For the family of Mr Yakubu Mohammed and his wife, Husseina, the popular saying, “honesty is the best policy,” aptly describes a difficult decision they made in the face of a harsh economic situation.
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Husseina Mohammed is a level seven accountant in the service of the Kogi State government, attached to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) in Lokoja, the state capital. Her monthly salary is approximately N34,000.
However, one morning,while shopping, Husseina’s phone beeped, indicating a text message. Upon opening the folder containing the SMS, she saw that her salary account domiciled in Zenith Bank, Lokoja Branchhad been credited with N1, 787, 550.98k. The text message stated that it was her salary for the month of March, 2017.
Shocked, Husseina told Nigerian Tribune that she read the message over and over again. Aside reading the message repeatedly, she took her time to count the figures displayed in the message. After a while, she abandoned the materials she had come to buy and found her way home.
On getting home, she narrated her experience to her husband. After a brief interaction, they decided to refund the money, saying that it was the right thing to do. The decision to refund the money was expected to be a difficult one for the family because of their peculiar situation, but it became the simplest one for them, the couple stated.
Husseina’s husband, an employee of the TSC in Lokoja, was one of those affected by the ongoing screening exercise in the state. He disclosed that For 15 months, he argued that he had not received any salary from government.
Throughout this period the family depended on the salary of the wife that was also not promptly paid for survival. Many believed the money wrongly paid into her account should have been a solution to the problem facing them. But that was not to be, the money was not allowed to stay beyond 24 hours in the account as it was returned to the coffers of the government.
To Mohammed, despite the fact that government owed her husband 15 months’ salary, her upbringing and religious belief would not allow her to illegally enrich the family.
Narrating her story, she said: “The story about what happened is that my husband has not been paid for 15 months. I found N1.78 million belonging to the state government in my account. Despite the fact that the government owes us about 16 months’ salary arrears (my husband and I included), I refunded the money to the state government. I wrote a letter, which I copied the accountant general, the chairman of the TSC and the Director General, Bureau of Information and Grassroots Mobilisation, that I had refunded the money.”
On what first struck her mind when she got the alert, Husseina said, “When I saw the money, what went through my mind was that there were many people out there suffering because they had not been paid and then mistakenly the government paid the money into my account. I immediately knew the money was meant for other people, not me.”
When asked why she didn’t divert the money considering the financial straight her husband’s unpaid salary had put them, she replied, “It can’t happen that way because I studied accounting. I know that at the end of the day if they found out, I would be punished.”
However further investigation showed that it was her husband who finally decided what should be done with the money. He was reported to have added his voice to that of his wife that the money should be paid back to government.
“It was the decision of my husband. He said the money must not stay more than a day before returning it. My religion also teaches me that it is not good to take what does not belong to one; my father also taught me that I should never take what does not belong to me. But I feel bad when I see people who are being owed salaries. I know what my husband is passing through. Getting payment for the children’s school fees has not been easy. Only the grace of God has been keeping us moving; the school fees of the children, house rent and so on. It is not easy; even feeding has been challenging. God has been the one sustaining us.”
Husseina, however, used the opportunity to make some demands from government, saying, “I just want the government to kindly increase our salary and pay workers that are being owed.”
In the same vein, the husband said his family members would not, because of their financial situation, steal government money or conceal such payment.
According to him, “I am being owed 16 months; that money mistakenly paid into my wife’s account is a very huge amount of money that could have sufficiently sorted the backlog of arrears that I am being owed by government.
“When my wife told me about her discovery, I felt the money was meant for another worker who probably was expecting payment. Since it was not mine, there was no need keeping it. There was nothing like a mistake or mix up of my account with that of my wife; my account details are okay. Even during the last screening exercise, I had no issues with my account.
“I encouraged my wife to refund the money because that was the way we were brought up. She was also properly brought up, the money was not my own; it belonged to the government. My religion does not allow me to take what does not belong to me.”
Yakubu however pleaded with the state government to pay him his outstanding salary arrears. “I appeal to the government to pay me because we are suffering. Ordinarily we would have gone with this money but we refused to do so because we know it wouldaffect government and those who made the payment pay. If we have the conviction to refund the money, the government should also pay me my money.I am suffering; I have children at home,” he said.
The Director General of the Bureau of Information and Grassroots Mobilisation, Abdulmalik Abdulkareem, described the action of the civil servants as a rare display of honesty and integrity which was in line with the crusade of the government of Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
He said with people like Husseina in the society, Nigeria is sure of winning the ongoing war against corruption, urging other civil servants and residents of the state to emulate Mrs. Mohammed, saying that her good conduct would not go unrewarded, adding that her exemplary conduct would be recorded for generations yet unborn to learn and emulate.
“The government appreciates her clear display of honesty. We urge her to continue like that; we also want to draw other people’s attention to it that we should not be tempted to do what is wrong. We must be upright and responsible believing that whatever we do even in secret will be known to the Almighty God.
“We are also happy to know that her husband is also like-minded.It was with the cooperation of her husband that she refunded the money. Despite the fact that her husband is among the civil servants on the uncleared list, he refused to be tempted. We appreciate that and the government is definitely looking into his case,” he said.