I can go back to scavenging if...Vocal Slender
The name Eric Obuh may not mean much, but BBC-dubbed Nigeria's “Slumdog Millionaire,” Vocal Slender, is back in the country after six weeks tour of England. The Delta-State hailing scavenger speaks to TADE MAKINDE on how his luck changed with the controversial documentary on Lagos State slums.
I F you were told you'd be in England just one month ago, would you have believed it?
No, definitely not. From slum to stardom, you hardly get that lucky in life, especially if you are coming from my background.
From slum to stardom, as you've said. How will you describe the emotions that came with the news of your sponsored trip to UK?
I have no other way of describing it but to say I was soo happy inside of me. I give glory to God. It was unexpected. I was just struggling to survive as usual and didn't even noticed at any time that a shooting was going on. For almost five years scavenging, you hardly notice any difference in how things get done in the slum, especially on dumps.
If not for the documentary, what hope would there be for your break into the music industry?
By improving on my music and working hard to make money to promote the music on radio and tv, that has been my only hope.
How did you enjoy yourself in England?
Very well. England was fine and interesting. I had a lot of fun while the stay lasted.
What was your average day like in the slum?
On a daily basis, you worked hard sifting refuse dumps for metals that could be recycled for factory works. I also used the period to entertaining my friends on site.
How does one make money rummaging the dumps?
By scaling the scraps one managed to gather. The buyer brings the weighing scales to determine the value at the end of the day.
What's the average amount you make at the end of each day?
Like I said, it's the weight of collected scraps that determines the value. Anything from 25kg could fetch 10k.Believe me, it could take you weeks to manage that from a dump though. So, one had to move around heaps a lot.
And you, did you move around often?
Yes, but mostly around Ajegunle because that was my territory
How did you end up spending years doing that?
I needed money to go to the studio and because I couldn't get the kind of job that dignified, I didn't have the required qualifications, I had to make do with raking the dumps for money. It took me forever to save something, years I mean.
Did you make plans to escape the clutch of poverty?
I did, but I wasn't sure it would come this soon. I determined that no matter what, I must fulfill my dreams of becoming a musician. I was living up the dream, even while rummaging the heaps.
The BBC documentary was definitely not your plan of escape. What were your plans and how would you have executed it?
Music. That was my only weapon against poverty, the only thing I could do to escape. All my plans were woven around music and I wanted so much to enter the studio, release an album, and promote my music. I planned to meet the right people in the industry who could support me. At all that, I never lost sight of the fact that God was in control. I always prayed for God's blessings to see me through. Now I know He has answered my prayers.
Even on the refuse dumps where you were spotted, you always smiled. Why?
So it was that obvious? Yes. I smiled then to keep my mind off my situation. I still smile though. Funny enough, I smile a lot now because I'm on the path to achieving my dreams, thanks to the documentary and the people that made it possible for me to travel abroad.
Did you make friends in the slum?
Among them, whose story was more pathetic?
I can't tell of any because I only knew what I was going through then, but I knew some of them had stories to tell. I just didn't bother anybody because we all had different reasons for being there.
Can you go back there if you can positively affect the life of, at least, one person?
Yes, but not one person. I hope to affect the lives of those who have positive things to offer to the society.
You were once in the slum. Do you think there's a way out for unfortunate slum dwellers?
There are ways, but the government should allow these people to work until something meaningful can be done to help them. I know it's not easy, especially in a society like ours that places much emphasis on degrees, but fact is that they are humans too. They have to survive because they are family men and women. Ironically,there is money in the dumps. I advice anyone who is in between jobs to go into the business of gathering metal scraps from the dumps.
Lagos State government denied the BBC documentary, saying there were no slums in the state. Do you believe that?
I know I live in Ajengunle where, during the rainy season, residents run around for cover, looking for where to sleep once their houses are flooded. The same thing happens where I live in Ajegunle. I may not know the appropriate definition of a slum, but I know our rooms are always up in floods whenever it rains, even the slightest.
Did your hosts take you to slums in England?
Yes. I wouldn't have believed there were slums in London if I wasn't taken there.
Where did they take you?
Nigerians live there mostly
Well, I saw British and non-Brits there, so, slum is not peculiar to Lagos. I was also taken to Manchester and London.
Have you been signed on by any label in England?
Of all the promises made you, which one has not been fulfilled?
Every promise has been fulfilled.
Did you have a girlfriend while working the dumps?
Who are the new set of people warming up to you now?
Well, various class of people now want to be my friend. I guess it's true that success attracts.
Yes, but that's the least of my desires for now. I got my future to work out. I intend to take this opportunity with both hands.
Now that you're back in Nigeria, what next?
I'm back to promote my video and songs.
Do you plan to go to school?
Yes, but I have to get my music career to a point where I can safely say I'm financially ok. I don't want to be a burden on anybody.
Where do you see yourself by this time next year?
Only God knows. I'd love to be a top rated Nigerian musician, but I'm content working my way to the top from the scratch.
What memory of London do you hold dearly now that you are in Lagos?
They are a well-organised people. During my one month stay, I didn't hear anyone shout NEPA, even though I lived among Nigerians. I was also well received.