. Imeh Usuah and Family
After several telephone calls to a ‘national hero’ hiding from our eyes, Dele Ogbodo got a riveting story of an Abuja based cab man who returned 18 million naira to the foreigners who forgot the huge sum in his car
A dry and dusty road, decrepited house; cracked walls that play host to lizards all day long and squashy doors, his house is not hard to locate inside the community. In the house, free flowing mosquitoes takes turn to sing their songs, the rubber chairs are ancient; the small TV set on a makeshift Television stand in a distance far from the rubber chair is like an old man with empty eyes staring out at the street. But, a Hero lives here.
On Monday when national honours were handed out by president Goodluck Jonathan to deserving Nigeria, Mr. Imeh Usuah, a cab driver popularly known and called Jaja, who returned the sum of N18 million to the owners in Abuja was not on the roll of honour. “I was not nominated, I was not invited and I don’t even know those who are there”, Jaja said betraying no emotion.
With a mixture of Pidgin and vernacular, Jaja told his story,
“It was one morning by 5.30 AM, in November, 2007, when British Airways (BA), landed at the international wing of the airport in Abuja. As usual, I positioned myself from metres from the arrival wing waiting for passengers to come out so that I can get my customers and take them where ever they want to go in town. In my waiting position I saw these two white men who came with the BA aircraft and who were obviously tired from their look beckoned on me requesting for a drop at the Hilton Transcorp hotel in Maitama area in Abuja. I didn’t waste minute as I immediately loaded their bags in the cab and the remaining neatly arranged on the back seat and underneath the seats, and off I headed for the destination. I arrived at the hotel lounge within 45 minutes and dropped them with their luggage. I got paid N, 4000 for my service and I zoomed off, but unknown to both of us there was a bag which contains this huge amount of money left behind tucked away underneath my seat.”
And to discover it was there Jaja, says, “I decided to take the cab for washing as my usual practice after the day’s work, and while I was removing the foot mats in a bent down position, I saw this brown suite case tucked underneath the driver’s seat. Immediately I remember my last assignment and it dawned on me that the last passengers have forgotten the suit. Even though I didn’t open the bag, I sensed at that hour that it must at least contain some valuable items. My immediately response was to inform our Association chairman at that time, Mr. Alex Ekwueme Udom, telling him that I was returning bag to the owners.
By the time I met these guys on arrival at the hotel, they were standing at the hotel lobby confused, dejected and frustrated as they could not even recognize me that, I was the cab driver that brought them from the airport, let alone the number of my taxi. But, I could recognise them.”
Like a gallant soldier, Jaja said he alighted from the cab grabbing the suite case in his armpit and walk straight to them, pointing to them saying, “Oga oyinbo, this is your bag. “These people could not believe their eyes, their confused state disappeared, and they were so happy that they were virtually on their knees thanking me for the bag. They requested for my GSM numbers and in a twinkle of an eye, I disappeared from the scene.” He quipped. It was after sometime that the Abuja Leasing Company called our association that a report got to them of somebody who returned the sum of N18, 000,000 forgotten in his cab. Honestly that was when I knew that the bag I returned that fatefully day contained that amount of money.”
With no immediate gratification on his mind, Jaja marched back into his cab with his shoulder high. He says, “I did it to let people know, especially the foreigners that Nigerians are good and great people. I can go hungry for days, for as long as my integrity remains, hunger will disappear by itself”.
But, five years on, a man who showed foreigners that Nigerians are good and great people lives in squalor on a corner street in one of the satellite towns away from the capital city.
The lesson of a good and great Nigeria for the citizens in a man that should be honoured for moral standard and projection of good image of a nation is hiding away from people’s eye.
The family of Jaja, resides in flat 1, block 11 in the 1000 units poorly constructed housing estate built for widowers by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) in Pegi village. The supposedly low income estate, has become decrepit obviously neglected by the original owners because of its unattractive outlook.
