My conscience would not’ve allowed me to rest, says man who found and returned N17million

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In Nigeria
Aug 29th, 2014
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Umar Yusuf did what a few in his position would have done. He found a customer’s dollar bills running into over 100,000 and returned it intact. For this, the reception manager has been honoured by the government of Jigawa State at the grand finale of its 23rd anniversary celebration in Dutse. Yusuf has been the toast of his Jigawa Hotels employer and lovers of honesty, writes Asst. Editor Olukorede Yishau

He lives in a country ranked the 144th most corrupt. Nigeria, where Umar Yusuf, a reception manager at Jigawa Hotels, proudly identifies as his country, shares this dubious status with failed states, such as Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.

Nigeria only managed to defeat countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan and South Sudan, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen of the 177 countries surveyed.

The rating, which has not significantly improved despite the anti-corruption efforts of the government, remains a sore point for Africa’s most populous country.

But Yusuf, who saw and returned a customer’s missing N17 million, has shown that despite the grim corruption index of his country, there is hope that someday Nigeria with his likes can share the same space with Denmark and New Zealand seen as nearly squeaky-clean by graft watchdog Transparency International in the global survey on corruption. The annual list is the most widely used indicator of sleaze in political parties, police, justice systems and civil services.

June 27 started like every other day for Yusuf. He resumed at his work place which is Jigawa State’s best hotel. The hotel boasts of a garden, not far removed from its restaurant. At some point that day, he was around the garden and saw two men sitting and chatting about God-knows-what. Some minutes later the men left the hotel. One of them was a guest, who had just checked out. Not long after, he discovered an Ipad bag where the men were. He reached for it and behold there was over 100,000 dollar bills in the inner compartment of the Ipad bag. The owner checked into the hotel on June 24 and stayed for three days. It was on the third day after checking out that he forgot it at the garden side.

For someone whose salary and other emoluments are nothing close to the money he just found, chances are that he would see it as manna from heaven or answered prayer. But not Yusuf, who was born July 15, 1976.

“It never occurred to me to take the money for myself,” he told The Nation on phone from his Dutse base yesterday.

But why didn’t it occur to him to steal the money?

“My conscience‘ll not allow me to rest. Here we have a forgotten item store. What occurred to me was to just inform the management and that was what I did. Somebody did the calculation and said it was N17m based on the exchange rate at that time,” he said.

Some days later, the contact person who booked the hotel room for the customer called to ask if the cash was recovered.

Yusuf said: “He was not even sure where he forgot it. But immediately he asked if I saw it, I just told him the money was with me. He came for it. I asked him to count it and confirm that it was complete but he said there was no need and left. In the first week of July, I got a letter of appreciation for returning the money.”

He was not the first member of staff who discovered items forgotten by guests. But that was the first time that huge amount of money was discovered and returned in tact. No wonder, the management of the hotel, better known as Three Star, has treated him like the Golden Boy.

“The management gave me an award for the act,” he said.

Determined to further sell him as a symbol of honesty, it also  recommended him to the owner of the hotel, the Jigawa State government, to be honoured.

So, on Wednesday, an elated Governor Sule Lamido, as part of activities marking the state’s 23rd anniversary, presented him with a plaque and a certificate. There was no cash reward, Yusuf told this reporter.

Lamido was proud of him and he did not hide his feelings.

This newspaper’s facebook page yesterday published Yusuf’s picture where Lamido was presenting the plaque and certificate to him. It became an instant topic for discussion among Nigerians. The picture was re-shared 248 times; it was seen by 155,520 people; and it generated 444 comments. The comments were diverse. Some praised him; others mocked him.

Alambo Datonye said: “God bless Yusuf Umar. Your good name is far better than all those with dubious wealth. I don’t know if Mandela was the richest man, yet the whole world stood still for him in life and in death. No wealthy man can ever get close to that. A good name is far better than dubious riches.”

The views of Ugboga Olatunji tally with Datonye’s. “There are still men of honour and integrity in this country. Don’t look at it and say in your heart, why don’t I collect this money? May God give you more than this in your pocket.  It is well.”

Another commentator, Chris Da’es, said: “People who don’t know that God rewards will conclude that the man is foolish. One disease (sic) can take the whole cash in a jiffy. I love his demonstration of honesty.”

For Pultor Innocent Ogbotobo, Yusuf deserves nothing but commendation. He sees him as a great man, who has written his name in gold.

“Before you start judging this man, think about this for a minute.  Even if the government gives him job or not, it does not matter; what matters is, he is a great man. The definition of greatness is to discover who you are and to live by it. Though people, friends and family may call him all sorts of names but there is one thing which I know will earn him honour than the rest, and that thing is nothing but honesty because it is written that ‘a good name is better than abundant of riches’. I am really inspired by this man’s story. To be a man is not to depend on other people. This is the person that is capable of leading this country. Think about it,” Ogbotobo said.

Phemmy Joel feels the government should give him cash reward.

Nawa for our govt o, Aah! Can u imagine someone who is honest, trustworthy returning that huge amount of money and they paid him back with ordinary paper certificate? Aah! No’ wonder corruption speaks out in everywhere in Nigeria. Government could not give him job or better still something out of the money. How many hotel workers can do what he did? I know God that commands us to do.  So, He will reward this man.”

For Gladys Iyamu, her problem is with the fact that he was not given a cash reward.

“My problem is not the money that he returned, but the baseless certificate that was presented to him. Or is it a bad thing if he is recruited in government job? I don’t know why Nigeria government can’t set good example for others to emulate.”

Jaiyeola Joseph feels Yusuf deserves prayer and love. “May God bless him and his entire family. I am proud of you. The owner and hotel management should give him a better award that will transform his life, not mere certificate, at least N5 million should go to his account,” he said.

The concern of Olugbenga Thomas Alabi is why the customer was carrying such a huge amount.

“How did such huge amount get to the hotel and how on earth will someone forget such amount?”

To Owoeye Popularity Highseek, Yusuf was unfair to himself to have refunded the money.

His words: “Opportunity never comes but once. This man will surely die in poverty. Hope the fool is not a married man sha, or else his wife and children need to leave him for a better life. Nigeria is a corrupt society. God really wanted to help this man but he misused the opportunity.”

Makinde Ogunleye said the country had become a nation where hard work and merit are not rewarded.

He said: “We basically live in a world where it is survival of the fittest and virtually gone are the days where hard work and merit were duly rewarded. It is the age of the opportunists, the fittest are the smart, crafty and those with vision. This guy would probably regret his decision for the rest of his life when the bills start coming in and his good name doesn’t mean shit. That is the honest truth.”

For Yusuf, who started working in the hotel 15 years ago, money does not make a man. Character does. He says his religion, Islam, does not support stealing what does not belong to you.

He has a wife who is proud of him and two children—both boys. His focus now, he said, is to pursue a Higher National Diploma at the Jigawa State Polytechnic, where he earlier bagged an Advanced Diploma in Public Administration. He had his elementary education at the Katutu Primary School in Ringim Local Government Area of Jigawa State. His secondary education was at the Government College, Birnin Kudu.

The story of Yusuf may just be unfolding. Though Nigeria is seen by many as an ocean of corruption, again and again the honest ones find their level and excel.

Perhaps a national honour is in the offing for Yusuf.

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