DWARF, but proud!

Source: nigeriafilms.com
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THEY may be small in size, even smallish really, but you cannot miss their presence. They are the cynosures wherever they are: on expressways, markets, churches, schools, just name it. They have the height of children but the physique of men and women

Welcome to the lives of Nigerian dwarfs, those folks who have stunted growth. The New International Webster's Comprehensive dictionary describes a dwarf as “a person, animal or plant that is unnaturally small, especially an adult human being less than four feet tall.”

Described as an “undersized” person, medical experts explain that outside the mythical race of pgymies in Equitorial Africa, dwarfism which is a disorder characterised by stunted growth, may be caused by disease of the hormones, bones, heart or digestive system. It is also a genetic problem.

But our concern here is not much the causes of dwarfism as to their lifestyles, particularly of late. Today, these diminutive persons have an association known as Dwarfs Association of Nigeria which caters for their interests. They have their national headquarters at Oshodi in Lagos State.

These days, these dwarfs are very much into home video industry. They have some releases to their credit, and it is no more out of place to seek them at traffic jams in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and other cities hawking their own films.

Yes, gone are the days when people with such unusual small stature would stay indoors in order not to be seen and laughed at. Now, they mingle freely with other people, aware of their height disadvantage but unmoved by it. They say it boldly that though they are dwarfs, they are proud!

But how they cope in the society that places a lot of emphasis on trivial things? Do they suffer any discrimination because of their pint-sized outlook? What are their distinct ideas of their wives? What are their dreams?

Saturday Vanguard spent no less than four hours with some of these proud Nigerians at their Lagos office. In this special package, we bring you face-to-face with the Nigerian dwarfs who bare everything about their lives, their likes and dislikes, as well as aspirations. It is better, indeed, to allow them to speak for themselves. Enjoy this.

Ken Keni (smallie): With a caring boyfriend, what else do I need?

I'm Hausa and I was born in Keffi, Nasarawa State. I'm the last in a family of three children. I was the only one born a dwarf. Growing up was quite normal like any other child but I missed the motherly love because my mother died when I was only a little child.

I didn't have much education. I stopped as soon as I got my First School Leaving Certificate. I learnt to plait and braid hairs at an early age. With the small money I was making, I was able to take care of myself until I ran into the cast of the Dwarfs Association of Nigeria. I joined the group when they came to Keffi to market their movies. The manager saw me and invited me to join the association.

It wasn't difficult for me to join because my elder brother, in the absence of my father who lives in the village, gave me his blessing to join the group. And since joining the group I have acted in one movie and also helped in the marketing of the works of others.

Although life as a dwarf could be difficult, I have respect for myself, a decent means of livelihood and I have a caring boyfriend. So, what more can I ask for?

It's bad Lagos conductors maltreat dwarfs, angry Chinedu Ogumka laments

I was born in 1977 to a family of eight children. I'm an actor. I have acted in many films aside of the ones produced by the association. I have featured in movies that have paid off handsomely. I had my secondary education at Umuagbai Secondary School and I came to Lagos in 1999.

Although my other brothers and sisters are much taller than me, I have no regret being born this way. Growing up was a bit tough for me as a child because the neighbourhood children taunted and called me names. Even here in Lagos where I currently reside, the humiliation persists. Conductors maltreat and shove me all over the place when I try to get into the bus.

As a human being, I know that I did not create myself so. Then, why I should I contemplate killing myself? Although I feel bad sometimes because of the humiliating experience I suffer on the street of Lagos, I have no regrets being a dwarf. I give thanks to God who created me. We could be dwarfs but we're proud of what we've achieved in life. How many of the other bigger people have done this?

I joined the association when they came to Aba to sell their wares, and today I have no regret taking that decision. With good remunerations, I have helped my parents and younger ones and everyone is happy.

When it comes to relationship with the opposite sex, it's wonderful. The girls love me and I have a few of them as lovers. They don't care about my size and I feel good really.

Our only problem here is the lack of interest being shown by the government of the day. Some of us would wish to attend higher institutions, but can't do that because of financial constraints. It's not everyone that makes money. And for those who have the certificates, government should, please, provide jobs for them.

Regret? No way, I'm a star in my village, says Udo Michael

As a young boy in the village, life was quite tough and rough, I must admit. Inspite of the love I enjoyed from members of my immediate family, the village kids made living a misery. I never cried whenever the going got tough, but took solace in the fact that God also created me, as He created them.

Since joining DAN (Dwarfs Association of Nigeria) in 2002, I have acted in five movies, which we also market directly to the public.