The sparsely populated estate is on the outskirt of Abuja city, about an hour’s drive from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), where Usuah ekes a living driving one of the airport cabs. Jaja, a father of 6 and a native of Ubokudom in Akwa Ibom State is however is contented on this trade for the past 10 years running, after retiring from Julius Berger Nigeria Plc as a foreman.
Jaja’s story is perhaps etched in history of a prophet without honour. But, his audacity of hope, integrity and honesty will change the perception and stereotypes about who Nigerians are. For instance, The Economist edition of August 7th-13th 2004, on page 34 in an titled article, ‘Reforming the nearly Unreformable’ with the rider, ‘Abuja, Vicious Circles in which virtue cannot be easily rewarded,’ made all wrong impressions about characters that made a Nigerian, but Jaja proved all that wrong.
Five years after that publication on Nigeria, Jaja was rewarded with N30, 000 and a plaque by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) without any splendor of the event to send messages across the world and in Nigeria that Nigerians are indeed great and good people in the word Jaja used to described the reason that made him returned the money the whooping sum equivalent of N18, 000,000 to 2 British citizens who forgot their suite case in his car.
According to the Director General of NOA, Mr. Mike Omeri, Jaja’s honesty in these clime shows that the country is not irredeemable and that virtues can be rewarded.
In an interview with this reporter in his 2 bedroom apartment, in Pegi village otherwise called Abuja at 30, a drive of about 50 minutes from the FCT. Jaja told THISDAY, his first house , 3 bedroom flat was demolished in April this year by the Department of Development Control in Bassa village a suburb near the airport.
On his experience with such huge amount of money found and returned back to the owners Jaja said, “there is no amount of money that I will see in my life again that will make me not to be my normal self”.
He recounted an earlier events in his life, “ one incident will forever remain indelible in my life and which I will forever live with its good memory. It was when my dad returned 20 pounds to a man in his village who had hired him to rehabilitate his roof”. Jaja said that the man was so impressed with his father’s honesty he gave largesse of 1 pound to his father.
“I was about 10 years old then around 1956, my father who was a builder at that time came home one day rejoicing and in the mood we have never seen before. When we inquired about the cause of the unusual outburst of happiness that we saw radiating from him he told us that he was given a dash of one pound by an oil merchant who hired him to work on his leaking roof.”
So when Jaja discovered the suit case that contained 18 million naira in his cab in 2007, it was just natural to him to give the money back to the owner. “This is one great lessons of life I learnt from my father,” he said.
His parents he revealed were strong members of the Qua Iboe Church were strict and God fearing who instilled sound morals and discipline in all the children.
In the same 2007, Jaja had returned another man’s expensive Zoom lens Camera. “somebody who was coming from one of the eastern states boarded my cab to a television station in town, no doubt he must be a journalist. Because he was in a hurry, he forgot his very expensive zoom camera, and phone was forgotten in my car. In the morning when I wanted to clean my car I saw these items and took them to the office I dropped him earlier.” He said
Confirming this trait in Jaja, his wife who vouched for him, said: “My husband is such a man that can never take another man’s thing, he usually say what is not yours can never be yours, when I heard that NOA and some other organizations want to reward him I wasn’t surprised.”
Corroborating Jaja’ wife, the present Chairman of the Airport cab hire services Association, Mr. Jibo Ebiloma, said “We are indeed happy over the feat and boldness demonstrated by Jaja and we on our own have been using him as a role model here.”
Ebiloma conducted THISDAY round the Association’s store house where items that have been forgotten in drivers’ cab were kept, “look at all these items that range from laptop to book, boxes cloths handset that have been returned yet nobody has come to claim them.”
Although, Jaja is not a man after gratification, One thing which Jaja will however not forget in a hurry is the way his bedroom apartment was demolished by the Department of Development Control, an agency of Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), in Bassa village near the airport. This was an apartment that has once give this unsung hero happiness and now he says, “I am never a happy man seen all my life savings pulled down by same people who failed to give us shelter.”