There was a time in my life that I loathed, and almost repulsed at the thought of being a Nigerian. I had read books about other countries and the facts benumbed my psyche. The comparative knowledge and awareness that things can actually work made me wonder why things just seemingly were recalcitrant or blatantly refused to work in Nigeria. But my mindset has been positively evolving in a progressive manner in the past few years. It’s not as though things have substantially changed in the physical and socioeconomic and political milieu of Nigeria. For sure, the scions of old and corrupt politicians still hold the bastion of power which their godfathers immorally handed unto them. Road contracts are still inflated and shabbily constructed so they can be re-awarded in the next budget cycle. Politicians still boast of building and rehabilitating hospitals when they mark their ‘first 100 days in office’, even when the health indices are in the lowest quintile. Wastage of resources and opportunities for economic boom are being missed ‘unregretabbly’ to ensure that pervasive poverty reigns over the people. Corruption is still rooted in our culture with its web extended into all sectors of the economy!
But how did this change in my heart happen amidst the malady we’ve been living in? I encountered some middle-aged and young adult Nigerians whose passionate belief in Nigeria is infectious. While they do not ignore or deny the gory realities in Nigeria, they have a missionary mentality that drives them towards effecting tiny pockets of change in their immediate work environment, community and neighbourhood. They contend that change must first be demonstrated not just as a political catch-phrase but by its tangibility and palpability even when it can’t be easily measurable in empirical terms. Nevertheless, in their own little ways, they are transforming into true agents of change!
These Nigerians are scattered all over the globe and in different sectors of the Nigerian economy, and have been responsible for the growing interest in Nigeria by Nigerians within and in Diaspora. Now it’s fashionable for young Nigerian adults to adorn branded t-shirts with this endearing phrase, “NAIJA 4 LIFE.” The green white green is now a fashionable brand. So has “Proudly Nigerian” become a statement of identity for Nigerians, not just in artistic parlance. “Green Carpet” parties were held on October 1st by ‘ordinary’ Nigerians across the world, even when the ruling government has made the day less significant over the years. It’s no longer banks that have fashionable broaches, the Nigerian map and flag have now been framed into trendy and shapely broaches!
When Transparency International in their recent report showed that corruption was on the decline in Nigeria, the government threw a party as though the due process for public procurement has reduced collusion and corruption in the business of governance. Rather, any reduction in the corruption index points to the personal efforts of individual Nigerians to live in honesty and transparency. There are still honorable and truthful Nigerians whose inner configurations were knitted with truth and their hearts are ruled by a sense of justice and fairness. They may not have a voice to gloat with, nor will the media harp and burnish their virtues. Nevertheless, they live their daily lives in all its ordinariness, yet are making silent impacts in the nation on behalf of other Nigerians.
By a stroke of destiny I met one of these ‘ordinary’ Nigerians on Sunday the 2nd of November 2008 in Abuja. He might look ordinary but I’d live long to not forget him for this encounter is not far from the experience of epiphany. It is like meeting God in the ordinariness of life, through a chance encounter with a seemingly obscure young man of no obvious comeliness. Isaiah Osagiede is one of the owners of ‘unpainted’ cabs that park at the entrance of Cedi Plaza; Abuja’s most popular centre for shopping and entertainment that houses exquisite shops, eateries, night clubs and cinema halls. Isaiah makes his modest living by ferrying the numerous visitors from Cedi Plaza to other parts of the city.
A close friend and soul-brother of mine, Reward Enakerakpor, known as the Storyteller (and undeniably the most popular and respected performance poet and spoken word artist in Abuja) had his double album at Cedi Plaza. The event drew the best of Abuja’s poets and singers who thrilled the audience with resonating poems and enthusing songs. The Storyteller rounded up his album launch with a command performance with Yinka Davies, the foremost female jazz singer in Nigeria. It was one of those perfect evenings I’ve ever had in Abuja, and joy rippled through my heart that the event had come and gone, and our efforts crowned with joy.
So I stepped out of Cedi plaza that Sunday night in an elated and gay mood. After exchanging some banters with the taxi drivers that circled me, I boarded a taxicab back to my apartment in Wuye Abuja. Since it was really dark, I didn’t realize that I had left my mobile phone on the car’s seat after I dropped off before he reversed and left my estate. My hands frisked my suit’s pocket but there was no bulge to feel or palpate. I tried my jean pockets and they were as flat as they could be, save for the Naira notes I had squeezed into them. I had no reason to doubt that my sense of stereognosis was intact since I’ve had no sensory deficits of late. “Not again!” I screamed. “Dear God, I just can’t lose my phone a second time this year…”
A friendly neighbor who had attended the concert with me felt my despair and frustration and tried to dial my phone but all we heard was the annoying voice that said ‘the number you’re calling is not available, please try again later.’ Repeated calls were made and we got the same response, same impersonal voice that didn’t understand my predicament. ‘How do I start retrieving contacts for a line I’ve used since 2002?” Obviously, someone had switched off the phone and we conjectured the taxicab might be the culprit. Though it was already past 10pm, I felt it was better I made an effort to trace the cabman back to Cedi plaza, which is about 15 minutes from my residence. Few minutes after I got there, Isaiah Osagiede pulled by after dropping off another commuter. I closed in on him like a detective, and then confronted him about my phone.
