It was a compelling story – a story that showcases the best and worst in us. This story calls for genuine sober reflection on our collective consciousness and the need for a social renaissance on our cherished ethical and moral values as a society.
In 2006, an 11-year-old girl and her parents decided to travel to their hometown of Ayingba in Kogi State to spend the Christmas holiday. As typical with festive seasons, this young woman was filled with gladness, eagerness, and expectation to meet friends and relations she had not seen for a long while. Then fate dealt her a cruel hand when the vehicle they were travelling in had a fatal accident – an accident so deadly that it claimed the lives of her parents and every other passenger on board.
The young lady survived, but she had a badly bruised right leg that was later amputated. Life suddenly changed for the worse for this nascent orphan. With no one to cater for her school fees, she dropped out of school at JSS 3. Her grandmother stepped in and sought to provide some solace for her traumatised grandchild. She took custody of her, and for the next nine years, the woman tried her best to provide for the young lady.
When she turned 20, her grandmother felt she was ripe for marriage and gave her away in matrimony to a man who professed love for her. The young lady thought that she has finally found some respite in life for the first time since the death of her parents.
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Unfortunately for her, the marriage quickly turned into a painful adventure, another gruelling chapter in the life of a young woman ill-treated by fate. The man got her pregnant and later denied that he was the father of her unborn baby. For her, a Good Samaritan raised half a million naira to start a business to take care of her baby and grandmother. Her supposed husband managed to manipulate her and collected her ATM card, with which he cleared all the money in her account and left her penniless.
The young woman with one leg was frustrated and stranded. Her desire to eke a living saw her relocate to the commercial city of Onitsha in Anambra State, later to Asaba and Lagos, respectively. She caught a pathetic sight –
one hand clutching the wooden stick that enabled her to walk in the absence of her amputated leg and another holding the basin that contained her ware. The physically challenged girl hawked bottled water and was one of those who prayed daily for traffic gridlocks so that sales would boom. She was doing some brisk business selling bottled water from street to street in the Oshodi area.
An amputee wearing a singlet with the apt philosophical inscription, “No Pain, No Gain”, and hawking pure water in the streets of Lagos would always draw public attention, even in a society battling with acute insecurity, hunger, and anger. So, the moment one Mr Ibitoye Ayodele Adeniyi met this remarkable lady hawking water under the burning sun in Oshodi, took her picture and posted it on his Facebook page, it naturally went viral. And when Nigerians heard that this physically challenged but mentally tough lady was an amputated orphan with a two- year-old baby and an aged grandmother to take care of, her story became the talk of the town.
The response by Nigerians was heartwarming as cash, and kind donations came in from all angles. One of the doyens of Nigerian journalism and one of the founders of the once-revered Newswatch Magazine, Ray Ekpu, wrote a beautiful piece in The Guardian. He portrayed a story of the triumph of the persistent human spirit and the celebration of Nigerians’ impressive humanity.
Super Eagles and Napoli forward, Victor Osimhen, who finished top scorer in the recently concluded 2020 AFCON qualification campaign with five goals and five assists from five games, showered her with money to support her business endeavours. Mr Victor Anukam of Purple Prosthetics promised to give her a limb. Imo State politician, Uche Nwosu, splashed N1m on her. At a time, the inflows into her account got to N25m. Through the Office of Civic Engagement, Lagos State Government has offered her accommodation and other forms of assistance. Even though she was not a citizen of Lagos State, the state government adopted her as her own.
Her 27th birthday came at the peak of time, and she lavishly celebrated it with her family and friends. Ceoluminee, an award-winning celebrity fashion stylist, styled the amputee on her birthday for a photoshoot, and image maker, Samuel Olatunji, shared her amazing, transformative pictures. She was dressed in a beautiful black dress with gold accessories in one of the photos and wore a wig packed into a ponytail with a gold hair clip. In another photo, she was dressed in a red dress and a silver tiara on her head.
The lady was happy at the makeover and had a massive smile on her face. The fantastic transformation enthralled Nigerians, and her before-and-after images were widely shared and celebrated in the Nigerian social media space.
