For Helen Paul, Dangote and Rivers State
She grew up to hear relations and neighbours call her a ‘bastard.’ She would rush home and ask her mum why that ‘name’ should be her portion. Her mum would tell her to ignore her tormentors and reassure her in cryptic Yoruba: ‘Olorun lo nwo omo were’ – meaning, it is God who cares for the child of the lunatic. It is true.Children of difficulty imbued with good heads always sprout and survive through the thorns and thickets of life.
Stand-up comedian, Helen Paul, is my favourite. I pause things and times to listen to the excellence she serves. She worked very hard and got a PhD last Thursday at the University of Lagos. Then, in just a few emotional lines, she wrote a compelling story of her forced conception, the wear and tear – and the tears of the difficult takeoff; and then, of her success as a child of destiny and a compelling brand. She dedicated the doctoral certification to her strong mum.
Helen Paul’s jolting story should teach some lessons in success and survival. She is a definite piece of good news in a nation taking daily dosages of pains. Her story provided an interlude in the interminable drama of unhinged deaths in Zamfara, of killing poverty North and South (especially in the far North), and of unending bloody electoral contests and contestations in Rivers State. She gives hope as well as a challenge to all seeking a cure for deprivation and hurting injustice.
“I dedicate this to my mum; you gave birth to me out of rape. They told you I wouldn’t amount to anything. I grew up hearing from family members, being called a ‘bastard’ – and each time I asked you, you said ‘Olorun lon wo omo were, Olorun ma wo e’ (meaning God watches over the child of a mad person; He’d watch over you),” she posted on Instagram. And God did watch over her! He did, otherwise we won’t be bursting veins with laughter and getting us glued to our seats watching this iconic comedian demonstrate how ‘very expensive’ it is to be a ‘fine girl.’
The heroine of her story is her mum. Mothers are angels. Whether here or anywhere, they work hard to shield their children from the shit of shame. Across the seas, there are stories just as we have on this side. A former Hollywood actress, Tirralan Watkins’ Tinseltown Mom contains a trove of such invasive births and blinding successes. There is civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, and his rape-birth story. His mum was 16 when she had him. Helen Paul’s mum may not have read the story of American journalist, Kelly Wright, a former Fox & Friends weekend co-anchor who was also conceived in rape. His mum was also 16 years old when she was raped by a pastor – and husband of her friend – and then conceived him.
Growing up, he wrote in his America’s Hope in Troubled Times that his mum always assured him that although he was conceived the way that he was, God had a purpose for his life. US actress and singer, Ethel Waters, who died in 1977 was an Emmy and Oscar nominee. Her birth wasn’t different from the other examples here –another rape case. She was raised in poverty by her grand mum but grew to become a music icon. She would look back at her struggle through the difficulties of her growth and say: “I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.”
But her hostile world could not stop her success. She blossomed and bloomed; same with the hugely successful TV personality, Faith Daniels, a product of rape who would tell the world that “it really doesn’t matter how you were conceived, only what you’ve become.”
The same week Helen Paul used her life to remind us how ‘stubborn’ destiny cooked stones of success for her famished being, Africa’s richest man and philanthropist, Aliko Dangote, lamented very loudly in Kaduna that northern Nigeria is the living room of poverty. He said: “While the overall social economic consideration in the country is a cause for concern, the regional imperatives are in fact very alarming. In the north-western and north-eastern part of Nigeria, more than 60 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty. It is instructive to know that the 19 northern states which account for over 54 per cent of the country’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total sub-National Internally Generated Revenue in 2017.”
Nothing changed in 2018 and nothing is changing this year. Northern Nigeria is another story of rape.
Kofi Annan once said that “extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.” We are seeing that truth very alive with our North. Our president said he is the unhappiest president in the whole world because of insecurity in that clime. He proffered no coherent solution to his unhappiness. But Dangote has recommended “closing the poverty gap” with what he called “multi-layer investment’ to be driven mainly with massive private sector investment to create jobs and grow wealth.
He said: “As more people get employed, you will notice a sharp decline in some of the social vices now prevalent in our society.” He definitely spoke well but I am surprised he did not identify high illiteracy rate in the far North as the single most devastating factor against the regional health. Throwing big money at poverty won’t thaw the ice of rank want or dislodge the bandits of Zamfara and the Boko Haram of the North-East. Something much more effective and sustainable is needed there: education in its right mode and dosage.
