*If I ever wanted to steal the money, I had sufficient opportunity to do so, she says
Mrs. Josephine Ncheteka Chukwujama-Eze, is an Angel both in physique and candour. She, no doubt, proves most nay-sayers wrong that Nigeria is no longer populated by the most patriotic, humane, God-fearing people on earth. Even with scorching hardship, despondency and despair caused by bad governance, spiralling unemployment, hate action and wickedness currently greed tearing the society and families apart, Mrs. Chukwujama-Eze says no to these vices and proves she is examplary, imbued with rare positive character traits, what more with the billions of Dollars and Naira being reeled out on our mass media as either outrightly stolen or embezzled, with people at the epi center of such unconsionable sleaze occupying top leadership portfolio in the country. Immediately returning, not after any form of prodding, inquisition or probe, a princely sum of nearly N14 million wrongly credited to her bank account, correspondent, MYKE UZENDU, trailed this illustrious daughter of Enugu State and wife to journalist cum lawyer, to the Coal City, Enugu State, and brings you the delightful encounter with this great Nigerian patriot and rare homo sapiens. The excerpts:
Madam, since you returned nearly #14 million (precisely #13,946,000), the news has gone viral on the social media. How do you feel?
I am both surprised and elated. I am still wondering what is now presumed so special that I did, that warrants so much attention and accolades. I have been asking myself, do I really deserve all these encomiums from fellow countrymen and women? I was just being myself and never set out to impress anybody. Suddenly, our phones (my husband and I), have become busier with calls from families and friends and journalists. It’s really amazing and I am immensely grateful if people believe I did anything worthy of commendation.
What exactly happened, how did this journey begin?
It began in the early evening hours of Monday August 3rd 2020. That day was just like any other day in my routine life. I was in my friend’s hair salon to get a new hairstyle. All of a sudden, my phone beeped an alert. At first I did not bother to check the alert because I thought it was the usual unsolicited SMS from my MTN network provider. But after some time, I casually scrolled my message list and was surprised by what I saw. An online transfer of #13,946,000 SANKIYA GLOBAL INVESTMENT LTD.
Initially I was confused. Then I read it over and over again. I was not mistaken. The first instinct in me was to go to my bank and return the money but it was already outside banking hours. The second instinct was to call my husband. He began to ask me questions. “Do you know SANKIYA GLOBAL INVESTMENT LTD”. Of course not. “Did you do any work for anybody?”Of course not. He then told me that we shall go to my bank the following day and return the money. He gladdened my heart because it was like we had previously discussed it.
I assured him I would have called him to meet me at the bank if the money had come within banking hours. In the morning of the following day, my husband and I went to the Zik Avenue, Enugu branch of ZENITH BANK PLC, where I am a customer.
My husband sought to see the branch manager and he introduced us and our mission, the manager and few of his staff who heard it were touched and grateful. My husband asked for a piece of paper and biro and addressed a letter to the branch manager stating how the sum of #13,946,000 was paid into my account from an unknown source and I did not wish to keep the money. The letter therefore authorized ZENITH BANK to reverse the money to SANKIYA GLOBAL INVESTMENT LTD. I signed the letter and we left the bank premises. I received a debit alert.
I thought it was the end of discussion but my husband took it up from there. I didn’t know that what I did melted my husband’s heart. His journalism instinct returned at full blast. Unknown to me, he penned a touching story of my experience titled “My Wife Is My Hero” and posted it on his Facebook page to celebrate me. I told him I didn’t even know what I did and he was clapping for me. He jokingly told me he will give me a standing ovation. Unknown to me, he contacted his friends and professional colleagues in the media. Before I knew what was happening, the news drizzled, rained and finally became a heavy torrent. The news went viral. That’s where I am now.
Great! Why did you decide to return the money? Does it mean you have no need for money?
Hmmm. The answer is very obvious because the money is not mine. Like any other person, of course, I have needs, but it’s not because I have needs then I have to convert someone’s money when I clearly know does not belong to me. I just wanted to satisfy my personal conscience.
What would you have done if your husband refused that you return the money?
Ha! I have lived with him for 19 years and I know the type of man he is. There is no way he will allow me to keep money that is not mine.
I was not surprised by his reaction. Infact I would rather have been surprised if he refused. But for purposes of argument, if he had refused, I would have informed my brother in-law MR Clement Eze, who I know my husband respects very well. And my brother in-law too, I know very well, is the last person that will support me or my husband seizing such money. Never, even if a camel passes through the eye of a needle. This is family character trait that I am referring to. It’s impossible to keep what does not belong to us.
