By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Toward the end of my two-month visit to Nigeria this summer, I did something stupid. But a kind, gracious, and conscientious taxi driver ensured that I didn’t live with the consequences of my stupidity. That singular experience has dramatically transformed my opinions of and attitude toward Nigerian taxi drivers—and, by extension, everyday Nigerians.
Sometime in the middle of July, I boarded a taxi in Abuja with my three children and my friend’s son. Before I got in the taxi—and against my better judgment—I decided to put my roller bag in the car’s trunk compartment (or boot). When the taxi dropped me off at my destination, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take my bag out of the car’s boot. I realized my mistake few minutes after the taxi had left.
This roller carrying bag, which I like to call my “mobile office,” had in it my laptop; my printer; my scanner; my visa and passports (including my children’s visas and passports); original copies of my academic credentials; my US social security card; my car, office, and house keys; my travel documents; and many more crucially important things.
As you can imagine, I was indescribably devastated when I realized that the taxi had left with my bag. It seemed like my world had crumbled. I was helpless: I didn’t know the taxi driver’s name, had no clue what his car’s license plate number was, and had not the vaguest idea how to contact him.
I hardly even talked to him throughout the trip. The only time we talked was when he thanked me for giving him more money than he asked for to take me to my destination. (Whenever I am in Nigeria, I always find myself comparing taxi fares in America and Nigeria and often can’t help thinking that Nigerian taxi drivers are grossly underpaid. So I routinely pay more than Nigerian taxi drivers’ asking prices).
I couldn’t sleep throughout the night. The following morning, in line with my friends’ suggestions, we contacted the hosts of several popular radio shows in Abuja. Hajia Zainab Okino, Executive Editor of Blueprint Newspaper in whose house I stayed, took me to the African Independent Television (AIT) to appear on a popular show. We were assured that many people recovered their valuables lost in taxis through the show.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to the show. While we were lamenting our inability to appear on the show and charting our next course of action, Hajia Zainab’s relative called. He said the taxi driver had returned the bag and was waiting for me to check the bag to ensure that everything was intact.
I was unspeakably ecstatic. Was this some dream? How could a poor taxi driver return a new laptop, a new colored mobile printer, a scanner, and a bunch of other pricey stuff just like that? Is Nigeria not supposed to be a land of scammers, a land where fraudsters are kings, a place where trust, honesty, and integrity have taken a permanent flight?
When I met the taxi driver, I was dazed with delight. He is a 35-year-old, tall, dark man called Abdulrahman Dauda. He said his parents are from Ilorin (in north-central Nigeria) but that he was born and brought up in Kaduna (in northwest Nigeria). When I asked him what motivated him to return my bag even after discovering that it contained valuable things that he could sell to make quick money, he said “why would I take that which doesn’t belong to me?”
He said he had had many occasions in the past to return passengers’ cell phones and valuables left in his car. “I am a Muslim and my religion teaches me to never steal, to never take what does not belong to me,” he told me. “I won’t live with my conscience if I took any passenger’s stuff and turned it to mine. In addition, when I saw your international passports and realized that you live in America I knew that I needed to return the bag immediately. I am glad that my action has put a smile on your face.”
Abdulrahman’s honesty has restored my faith in ordinary Nigerians in more ways than I have the capacity to express. This isn’t just about Abdulrahman; it is about the countless ordinary, unsung Nigerians who try to live an honest life in a nation where the virtue of honesty has become perilously endangered among our ruling elite.
What struck me throughout my ordeal was that every taxi driver I stopped and shared my story with assured me that my bag would be returned the following day. I asked them why they were that confident and they all told me taxi drivers, more often than not, return items left in their cars. If they can’t locate the owners, they say, they customarily return the items to either their union headquarters or to radio and TV stations.
Two days after Abdulrahman returned my bag, I listened to a radio program about a Lagos taxi driver who returned 18 million naira that was left by a passenger in his car. At the time he returned the money, he said, he had only 800 naira in his entire life. I was touched.
Clearly, honesty is not in as much short supply among ordinary Nigerians as we have been led to suppose. The ruthless and conscienceless larceny of our elites has led many people, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, to tar all Nigerians with the same brush. That is wrong.
Of course, I am not naïve enough to say that all everyday Nigerians are honest and honorable. There are many ordinary folks who are just as ruthlessly dishonest as our compulsively thieving political and economic elites. But acts of honesty, however little, deserve to be celebrated. Calling attention to and celebrating acts of honesty such as Abdulrahman’s is particularly important because as a nation we don’t have structural guarantees of honesty. We depend on the sense of morality and conscience of individuals.
If I had left my bag in a US taxi, I won’t lose a split second of sleep. I know I would get it back intact probably the same day. I would know the taxi company that the taxi I boarded belonged to. Based on my receipt, I would also be able to track the taxi. And so on.
I rewarded Abdulrahman the best way that I could. I know many of my readers would like to let him know that his honesty is appreciated, so I’ve asked for his permission to publish his number on this blog. He can be reached at 08164063616. (If you're calling from outside Nigeria, the number is (011)2348164063616). Thank you, Abdulrahman!