Thomas Friedman in a March 11, 2012 opinion piece published by the New York Times advised all poor peoples to “pass the books (and) hold the oil” if they desire a breakthrough. Using Taiwan as the peg of his anti-poverty prescription, Friedman noted that that country is “a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea” having absolutely no natural resource – “no oil, no iron ore, no forests, no diamonds, no gold…” yet it has turned out a remarkable success. How did it achieve that? It had the sense to develop “the habits and culture of honing (its) people’s skills which turns out to be the most valuable and truly renewable resource in the world today.”
In Yorubaland, we say the only lasting bequest a child could get from a responsible parent is sound education. The North needs that wisdom urgently. There is a way in which a person’s life trajectory speaks to the problems of his society. I would advise that we use the life of Helen Paul to design the North’s Noah’s Ark. It is a turnaround story from abuse to celebration. It did not just happen.
The comedian’s strong mum gave her the right dose of education. She got the message in her mother’s God-factor proverb and plunged into life with a determination to succeed. She was trained and she retrained herself and became a first in her career. That is why she could today flaunt her history of rape and societal rejection and eventual victory. The difference between her and the unsung, violated millions in the ghettos of life is education. Otherwise, she would be just another weather-beaten housewife somewhere with occasional flashes of brilliance. Let our North educate its children the right way, then it would have peace and won’t need gold and diamond and oil money and, even life presidency, before it shines out of poverty.
Rivers of bloody interests
Rape is everywhere – and it does not all end as glorious as Helen Paul’s. While we celebrate Helen and interrogate the poverty of northern Nigeria, down South in Rivers State, their thinking there is just different. The whole world may be in thought of a tomorrow of peace and prosperity; in Rivers, the elite thoughts are about societal rape, about power and more power. There is no end there to invasive political exploits, electoral contestations and litigations.
With the declaration of Nyesom Wike as the winner of the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State last week, I said “Thank God the killings and destructions are over.” I thought I was right. Election in that state does not take prisoners. It kills and moves on to kill and maim more. People died. No big man died; none injured. Very innocent people got shot and killed – and buried with lofty dreams. There were other casualties.
When the Walter Onnoghen scandal broke, destructive rumours laid it at the feet of Rivers politics. There were stories about Abuja getting him out ahead of the very notorious APC primary case berthing at the harbour of the Supreme Court. But Onnoghen was out and the case got to the apex court and APC lost comprehensively in February. The court said the party had no primary and therefore no candidate in all the elections. It suffered self-inflicted hemorrhage.
But the APC is an audacious party. It does not go gently into any good night. Every war ends only when the APC has won. Now, it turns out that the election may have ended only for the ordinary Rivers voter. For the APC, it is Aluta Continua. It is back at the Supreme Court and this week may be of fireworks again. There won’t ever be an end to litigation unless APC gets what it wants. There is a bedlam of four appeals, two of them intra-APC, at the apex court. The appeals are those of Senator Magnus Abe against INEC and others; Mr. Tonye Cole against Senator Magnus Abe; the All Progressives Congress against the Peoples Democratic Party and the fourth by the APC seeking a consolidation of all the pending appeals.
The Yorubas say unless Aroni stays at home, Onikoyi won’t stop going to war. Let no one assume the Rivers war will be over once Abuja’s invasive monitor-lizard eats crocodile eggs of Port Harcourt. It is true that the Supreme Court last February struck out an appeal brought by members of the APC challenging a decision of the Rivers State high court which nullified the congresses held by members of the APC in the state; but it is also true that there are other cases there. The APC appears set on reversing every step taken so far by the voter and the court. It may silently be praying (and working hard) that the Supreme Court reverses itself and wakes up the buried elections in Rivers, putting itself on the ballot again. And the party is so powerful the law kneels for its storm.
So, if I were Wike or any of the victorious lawmakers, I would take my daily prayers from the Book of Psalms, Chapter 35. I would invoke that Psalm from the first to the last verse. And if I were that voter who escaped the bullets the last time, I would beg God to give the powerful very cold water for them to cool down. I would pray that the powers-that-be let the concluded polls be, and let peace reign –at least till 2023. Enough should be enough.