If you know your husband and his family so much, can you predict your husband’s reaction if you had wanted to keep the money?
(Laughs) very easily. If he fails to persuade me, he has no patience to report to my people or any of my friends. He will promptly invite the police. In the kind of families I come from and married into, this question is a mere hypothesis because keeping the money is not an option at all. The question simply does not arise.
What was your state of mind when you saw the credit alert. Were you tempted, even if monumentarily, to keep the money?
It never amounted to a temptation for me. I had no double mind that what I will do is to return the money as fast as possible because it’s simply not mine. And what does not belong to me does not belong to me. There is no middle ground or rationalization as some people are suggesting.
Mind you, people don’t necessarily steal because of poverty. Otherwise, some prominent governors or senators, etc won’t be in prison and poverty doesn’t mean stealing otherwise…
Many Nigerians say you are foolish for returning such huge amount of money in a corrupt country like Nigeria. Don’t you think they are correct?
(Laughs) First, I understand their frustrations. We cannot deny there is so much corruption, crimes and crack in moral values; that’s true. But Nigeria is not irredeemable.
For every one bad egg that gives Nigeria a bad image at home and abroad, there are several Nigerians that are epitome of honesty and hard work imbued with unparalled patriotic zeal particularly in Igbo land. There is an Igbo proverb that: when oil touches one finger, it touches the rest.
It is true that Nigerians no longer have faith in themselves and in their country. But truth is that majority of Nigerians, men and women, are good citizens; while the bad eggs are in the minority. Don’t forget that evil makes forceful impact, while the impact of good deeds is mild or even silent. But good deeds make lasting impact.
Your critics say you returned the money because your account would have been frozen and EFCC invited by SANKIYA GLOBAL INVESTMENT LTD if you refused to reverse the money. Critics say infact that you would have not returned it if it were in cash. What would you say?
(Laughs), it’s not true. I would have returned the money inspite of EFCC or even if it was in cash. If I ever wanted to steal the money, I had sufficient opportunity to do so.
First, I would have cleared the money out of my account, we change our phone SIM cards and change our address or location. If the missing money was in cash, it is even easier. Our next task is to cover the form evidence. And we can do so. But that is not the question. The issue is the consequence after escaping criminal prosecution or missing cash is not found.
The bottom line is that we are not thieves in my maiden and marital families. If someone has the opportunity of converting millions of naira and destroy the evidence but chose to return the money to the rightful owner, do you think the person is dishonest?
Since you reversed the money in ZENITH BANK, has anybody in SANKIYA GLOBAL INVESTMENT LTD contacted you?
No. what happened was that my husband wrote the company a letter attaching the written authorization to ZENITH BANK and requesting the company to confirm if Zenith bank reversed the money to the company. So far, the company has not replied my husband or contacted us in any way.
But to be frank, there reaction is desirable but not mandatory. To me, it is secondary. What matters to me is that I have played my own part and satisfied own and family conscience.
To those who blame me for returning the money, I advise them to think again. Who told them they can goad me into crime just because Yahoo-Yahoo, money laundering and all manner of internet fraud is rampant? I am a Christian of the Catholic faith. I was brought up in deep moral tradition.
I know that some Africans, not only Nigerians of the traditional faith will report such missing money to native deities. Such deities will cause catastrophe. I believe in the law of karma or justice. Natural justice, equity and good conscience. He who goes to equity must come with clean hands.
What is your message to Nigerians or the international cimmunity who vilify or glorify you?
Well, to those who glorify me, let me relate an action my husband took. He called me and our three children in the night, even before the news began trending. After dinner, he narrated how everything happened and made it clear that he wants them to learn the lesson for the rest of their lives. They must live honest lives and be prepared to face punishment for criminal acts.
That night and its lessons will guide them for the rest of their lives. I commend the same message to my critics. But if they insist, let them have their say while I have my way. To these critics, I am perpetually grateful. But I make bold to say that there are people like me, if not better, among Nigerian men, women and youths across tribes, religion and locations. Not all Nigerians are crooks. Not all Nigerians will join the band of off and on-line crimes and corruption. After all, the leopard does not change its spots. Those who are giving particularly, Igbo land, a bad image, are insignificant. Thank God the good Samaritans are in the silent majority.