Mercy Blankson is the widow of the late Joe Blankson, who drowned in July 2018 after saving 13 passengers in a boat mishap along the Abonema/Bakana waterway in Rivers State. In this interview with PUNCH, the widow speaks about life in the absence of her husband
It’s been three year since your husband drowned, saving passengers in a boat accident. How has life been for you and your children?
Well, life has been difficult. Joe was the breadwinner of the family and he left unexpectedly; unplanned and without leaving anything (money) behind. So, it has really not been easy in terms of my kid’s education, in terms of accommodation, well-being and other things. We have just been managing to get by just by the grace of God. Of late, someone is helping to pay the children’s school fees. He has paid for three terms. But before then, it was really hell trying to take care of school fees and other things.
How old are your children now?
Owen is seven years old and Lolia is three years old. Owen is a boy and Ibilolia is a girl.
Recently, your late husband was given a posthumous award by the President, which you received on his behalf. How did that make you feel?
Well, I am not supposed to be happy though, but based on the fact that the award came when it came, I am glad that he was being recognised for his selfless act; I am happy about that. I even wished that the whole thing would bring him back, which is not possible. I am glad that he was recognised by the President after many years. So, I’m happy and grateful for the award.
What is the nature of the award given to him by the President?
It is for an act of bravery and patriotism.
Did the award come with money?
Well, nothing has come for now. But when I met Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Minister of Information and Culture), he said they would get back to me. But they didn’t give me anything. Nothing was attached; it was just a normal award, a plaque.
When this incident occurred, the Rivers State Government promised to offer you an employment, as well as an endowment fund for your children. Has the promise been fulfilled?
No, not yet. Even when he (the Rivers State Governor) made those promises, I actually tried to follow up to see if they could offer me an employment like he said and scholarship for my children, but nothing has happened till now. I understand that he is busy, but I just pray that God will still touch him to fulfil his promises in terms of the scholarship and the job.
When you made the effort to see the governor, what were you told?
I wrote different letters to him through the Secretary to the State Government, through the Deputy Governor, through Her Excellency. I also wrote to the then Degema Local Government Area Chairman that took me there. I even tried to meet them one by one. It was still the same old story of “We will see what we will do about that.” Till date, nothing has been done.
You were based in Port Harcourt but recently you relocated to Abuja. Is there any reason for that?
I left Port Harcourt because…I am trying not to use the phrase being threatened. But you know how it is in our society today when a woman loses her husband. You know harmful widowhood practices the woman usually faces. At one point my life wasn’t safe.
When my husband died during the election period, there were so many promises and stuff. People were trying to use it to score political points. So, my in-laws assumed or concluded that Governor Nyesom Wike gave me N50m and that I ran out of Port Harcourt. In fact, they were threatening me. So, I just had to be alive for my children, and my own mental health was being affected. So, I had to leave.
So, it wasn’t true that any money was given to you?
I was not given any N50m. The governor promised to support my children’s education with N40m and also give me a job.
Are you still facing those challenges from your in-laws?
Well, it’s just for the presidential award that came up, I know of some kind of funny things that happened, but that is by the way. My joy is that I’m far away. In a way, I’m still facing those challenges but not like directly, but in a way, I am.
How will you describe your late husband? What kind of a person was he?
My late husband was a very nice person. He was very jovial, he was a selfless being. He was always happy when others were happy. He didn’t like seeing people get hurt and he was a good dad, a very caring husband and very hard-working guy.
What was his occupation?
He worked with an indigenous company, O.K. Insokoriari and Sons Nigeria Limited. It is a construction company. Aside from that, he was also into diesel marketing. He supplied diesel to companies in large quantities. He did that as his side hustle. But he worked mainly with a private construction company.
Did the company reach out to you afterwards?
They haven’t. It was when I launched the foundation that they promised to support me with some money. I actually established a foundation in my late husband’s name to promote swimming in schools among children. So, they promised to support the foundation, but nothing was done. The good thing they did for us was that, while we were there, it was in the company’s house we stayed. They didn’t disturb me or ask me to leave until I left.
What’s the connection between your husband and the foundation for swimming?
As you know, my late husband died while trying to save lives in the water. Just imagine if other passengers could swim very well as he was, I’m sure we won’t be talking about him being dead. So, it’s just that every other person could not swim like him. That was why he got tired after saving many people and drowned. So, if we could teach children how to swim now, it would be a part of them. It’s more like creating awareness on drowning, towards preventing it.
How is the foundation faring now?
It is on. Lately, someone, Mr Moses Siasia, the Chairman of Nigerian Young Professionals Forum, paid for one year because usually we go into partnership with pools. Presently, we are in partnership with the Nigeria Aquatic Federation. I was supposed to use Port Harcourt Club pool but it was too expensive and I didn’t get any support. So, it’s going on in Abuja. It was after marking my late husband’s third anniversary here (Abuja) that Mr Siasia was moved by what happened. It was a swimming competition to honour my husband for what he died for.
Do you still have hope that the governor will fulfil his promise?
Yes. I will appreciate it if the governor fulfils his promises. But I don’t think I’ll want to go back to Port Harcourt for my security and that of my children. I just pray this message gets to the governor to be able to support us, because inasmuch as someone just paid the children’s school fees, I’m still trying to do other things for them.