As a child, I vowed never to allow other people to intimidate me. That's why I chose to earn my living by doing something instead of begging. I feel bad especially when you don't get enough respect from people. Although I live in Lagos, I never forget where I come from, I'm a star of sort in my village and my parents are really proud of me.

Right now, I'm not married but I plan to do so with my sweet girlfriend in the nearest future. She is not a dwarf and is proud of me. She is never ashamed to move along with me publicly. She is an Ibo lady by the way while I'm Ibibio.

Onyekachi Ogbonna boasts: There's nothing a tall man can do that I can't do, even better

I started off in life as a motorcycle mechanic, but when members of DAN came to Aba to market their films, I abandoned the profession to join them. Apart from loving the idea of becoming a movie star, I saw in the group the coming together of people of like minds and people who share same things with me.

I have not acted in any movie yet but I know I'd soon get one. When I'm not busy selling films, I go back to my trade as a motorcycle mechanic. Since I joined the association, I have gained self respect and confidence, so much that I have no regrets being born a dwarf.

As a matter of fact, there is nothing that a tall man can do that I cannot do, maybe better. I have no difficulties approaching any woman of my choice for friendship. Yes, I have ladies in my life and they have no regrets being with me. Sometimes when I want to point out the fact that I'm a dwarf, they feel angry. So, why can't we be proud?

My biggest dream is to have a boyfriend who's not as short, says Monica Patrick

My parents reside in Ondo, Ondo State, though they are from Edo State. I'm the only one born that way in a family. We're eight (children) in our family. Growing up was something I'd wish never happened. Up till today, the situation hasn't changed much. I have to tell the truth. Children still call you names. The one that pains more is when adults say such nonsense because you expect them to know that you didn't create yourself.

But you see, my strength lies in the fact that there are other people whose fate in life is worse than mine. I was training to become a typist when members of DAN came to where I was staying. They invited me and it did not take me long before I agreed to join them. Since then, things have been going on well.

I acted in the new movie, Missing Dwarf, although I played a small role. The film was shot in Lagos and I enjoyed myself in the movie.

My greatest desire in life is to have to a tall man for a boyfriend. Right now, I have a colleague (dwarf) as one. We've been together for two years now, and if the Lord says yes to us getting married, I have no regrets however.

I may not be tall, but I enjoy going to parties. I love dancing. My height doesn't stop me from doing anything to enjoy myself. But I want the government to assist our association because it has given all of us a sense of belonging and confidence to face the society.

Happiness Imore: Life is not all about sex

I'm an Urhobo. I'm the first child of my parents who also have six other children. I'm the only dwarf in the family. My creation is of God and not man. So, I don't blame my parents for my situation.

When God created the world, things were not like this, but when Adam and Eve committed sin, everything changed. That is why we live in sin and some of us were born like this. I'm a Christian of the Jehovah Witness faith and a former student of Agidi Comprehensive High School, Ketu (Lagos). I played football for the school. I was also a swimmer. In the school, the students were always yabbing (taunting) me but it didn't matter to me.

As a footballer, I earned the respect of my colleagues unmindful of my height. When it came to team selection, I got into the team on merit. I don't have a girlfriend now because most of girls who would have loved to date me were always discouraged by their other girlfriends who kept asking them why they should go out with a dwarf. I prefer to stay alone.

As a matter of fact, I've never had a girlfriend. Life is not all about sex or having girlfriends. I have no regrets being born this way. Afterall, my siblings are all normal people so to speak. Initially, I thought I was the only dwarf on earth but since I came to Lagos and joined DAN, I'm happy and I don't feel bad anymore.

With two sons, I'm on top of the world---Ojo Adebayo

I'm the oldest of the dwarfs and perhaps the most popular. I was born into a polygamous family. My father had two wives. I never had problem growing up in Ondo where I was born. As I grew up, I became a very popular actor. I started my acting role with Ojo Ladipo Theatre Group and I was named Ikeregbe.

We had a wonderful time in the group, but unfortunately, all that ended when the leader passed on.

In terms of experience, I gained so much and it's with the help of what I gained being with the Ojo Ladipo Group that I'm what I am today.

I joined this group eight years ago and have featured in three movies, The Ndakobas, The Kingdom and the Missing Dwarf. In all the movies, I played a leading role. I have also played the role of helping to groom some of my younger colleagues and I'm quite popular with my fellow actors and actresses.

