Honesty Really pays – Taxi Driver Who bagged National Award

By Kevwe Ebireri

The 68-year-old taxi driver, Imeh Usuah Jaja, who was recently conferred with the national award of Member of the Federal Republic, MFR, by President Goodluck Jonathan in recognition of his honesty, earns only N36,000 a month. He has a wife and six children , two of them grown up men who have taken after him in the taxi driving business. Life has always been rough for his family.

Yet, incredibly, when a passenger forgot a whooping N18 million in his taxi, Jaja did not for a moment consider taking it to better his lot and that of his family. He promptly returned it to the owner, simply saying, “The money does not belong to me.”

Many Nigerians, even those in better states in life, would see the 68 year old as stupid. In fact, one person said about his act of honest that “he will die in penury” but through his act of honesty, Jaja has come to national limelight as a different kind of human being, a true Nigerian to be proud of. He has not only received a national award, he has also met and shaken the hands of the President, Goodluck Jonathan, something that thrills him immensely, as well as gotten the gift of a house from the federal government.

His act of honesty which earned him the much coveted national award dates back to 2007 when he picked some passengers from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, where he operates his car-hire business to the Transcorp Hilton. Among their luggage was a bag loaded with N18 million which they slid under a seat and later forgot.

Jaja said he discover the bag when he took the car to a carwash at the airport and without opening the bag to verify its content, returned it to its owners at the hotel after calling his office to report the incident.

“If you find any forgotten item it is either you return it to the office, or you take it back to where you dropped the people, as long as you know the people whom you picked. It is not our duty to open it,” he said.

It was not until after a month that Jaja was informed of the bag’s content and was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for his first honesty award. His joy knew no bound.

This was not going to be his last test of honesty as five years later, in 2012, he picked a reporter with the African Independent Television, AIT, who had just returned from the U.S. As he alighted from the taxi at his office, he forgot his phone and camera.

The driver said he discovered the items the following day and also returned them to its owner. Later that year, he received not less than six integrity awards from various groups and organisations including the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and Guinness Nigeria PLC.

jaja with car

Then one day as he rested at home, he received a call from a magazine that he had been listed among those who would receive the highest award in the country and that he should get a copy of the Punch newspaper for details. Before this time, the magazine had published an interview about him and so had his contact.

“Oh, I felt very happy and my family members too were very happy. The day they sent the invitation to me informing me of the day for the award, we were very happy. All my children, friends and colleagues were very happy,” he said with smiles as he recalled the experience.

According to him, the awards have changed the way his colleagues relate with him, as they have now become friendlier, and he is hopeful that the house promised him by the federal government would be given to him in no distant time.

His colleagues at the airport have their own way of celebrating the celebrity among them who has brought some honour to their trade. Apart from calling him “MFR” or “Honourable”, a title which in Nigeria is the exclusive preserve on members of the House of representatives, they now help him advertise for cooks, gatemen and other domestic servants that he would need in the house the government is giving him.

Jaja’s story is, indeed, that of a sudden turnaround. His life had been one of endless struggles and pain. Once a house owner, he lost his three bedroom apartment to demolition during the El-Rufai administration. At that point, he felt as though life had ended for him as there was no end in sight to his struggles.

He and four of his children now reside in a village far inside Kuje, where he manages to pay his N150, 000 house rent. To augment his N36, 000 monthly income, he and his wife engage in subsistent farming planting crops like cassava, vegetable, beans, corn, cocoyam, etc, in order to make some money.

His wife, Mercy, said meat for the family is a luxury and that they remain content with fish and crayfish.

“Sometimes, I will prepare garri and “fufu”, that means I won’t buy it in the market. So anything that comes from daddy, we use to buy fish and crayfish. Yes, is okay, I happy with it,” she said with smiles.



    In spite of their situation, she said she was happy that her husband returned the N18 million.

    “When I heard he returned the money, I was happy, because the money is not his own,” Mercy said.

    A neighbor of the Jajas who gave his name simply as Kaka, said the driver truly deserves all the recognition and honour for his integrity and honesty, saying it was a good but tough decision he made in returning the N18 million.

    “Sincerely speaking, I don’t think if I was the one I would have returned that money o, because I would have thought of all the things that the money can buy, like a good car, wristwatch, perfumes and good clothes. So he deserves the honour and respect,” he said.

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