He politely hinted that he had seen a guy he picked up after dropping me off, fiddling with a phone that obviously was mine. He added that the guy had switched it off and he didn’t really have any reason to suspect the guy. Isaiah was so angry and wondered what benefits anyone would derive from picking up another’s phone. I could feel his empathy as he spoke and vowed that he would do all he could to find the guy who took my phone. I took his promise with a pinch of salt. He then took me back home and by then, the residential estate was like a quiet graveyard, but he spotted the exact point where he had picked up the guy whom he noted was sitting with a payphone operator in my estate in Wuye district of Abuja City.
He gave me his two phone numbers to keep in touch and promised he would come back to the estate to look out for the guy the following day since he was sure of recognizing his face. But I didn’t want to stretch my hope though he told me stories of how he returned cash and other valuables that some passengers had left in his car in the past. There were still some relics and mementos like sunglasses, documents etc that he’d kept in his car’s pigeon hole. Did I believe him? Yes I did, but was I sure of getting back my phone? Nay! I was only playing safe by imagining the worst outcome and preparing my mind for another long wait and cue at MTN office to fill out forms and lose man-hours just to get a new simcard bereft of all the essential contacts I had lost. But before I slept, I thanked God for the life of my friend, the Storyteller whose concert was successful and who didn’t know that my phone was gone after an event I was part of.
Monday morning dawned, the 3rd of November 2008 and I began a new week without a phone in my suit’s pocket. Though I felt relieved from the burden of carrying phones around, the reality of the importance of having a phone in this modern age stared rudely at me. I had persons to contact so my mind drifted back to Isaiah’s promise. I decided to put a call through and he answered that he was on his way to Abuja from Suleja in Niger State; a town about 45 minutes drive from Abuja. He then asked that I call him in an hour’s time and I did.
Isaiah had abandoned his own business to take up my own pains. Like a detective, he stealthily made his way to the estate and no sooner spotted the payphone operator and the guy whom he suspected to have taken my phone. Being the son of a police officer, he had a community police identity card, which he used as a cover agent. Incidentally, the suspect had my phone with him but claimed it was his, but Isaiah would not accept his assertion and instead ‘arrested’ him and took him to Nigerian Police Force Headquarters for interrogation. The suspect could not produce a receipt to back up his claims. Moreso, there was no simcard inside the phone hence Isaiah and the Policemen insisted his claim of ownership was unacceptable to them.
Then Isaiah broached a ‘deal’ with the suspect behind camera that if he told them the truth, they would release him and not torture him. That was the deal breaker, and in minutes the whole truth emerged. He had seen the phone on the car seat and picked it up, and quickly switched it off and later flung away the simcard, shortly after they left my estate. Thereafter, the Police officers gave the suspect an ultimatum to find the simcard; the only condition for his release. The police seized his I.D. card and personal phone and, Isaiah drove the suspect to the area where the simcard was purportedly thrown away. Thus began the search that lasted for hours. Under the fiery and scorching rays of Abuja’s sun Isaiah assisted the suspect to look for the simcard. About this time, I called Isaiah that it was fruitless trying to search for the simcard, which I had considered already lost but he doggedly insisted that the simcard was more important than the already recovered phone.
In the course of driving around, Isaiah’s car developed a mechanical fault that necessitated a visit to the mechanic, yet he kept track with the search for the simcard. By late afternoon, I decided to put a call through only for Isaiah to tell me that the simcard has been found and that the phone and the simcard had reunited back at the Force Headquarters! I didn’t really believe him until I dialed my phone number from my office phone and it rang for the first time. I was so elated and heaved a sigh of relief and gratitude. The Police had wanted me to come around to pick up the phone but Isaiah declined. More so, I was wary of getting involved in any police case and making statements over a mere phone. Isaiah would bail me out again by insisting I was his brother and that I had given him the surety to collect the phone by his favour. The Police officer in charge called and I confirmed the phone was truly mine and that Isaiah could pick it up for me. He’s truly acted as my brother indeed! I requested that the suspect be released since the phone and simcard have all been found.and he bailed himself from temporary detention at a cost!
As I pondered over the events that ensued in the last couple of hours, I couldn’t help but be stunned by Isaiah’s sacrificial love and sense of integrity. For my sake, he had incurred business loss in a bid to help me be happy. He chose to bear my burden at his own expense while I worked in the comfort of my office. I couldn’t keep the cheery news from my Japanese colleague who couldn’t hide her surprise at such show of love, empathy and honesty by cab driver. Though there are many cab drivers who have at various times returned misplaced phones and valuables to their owners, Isaiah’s sacrificial example and sense of responsibility have raised the bar of transparency and sincerity.
Isaiah to me is a not just a moral hero; one who did what was right under difficult circumstances. Rather, he is the face of a New Nigeria, and deserves a national award for his honesty and positive example to as many adults and children in Nigeria.