Mary Daniel was an 11-year-old girl in 2006. That year, she and her parents decided to travel to their hometown, Ayingba, in Kogi State, to spend the Christmas holiday. For a young girl, going home with her parents at a festive period must have put screeches of delight in her heart in anticipation of the warm embrace that awaited them from eager relations at home. A driver from the pit of hell drove with a suicidal speed and brought the journey to a fatal end. Mary’s parents died in the accident. She survived with a badly broken right leg that had to be eventually chopped off. A dark feeling of uselessness may have enveloped her but she had an anchor: her grandmother. The grandmother took her under her wings and gave her solace.
When Mary turned 20, the grandmother gave her away in marriage to a man who said he loved her. There was an explosive burst of hope that Mary was about to get a semi-soft landing. That didn’t happen. The man put Mary in the family way and when the baby was born he denied that he was the father. This left Mary in a quandary. But the bad story didn’t end there.
A kind-hearted man had raised N500,000 for Mary to start a business so that she could take care of her baby and grandmother. Her so-called husband, probably a man with a sugar-coated tongue, took Mary’s ATM card and cleared the money in the account. And ran, leaving Mary in the middle of nowhere. She put her crutch under her right armpit, balanced a basin of bottled water on her head and hit the road in Onitsha, Anambra State, as one of the nondescript hawkers that pray for traffic gridlocks to occur as a boost for their business. When Onitsha didn’t serve her well, she found her way to Asaba in the hope that things would be better there, but no dice. She then thought of Lagos, whose traffic gridlock always offers an enticing invitation to street hawkers. Lagos did not disappoint her. She was doing brisk business selling bottled water from street to street in the Oshodi area.
Lask week, fortune found her. A man called Mr. Ibitoye Ayodele Adeniyi met her in Oshodi, took her picture and posted it on his Facebook page. Her story, the pathetic story of an amputee orphan with a two-year-old baby and an aged grandmother to take care of that ekes out a living by pounding the streets of Lagos daily and selling bottled water went viral. Now, help has found her and she has found help. That rendezvous between help and her is likely to change her life forever. Nigerians with the gift of human kindness are donating money to her generously. Mr. Victor Anukam of Purple Prosthetics has also promised to give her a limb. Mr. Victor Osimhen, a Nigerian footballer in Italy, has connected with her and splashed some unspecified sum of money on her. The Lagos State government, through the Office of Civic Engagement, has offered her accommodation and other forms of assistance. She is not a citizen of Lagos but the Lagos State government has adopted her.
That is commendable. That is large-heartedness. That is the real spelling of compassion. There are hordes of beggars in most cities in Nigeria shooting their hands out with begging bowls to passersby, soliciting for arms. Mary didn’t want to be one of them. She says: “I don’t like begging because I believe I have the strength to work and cater for myself. I know I am not lazy and I took the decision not to beg. Some people, out of pity will give me N1,000 or N2,000 after buying water from me,” she told the Punch on April 10, 2021. Life has dealt Mary a savage blow and put her on the wrong side of the tracks but she seems to believe that if you fall down you don’t have to stay down.
The inscription on her singlet is “No pain, no gain,” a philosophy that must have driven her to the desperation to succeed. Desperation can be the midwife of courage. Mary has shown exemplary courage and tenacity. Her life is a tribute to hard work, a tribute to tenacity, a tribute to the never-say-die spirit.
That is the spirit that leads to triumph. Mary’s grandmother was taking care of her after she lost her parents at age 11. Now, despite her own disability, Mary is taking care of the old woman, a great show of reciprocity in kindness and compassion. Without knowing it, her compassion to her aged grandmother is invariably bringing her enormous goodwill and compassion from Nigerians who are obviously impressed by her sense of reciprocity. Mary is gradually arriving now at a place she never knew she would arrive with all the positive attention that she is getting from perfect strangers. Obviously, she has had a terrible run of ill luck in her life’s journey but the truth is that the worse the journey the sweeter the arrival. Mary’s arrival is beginning to taste sweet, sweetly bitter or bitterly sweet.
It is tough to be an orphan. It is tougher to be an orphan and a woman. It is toughest to be all three: an orphan, a woman and an amputee. Mary is all three. But technology has come to her aid. If a Good Samaritan had not used the gift of technology to bring Mary’s plight to the purview of the world, she would have continued to limp in the sun and rain hawking water and running the risk, in this dangerous era, of being raped or robbed or rubbished by heartless and unconscionable human beasts who are stalking women in today’s Nigeria.
The Lagos State government is perceptive enough to know that, as the goodies roll in Mary could easily be a target of fraudsters or other categories of evil men. It has, therefore, decided to support Mary and to also provide security for her so that now that she is an unplanned millionaire she can be kept away from harm’s way. Philanthropy is birthed by the spirit of humaneness, spirit of being compassionate, spirit of Good Samaritanism. Nigerians expect, always expect, Nigerian governments to show a larger measure of human kindness than what private individuals show in the amelioration of the plight of Nigerians in difficulty. They have failed abysmally in this respect. That is what other governments call social security or welfarism. The welfare of the people as well as their security are the greatest components of our governments’ mandate.
Nigerian governments have consistently failed in discharging that sacred responsibility, which is the irreducible minimum expectation of the people from their government. Some years ago, the government of Lagos State decided to remove destitute Igbos from Lagos and dump them somewhere in Igboland. There was a huge uproar and the Lagos State government looked very, very, ugly, very, very unconscionable. Lagos State, under Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has shown that it intends to prove that a government must have a human and compassionate face if it intends to gain and retain the respect of its citizens. Many large metropolitan cities such as New York, New Delhi and Lagos retain a high degree of harshness because of their huge populations, congested housing, insane traffic gridlock, high urban crime and poor waste management.
Lagos has no immunity from these existential afflictions but its governments have, over the years, tried to make Lagos more personable from year to year by planting flowers and trees, creating alternative traffic routes and providing legal aid to the underprivileged and protecting the vulnerable such as children and the handicapped. What the Lagos State government has done for Mary Daniel is admirable because Mary is not a citizen of Lagos State. She just came a few weeks ago in the hope that Lagos would smile at her. By spreading the welcome mat for Mary, Sanwo-Olu has proved that it is possible to tame the harshness of Lagos with a dose of the milk of human kindness.
A big city like Lagos that people perceive as a shiny city on the hill, as one that can provide employment and the good life to all manner of persons, will continue to serve as a magnet to people of all social stations, including people like Mary who need help. The large-heartedness of the Lagos State governor deserves commendation.
Yes, Mary Daniel lost her parents in an accident but Nigerians and the Lagos State government have stepped in as Mary’s surrogate parents, as Daniels that have come to judgment in her favour. Philanthropy is a philosophy that is a winner any day. It benefits the benefactor and the beneficiary in uncountable ways. Ralph Waldo Emerson called it “the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us.” Nigerians and Governor Sanwo-Olu have scattered joy like confetti and Mary is smiling, smiling fetchingly, and crying, crying like a baby, and the tears are adorning her cheeks, tears of joy that have put her agony in abeyance.