“Every year, 1 out of every 7 children in the core Niger-Delta states is estimated (sic) to die before the age of five. The number of under-5 deaths is over 65, 000 per year out of a total of almost 12 million people. These deaths far outnumber the casualties of the much-reported violence and kidnapping in the region.” From ‘Daughters of Niger-Delta’, a documentary.
Recently I was at the screening of this documentary that left me emotionally disturbed long after it had ended, long after I had walked out of the theatre at Silverbird Galleria where it was screened, and in my wish to let it pass as just another of our woes I have no power to redeem, I still find myself returning to those conspiracies against the three women whose stories were documented. The documentary brings to me memories of Behn Zeitlin’s 2012 film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” for its depiction of a people’s poverty, only that this is not some far-off fiction but a reality of my country, hence I share in the blues of the women cast.
“Daughters of the Niger-Delta”, a 55 minute-long commentary on the sufferings of women in the south-south region of Nigeria, exposes our failures as a society and as a nation. It reveals a dangerous patriarchy and how almost every male figure – father, husband, male lecturer, father-in-law, and even an unknown man – conspire to plot against the rise and dignity of the womenfolk. It is as though the empowerments of the women are threats or taboos; we are shown what are already everyday occurrences through the eyes of the victims who find themselves in matrices of troubles designed by their men. Their cases are peculiar because they exist on a land where environmental degradations have made the lives of even the men miserable.
Unlike in the northern Nigeria where patriarchy thrives on abuse of religion, our ladies in the south are actually stuck in worse situations. For the first time I learnt that a law that outlaws widows from remarrying actually exists in this century, especially among a people from the part of the country that is seen as progressive.
Following the life of the three women, we see a teenage mother, Rebecca, whose marriage was “contracted” without her knowledge, we see a widow, Hannah, whose world turned into a journey through pains on being denied rights to inherit her husband’s assets, we see an industrial mathematics graduate, Naomi, who left the university with third class honours for rebelling ploys to have her as a sex object in exchange for her actual or better grades.
We see patriarchy, we see the extent to which it has eaten deep into the wounds of women, from the jokes called traditions, where stone age superstitions are extolled to deny a woman a right to remarry, to our flawed social system that portrays women as pleasurable things created to entertain the men, even those the society entrusts its children to for education.
Rebecca got married at 15 through an arrangement in which she had neither right nor power to reject. Her husband has three wives. No, that is not the sad news. He didn’t marry her to fend for her, rather, as he too shamelessly boasts, his culture, as an Ijaw man, tasks him with bearing many children. Just like that! Which is why Rebecca became a baby-making machine that had born eleven children of which five had died.
Even the survivors must owe their life to a miracle that saved them from the human abattoir named chemist shop where, like many across the country, quacks operate as medical personnel and benches are used as beds to mock our healthcare service. Of course, this is not a pun.
The obvious prediction is, many years from now, Rebecca is expected to become today’s Hannah who could not afford having her daughter enrolled at the university, hence her confession: “What I want to change from my life now is poverty. I no wan’ poverty to come near me, because poverty is dangerous!” This is the spirit, madam. Though epiphany alone is not enough, unless a revolutionary mind possesses the tools, here I mean the absence of poverty which the lady herself considers dangerous, to exhibit entrepreneurial skills. Of this revolution, Naomi is the luckiest. The reasons are obvious.
While “Daughters of the Niger-Delta” reminds us of an important advocacy we sidelined in our campaigns against the ravages of oil companies in the oil-rich region, the lots of the people who actually bear the brunt of the oil spills and government’s insensitivity to the the plights of the law-abiding citizens while pampering the criminals who destroy and steal national resources, are highlighted. Aside from government’s lack of concern with the welfares of its non-protesting, non-criminal electorates, protecting them from cultural and religious victimisations is a function it has since given up.
The most unfortunate challenge to this advocacy is the embarrassing ignorance of the people involved, as seen in the interview granted by 35 year-old Kevin Damo (min 43:41) who trivialises the conditions of the ladies while laughing over bottles of beers with fellow idle friends as he justifies his reasons for polygamy as just to make “half-brothers and half-sisters” for his children. And he has three wives, promising to make up to seventeen children which seems to be a modest number to him.
Does this portend any danger? In a region of a few billionaire elite, and incredibly poor masses, the Kevin Damos have just offer the nation more potential criminals, for crimes are the last resorts of any product of such wicked marriages, just as begging is the last resort of the children of many economically incapacitated couples in the north. And it takes Mind, Information and Narrative Development (MIND) – an Abuja-based non-profit organisation that may be dubbed “foreign”, being run by a foreigner – in partnership with the German embassy to give us “Daughters of the Niger-Delta” through a group of nine Nigerian ladies from the region trained by MIND for project. “Daughters of the Niger-Delta” is a beautiful effort of amateur filmmakers. I hope there is no any African “activist” waiting to counter this project as another production of the “White Saviors”. May God save us from us!