JOSEPHINE Ugwu’s story is as captivating as it is inspiring. A cleaner earning less than N8,000 returning all of N12 million she found at the airport is a tale worthy of perpetual repetition.
Losing her parents when she was 18 months old, struggling through life and working hard to put meaning into her life, not once has Josephine Ugwu (who has a brother and step-brother) been tempted to take what did not belong to her . On two other occasions, she has returned huge sums of money she found in the line of duty.
The N12 million saga, on January 23, 2015, caught the attention of Nigerians, and we have not stopped talking about the episode.
Many have labelled her a fool, and some far more unprintable names.
On Thursday, March 19, 2015, we spoke with her about the episode and her life…
Can we meet you?
My name is Josephine Ugwu. I am from Obokpa, Nsukka Local Government, Enugu State. I am single though engaged to be married. I have a blood brother, Ignatius Ugwu and a step brother.
Can you recall how it all happened?
It all started on January 23, 2015. I was on morning duty. For those on morning duty, we work from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. I saw a bag while I was picking dirts. It had been there since 6.30 p.m. After I finished my work and I was still going home by 7.30 p.m, the bag was still there. So, I went over to the place and told the people I saw beside the bag to watch out so that the owner will not forget the bag. I was told nobody among them owned it. Suddenly, they started leaving one after the other. I picked the bag, went straight to the security point were those scanning could scan the bag. They checked it and counted the money inside. American dollars were inside (N12 million worth). Later, security men came with a man who said he was looking for a bag. After series of interrogation, they collected his passport, photocopied it and he signed and he was given the money.
Did you tell Patoville about it?
Yes, I did. I told them immediately and I was asked to return the bag to the security, which I had already done.
Who was the first person you had contact with after picking the bag?
I called my supervisor, Madam Eunice.
Naturally, as a human being, there will be temptation to pick the bag and not return it. What went through your mind at first?
That wasn’t my first time of picking money. I picked one on December 23, 2014, another one on December 27, 2014. This was the third time. I never had second thought when I picked it. I knew it’s money but I cannot take anything that does not belong to me. It is another person’s sweat. I don’t want to put Nigeria to shame. I want people to know I come from a good family. All values inculcated in me still there. A lot of people know me as a child of God. I still want that integrity to stand.
You must have some guiding principles for returning huge amounts three times, share it with us?
That is who we are in my family. We don’t take things that don’t belong to us, no matter how small. If you find it, return it. I also love God. I am conscious of the fact that I am a Christian where our pastor teaches us the word of God and the right path to walk. I also want nations to know that there are still honest and good people in Nigeria.
Which church do you attend?
Restoration Outreach Deliverance Ministry, Ipodo Road, Ikeja, Lagos. My pastor’s name is Victor Okechukwu.
Did you go through the same process the first and second time?
Yes, I did.
Were you compensated the first and second time?
The first time, the owner didn’t give me anything. The second time, I was given $50 by the white man that owned it. This time around, the owner gave the security men about N15,000. I was given N5,000 out of it.
We learnt Voice of Change Network gave you N2 million?
That is not true. One organization gave me N20,000, I also got a freezer.
We learnt they have increased your salary?
Yes, from N8,000 it is now N20,000. I was also promoted to a supervisor.
How does it feel?
I am very happy about it.
Looking at the compensation from your company, will you say it is worth the pain?
They have tried, the contract money is not enough to buy things we need to work with. The woman tried. God will bless her for increasing my salary.
Any regret not taking the money, since you have not gotten any appreciable compensation?
No, not at all. I don’t regret it. Whatever does not belong to me, I don’t pick.
How long have you worked with Patoville?
Getting to four years now.
What were you doing before joining them?
I was working at Enugu State Airport as a casual worker. I was working with Aero Contractor.
How much were you earning?
How did you join Patoville?
When they started reconstructing Enugu Airport, they asked all casual workers to stop work. So, I followed a friend down to Lagos. I was staying with a friend, Oluchukwu by name. I had to move out when she got married. I was given a room by my church until I started working. I went to the airport one day, approached one of the cleaners and I was told to apply to an address in Gbagada. I did, they collected my C.V and passport. After two months, I was called to start work.
How have you been coping with the amount you are being paid now?
God has been good to me. People favour me, they help me. I am happy with my work. Anytime people use the toilet they admire the way I keep it clean and they would bless me financially for hard work. I also sell plastic bottles to survive.