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MEET SAM MADUKA ONYISHI — The Honest Nigerian Who Returned N2.2 Billion Naira Paid into His Bank Account in Error


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 “Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service… You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King

DATELINE: London, United Kingdom. Rewind to 15th July, 1960. Venue: The British Parliament for debate leading to Nigeria’s independence of 1st October, 1960. There were numerous reactions from the Floor of the Parliament that pointed in the direction of an emerging potential great power with bright hopes for the future. Political leaders who fought brilliantly for independence were recognized.  The people of Nigeria too were celebrated, particularly for honesty. The Hansard records Mr. F.M. Bennett, Member representing Torquay  as recalling his experience when he visited Nigeria this way:

NIGERIANS ARE PLEASANT PEOPLE: ‘’Last year, it was my privilege to attend the celebrations of Northern Nigerian independence. I recall one small incident which illustrates why I have a special feeling for the Nigerians. I was driving back from Kaduna to Kano at three o’clock one morning when the car in which I was being driven ran out of petrol miles from anywhere in the bush, somewhere short of Kano. I was in a state of despair. There was very little traffic about and I knew that my aeroplane, the only one for a week, was leaving in an hour or two. Out of the blue—or perhaps I should say out of the black—there arrived a small Volkswagen, packed to the brim with Nigerians returning from the celebrations with their luggage, which was substantial. There were six of them in the car. They expressed an immediate wish to help me, but it was obvious that it was physically impossible for me to get into their car. Two of them volunteered to get out and find their own way back—at that hour of the morning. I was bundled in and taken to the airport just in time to catch my plane. They were not rich men, but although I tried to give them some payment, they refused, saying that that was the way that Nigerians always tried to behave to guests in their country.

That was 1960. Values and human frailties might have infiltrated the system that produced well-bred youths who were brought up to shun all vices that could taint the name of a family.  It was evil, to say the least, for anyone to tarnish the name of a family through lust for wealth and other human endeavours. There was an unwritten understanding and framework that included families making discrete and sometimes direct investigations about intending in-laws. If your name is stained, your chances are gone!   It was that type of societal values that made Obafemi Awolowo write that: “I will, more than ever before, subject myself to severe self- discipline. ‘’Only men who are masters of themselves become easily masters of others. ‘’Therefore, my thoughts, my tongue, and my actions shall be brought under strict control always.”

Less than one week ago, a Nigerian did an unimaginable but highly patriotic act should ordinarily attract the widest publicity at home and abroad. This good deed might not resonate abroad because it wasn’t about conflict and catastrophe. We cannot really blame foreign stations if we don’t blow our own trumpets. I was told in very plain language during a visit to the American Broadcasting Company in 1986 that they are in business and reserve the right to report what their audience wants to hear. You can’t fault that. It is about preferences, which is why people may prefer reports about divorce, rape, infidelity and related issues to what we publish on this channel. But this report must be heard all over the world to prove that good things happen in Nigeria.

Sam Onyishi, the owner of Peace Mass Transit fleet of over two-thousand buses is a comfortable multi-millionaire; or even a billionaire. His grass to grace testimony holds much lesson for the average Nigerian youth today. Recently, his account with a first generation Nigerian bank was credited to the tune of  N2,219,500,000 which was an excess over and above the amount reflected in his instruction to his bank.  Onyishi, chairman of Peace Mass Transit had requested for $3m from  First Bank Plc to be paid into his Unity Bank Plc account. He discovered he was paid US$ 7 million in excess. Relating this account, Sam Onyishi explained that: ‘’I called them and informed (First bank) that the amount they paid to me was more than the amount I requested. They told me that ten million Dollars was my money.  “I was angry with them. I asked them how come I have this kind of money and I’m not aware of it. I asked them how come they went ahead to invest my money without telling me so that I can use my money and then I can know how much I have. “I told them that they have failed to give me a statement of my account even when I have demanded it severally’’

REFUSED TO KEEP THE MONEY UNTIL VERIFIED: He continued: ‘’I discovered later that the amount was even more than what we are talking about because there was another person I asked the bank to pay money to whom they even paid extra. “I made enquiries and they told me that I should wait until when it is time for banks to do reconciliation, they will discover whether the fault was from First Bank, Central Bank or Unity Bank. I waited for a whole month and no one called me. I told the devil that he is a deceiver and a liar. He knows that I need money now that is why this thing is happening now. “That’s why I said, let me invite First Bank and Union Bank and also invite journalists. I said let me give the money to First Bank, if they find out that the money is mine, they should return it. If it belongs to Unity Bank or CBN give it to them. If it is your own, keep it. So I am giving this money to you to keep on trust.’’.