I'm particularly grateful to Ichie Gordian Onuoha (DAN founder) who has brought succour to dwarfs in Nigeria. Before now, I didn't know we could come together. But Onuoha has given all of us self respect particularly in the society. Again, he has given us respectable means of livelihood.

I'm married with two children. My first son is 17 while the second boy is 12. I'm a happy man and I have no regrets being born a dwarf.

Dwarf or not, I want to be a doctor, by Collins Okoro

I finished my secondary education at the Army Children's High School in Oshodi (Lagos). As soon as I left school in 2004, I teamed up with my friends to begin a block-moulding business. Before this time, I had joined the association (DAN) and everytime school hours were over, I came here to see if there was anything happening.

I was the only dwarf in the entire school and it was something else. I was made the butt of every joke. But I never one day complained because I knew I didn't create myself.

Since joining the group, I have featured in three movies and I have also danced on stage with Eedris Abdul-Kareem.

My greatest desire in life is to became a doctor and if I find a helper today, I'd gladly go back to school. Our greatest problem here is that we are neglected by the government and people don't make it any easier for us, as they continuously humiliate us in public.

I love football and have a girlfriend who resides in Lagos. People have tried to discourage her from dating me but she has refsued to listent to them. For that, I'm grateful. One day, and by the grace of God, we shall get married.

Maxwell Ekemonu has his eyes on bigger offers

When I'm not acting, I love to relax by reading and watching foreign movies. Please don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Nigerian movies. And if I have the opportunity of travelling out, the only place I'd love to be would be Hollywood.

Acting has been part of my life since I was child and I know and believe strongly too that one day, I'd be a big shot. The big reason why I prefer watching foreign movies is because they inspire me. I began my acting with Wale Adenuga production and I took part in most of the productions. I have worked with Ogogo, Baba Suwe before pitching my tent here.

While I thank God for this association, I will not shy away from bigger offers. Although I didn't go beyond secondary school, you can see that I can express myself well. It's because I love education and I still aspire to go to university to read theatre arts. I need to be equipped properly to face the now growing movie industry.

In spite of the tremendous growth of the movie industry, there is still the problem of lack of respect for dwarfs in the sector. Most producers will not hesitate to feature us in their movies but will not help finance your project if you have any.

But that has not in anyway affected me. Although I'm not married yet, I have a steady girlfriend who is in a catering institute. We love each and hope to marry her in future. Haba, how can you ask me that kind of question (if they both make love)?

Our aim is to build a village for dwarfs— Uwasomba

Uwuoma Uwasomba is the manager, Dwarf Association of Nigeria (DAN). He tells the story of the origin of DAN, life with dwarfs, their roles in the home video sector and why government should encourage these small creatures.

Coming of DAN

The association was formed in 1996 by a philanthropist, businessman and highlife musician, Ichie Gordian Onuoha when he noticed the ill-treatment meted to dwarfs. According to Ichie Onuoha, DAN was formed with the intent to transform the lifestyles of these people and empower them financially.

He also wanted to erase the notion that dwarfs are demonic and unproductive. It was very tough in the beginning when DAN was first floated because the founder had to suffer great financial difficulties and embarrassing moments from friends and business associates who didn't understand what he was doing with these people.

Working with dwarfs

Talking of life working with the dwarfs, I'd tell you that it's been both hectic and encouraging. It's been encouraging in the sense that I can now cope with any kind of human beings. The dwarfs, if you must know, can be very troublesome at times and trying to cope can be stressful.

A day with them could go in two ways. There are days you regret ever having anything to do with them and there are days you'd wish you would never want to leave.

In the eyes of the people

Most people commend us and pray that God continues to sustain and assist us for championing the cause of the dwarfs. You know, staying with the dwarfs is not an easy task. Many people have asked me if I use any form of juju to control them.

Movies and scripts

We have movie script-writers but if you bring any to us and it's acceptable, we'll buy it off you. DAN is not a profit-making organisation. We are more interested in integrating the dwarfs into the society.

The role of government

We've written to the 36 governors for assistance but up till now, we haven't received any reply, not even from one. We feel sad because we are doing something that the government should be doing. We also appeal to kind-hearted Nigerians and corporate bodies to come to our aid so that what we are doing may not be in vain.

We want to build a dwarf village where we'll have schools, hospitals and a film village. In short, we want to a place we can have a tourist centre that will be the first of its kind in the world and where only the inhabitants will be dwarfs. This is our dream

Me, marry a dwarf?

No, I'm not married and I will not marry a dwarf. I'm not here to look for a wife. My relationship with them here is strictly humanitarian and so the possibility of romance will never the there.