This is the story of Mary Daniel. Or rather, this is supposed to be the story of Mary Daniel – a narrative that would make a great screenplay, screenplays so dramatic that good directors and actors would use it to win Oscars. Rags to riches stories teach us that no condition is permanent and that there is always hope for those who dare to succeed.
But then the bubble somehow burst. It started with people discovering that Mary Daniel had a congenital amputation, that she lost her legs from birth and not through an accident. Later, people found out that she was not an orphan; her father is still alive. And though her mother is late, the cause of her death in 2012 was from natural causes and not an accident. It means that the fatal accident, which she claimed took the lives of her parents and all the other passengers and led to the chopping off her legs, never happened. Her real name is not even Mary Daniel but Ojonuwa Onu. And it was very uncharitable for her to claim that her grandmother married her off to a man at 20 years. According to a report in TheCable her aunt stated that after she fled to Onitsha and Asaba, there were reports that she was living an unwholesome life, and it was in the cause of her dalliances that she got pregnant.
The appalling and astonishing revelation is that some people planted a busty amputee selling bottled water in the streets of Oshodi, hoping to get her gut-wrenching image on social media to use it to blackmail Nigerians for personal gain emotionally. They succeeded and were in the process of sharing the loot when the bubble burst.
So how do Nigerians begin to recover from this? How do we come to terms with the unconscionable attempt to use a physically challenged woman to exploit our collective kindness and humanity?
The Mary Daniel saga shows how low our moral values have fallen. It is sad to imagine that some dubious elements came across an amputee single mother and what came to their mind was how they could use her to make money for themselves. Did they consider the fate of those with genuine causes who would come out in future, and no one would believe them due to the experience of Nigerians in the hands of a sure fake Mary Daniel.
For the young woman herself, to agree to be part of an elaborate scam to fleece Nigerians of both their money and the sanctity of their humanity is appalling. Being a single mother and an amputee is already a touching story.
But to add, the unholy spice of egregious falsehood and wicked lies portrays a dark heart, a total absence of morality and acquiescence to avarice. It takes a vicious heart to proclaim one’s father died when he is still alive and to distort the circumstances of one’s mother’s demise.
I am fully in support of the Lagos State Government for handing her over to the Kogi State representatives in Lagos and involving the police. These actions will ensure that no kobo from the collective sweat of kind-hearted Nigerians gets into the hands of those unscrupulous elements who used Mary Daniel to swindle Nigerians financially and emotionally. They should go further to expose these persons so that Nigerians would know the identity of these dregs of the society. They should be accorded the shame and opprobrium they deserve for their infamy.
The exposition of her lies does not make Mary Daniel less physically challenged and does not remove the fact that she is a young single mother in need of help. For this reason alone, she should be allowed to ‘enjoy’ the funds already raised for her. Still, there should be consistent supervision of her conducts and activities to ensure that she is not destroyed by the vicious vices usually associated with lies and deceit and the kind of distasteful life attributed to her by her aunt.
She has already been shamed, so she can no longer be a role model even in pretence. What remains is that Nigerians should regard the tragedy of her story as an isolated incident and not a reflection of who we are as a people. We should not use Mary Daniel to judge the next person in need that seeks our collective help. Mary Daniel is a creation of social media, which has proven to be a great force for good and evil. We must be eternally vigilant to ensure that this powerful medium is mainly used by many for good.
However, many Nigerians are poor and desperate. We should explore the socio-economic circumstances that make some Nigerians sink so low morally to defraud society and exploit the milk of human kindness of people in a country already scorched by insecurity and poverty. Increasingly, we live in a country where anything goes, and the end justifies the means. We have become narcotised to images and stories of sufferings, killings, crimes, and corruption that nothing shocks us anymore.
It is now all about survival. In the altar of this survival, people have sacrificed our cherished core social values of truth, justice, love, and ubuntu. On the rare occasions when Nigerians come out en mass to support one of us undergoing severe hardship because of ill-fate, people like Mary Daniels and her cohorts make it difficult for them. They may have a double mind and question the genuineness of such claims in the future.