WHO IS ONYISHI?: Born Samuel Maduka Onyishi,  in Nsukka, Enugu State, in November 1963, Sam, the first son in a family of nine had a very rough beginning. His father was a bricklayer who struggled to make ends meet. From this disadvantaged background, Sam still hoped to be a lawyer but his ambition was truncated by the death of his father in 1977,  and poverty. He has worked as a barrow-pusher and bus conductor, after which he got into the vocation of trading as an apprentice. Again, funds stood between him and his chosen career. Sam tried his hands on music,  as a songwriter and singer. Here again, he met a brick wall because his producer was detained; hence his record could not be released.

 RIDING ON THE STORM: The story of Onyishi’s rise from poverty to wealth is that of triumph over vicissitudes of life.  After his elementary and secondary education and following the death of his father that thwarted his educational ambition to study for a law degree, the family started feeling the pangs of poverty as he had to, at the age of 13 years, support his mother, a housewife who became a widow. The responsibility of seeing to the welfare of his siblings as the first out of seven siblings devolved to Sam. This precarious situation made the extended Onyishi family turn to Christ, fasting and praying for divine intervention. He had it rough going through the secondary school, at times plucking mango and cashew fruits for sale to supplement what his mother gave to support him.

Sam tried his hands on different ventures in Enugu and Nsukka which were not quite successful. Usually, God has His plans and helpers of destiny located on the paths of all human beings who make efforts to progress. Soon, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka paid his mother a sum of One thousand two hundred naira as her share of compensation for land acquisition. Sam’s mother proved to be one of his helpers of destiny.  With that money, Onyishi relocated to Kano to commence the Okrika business  in 1987.  Two years later, he had saved enough to learn motor spare parts trade.  Through hard work and discipline, his savings grew to N260,000  in 1994. Though relatively comfortable, Onyishi still had the zeal to acquire a university degree that eluded him early in life.

RESOLUTE AGAINST PEER GROUP INFLUENCE: One factor that may cause people to derail is the influence of friends and close associates. Onyishi’s was derided by his friends and associates for planning to attend the university after recording his initial breakthrough. They felt he was going to waste his time because university graduates were not better than him financially. Onyishi enrolled at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1994  and used part of his savings from spare parts business to purchase two buses. He employed a driver for one of the buses and drove the second vehicle.  Student Onyishi organized his time to accommodate lectures and commercial transport driving. Gradually, he added more buses from the profits and after his fourth year in the university, the number of his buses had growth to 45. Sam was already married and had a daughter and never allowed side comments to bother him.

THE BREAKTHROUGH: Sam never planned to own a transport business. It was divinely arranged. From the two buses he managed to see him through his university education, his fleet has grown into Peace Mass Transit with 3,000 buses. Onyishi has also added other thriving businesses under a holding company:  Peace Group of Companies, comprising Peace Quick Response Insurance Brokers; Peace Petroleum Limited; Peace Micro-finance Bank; Peace Express Service Limited; Peace Capital Market Limited (Stock Brokers); Dealers and Investment Advisers; Maduka Commercial and Futon International Limited, the sole importers of Peace Hiace Brand of vehicles; Peace Bureau de Change; Peace Aviation Services and PMT Beijing Trade Limited China.

LESSON FOR YOUTHS: Onyishi says he succeeded because of hard work, discipline, prayers and a bit of luck. He is quoted by the media as saying that: “The major problem I have with this country is the fact that some people make money without working; I don’t like it, it makes me angry. It makes those of us working hard to look foolish. So, when people want to use Internet to make quick money in six months, that’s magic; I’m not a magician. I’m a long time planner; most of the things I’m doing today, I planned them five years ago.


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