by Stanley Azuakola
Nigerians are still debating over the recent award of national honours to 155 individuals by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. As is usually the case, it is a question of whether those who were honoured were really deserving or not.
The jury is out on most of the recipients, but there is one particular recipient whose Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) award is beyond reproach. He is Mohammed Zakari, a Grade Level 10 officer of the Federal Ministry of Information who was overpayed N6 million as salary, when his monthly pay was supposed to be just N62,000. What made him deserving of the honour was that he returned the excess cash.
It happened in early December 2011, when Zakari received an account credit alert on his mobile phone. But instead of seeing the usual N62,000, he saw a whopping N6,000,000.
He was shocked. At first, he actually thought it was N6,000 and wondered what he could have done to his office to be so penalised. But on second check, he realised what it truly was.
He began to wonder. “After all”, he told himself, “I only had a credit balance of N400.00 the last time I checked.”
Read the full Guardian report on the incredible Zakari Mohammed below:
When Zakari confided in his mother, she told him to return the money.
“The only thing you will do is to ask them to give you N1million to complete your building in the village,” his mother told him.
He continued: “Same day, I got the alert, I told my wife, something entered into my account and she asked how much it was.
“I told her it was N6 million and that may be that was how God wanted to bless me.”
But she disagreed, telling her husband: “God does not bless people like that. If God wants to bless you, he will open opportunities for you to work so that money can come. Money will not just come from heaven to enter into your account.’
“My wife gave me the guts to return that money,” he told The Guardian.
He also reported the overpayment to his superiors.
But he has suffered reproach from his friends who told him: “You can never be rich…they sent that kind of money into your account and you returned it?
“Some of them don’t talk to me anymore because of what I did.”
For his honesty, however, Zakari was among the 155 Nigerians given National Honours as he was conferred with an Award of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR).
“My religion also motivated me to return the money as it teaches that “you don’t take what does not belong to you.”
“I went to my Islamic scholars and told them what happened, and they told me to return it, warning that if I used the money I would not have any blessing from it, that I would not enjoy it in this life, and if I die, I would still suffer punishment.
“So I had to return it.”
“So, the next working day which was Monday, I went to the bank and made inquiry on my account balance and it was N6,241,000.
I just withdrew N62,000, which was my salary.
“Later, I went to the Salary Section of the Federal Ministry of Information, and showed the alert to the Assistant Director who advised me to take it to the Accountant General’s Office.
For his honesty, Zakari was to suffer some hardship arising from bank charges of about N32,000 for making a large withdrawal.
“ I told them I never made any withdrawal and suffered so much before the money was refunded through the Accountant General’s Office”.
“My office was aware of all this and sent a notification to the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Head of Service and the Office of the Secretary General of the Federation”.
The SGF office later called me to confirm the development, and I was told to submit a citation about myself, Curriculum Vitae (CV) and two passport photographs.
“Then, I was called to come and collect a commendation and award letter that Mr. President had agreed to honor me with an award of Member of the Order Federal Republic (MFR).
“I was afraid of what would have happened to me if I had not returned the money and they later discovered?
“I am a family man with eight children, seven boys and a girl, brothers and sisters, and I come from a reputable home.
“I could not just spoil my family name.
“N6 million is nothing to spoil my name for. I am not a lazy man and I cannot spoil my name. I am still young in the service and on Grade Level 10.”
Zakari, a native of Garun-Mallam Local Council of Kano State, joined the Federal Civil Service as Information Officer II in 2000 and was posted to Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Abuja.
After a stint at the National Film and Video Censors Board, is at present with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as a Senior Information officer in the Minister’s office.
Mohammed Zakari is a hero.