“HIV is a lonely disease,” says Ugochukwu whose signal banners, posters on pedestrian bridge, trees and gutters challenge positive singles and separated to reach out for a partner.
Despite several successful matches, couples still face stigma. The latest couples in May would not talk to media about their union, but more HIV-positive singles are finding love and connection with people similar to them is one reason to go on, Ugochukwu tells Daily Trust at the venue of the last wedding.
You must be feeling jolly today?
I’m always a happy man, but today I’m happier. I played a part in their life.
You brought them together?
I simply said in local language, Are you HIV positive, Do you really want to settle down? Do you need a partner? This has been disturbing them but they don’t know whom to reach out to. This is my child project. I believe in it. They also believe in it; we concur, we pray together, and after seven months they are now wedded.
These past seven months, was it an easy time for you?
This is a pet project. I have my limitations because I am the sponsor, the counsellor, I do it without any formal education. I place some of those [posters] in the gutters. People will call me. I might link you but I don’t follow up because to follow up needs money, credit, time, and this thing is what I’m doing free of charge. I don’t have enough time for the [number] of people I have. I have up to 10,000 people. When you come to my office, I ask you, how matured are you? Try to find out if you can handle issues? It is not for kids, it is for the matured mind, those who are ready to settle down and who are ready to tolerate the ups and downs in life. This time around, it is no longer, I’m falling in love. Now we match make—we see ourselves and are able to tolerate each other.
Beyond the point where you introduce them, what then?
The highest I can be doing for them is whenever I go to my God, I talk to God about it: these people you are using me to bless, let that blessing turn to fulfillment.
How many of these couplings have you been instrumental to?
Last week, I had a wedding in Bauchi, but I couldn’t make it. I have had 15 weddings this year. I have weddings every two weeks [on average], and traditional weddings almost every week. There are ups and downs in the whole thing, but I don’t bother about that because I started this two years ago, there has never been major crisis. A Muslim told me that it was because of her God sent me into the ministry.
Once the wedding reception is over and everyone goes home happy, what next?
I’m not doing it as a human being; I believe this is my contribution to humanity. I don’t need anything from them. They have not paid me one naira till today. But sometimes, some people say, take one thousand, take five hundred for recharge cards. Fine. I come to their weddings sometimes, not because I want. I don’t know how they will feel if they see me at their weddings: the stigma is still there. I have had opportunity to be in church with them but after the church service I disappear.
Can you presume how they are dealing with that stigma?
When you have somebody who understands you, the stigma is gone. The stigma is there when you don’t have somebody who will be there for you. You are afraid, how am I going to live my life, who do I talk to? But when you have somebody who will be there for you, who reasons with you, who sees things the same way you do, you are a happy man, the stigma is no longer there.
But when you don’t have anyone and you are matured, and everybody in the house is pestering you, Are you not ready to marry? What are you still doing? You go to your pastor, your pastor will only pray. I tell people, the days of manna are gone. Now God uses people to bless people. Your pastor can only pray, but I go through the 36 states and Abuja looking for spouses for people.
Somebody has blessed the ministry with a website. I’m not in a haste to rush in there. Like I told you, I have no formal education and I’m working alone. I have been to government for assistance—lots of politics in it, so I keep to myself. I know one day God will still remember me.
How did the website come about?
From a donor in America who thought we were doing a good job. So he liaised with someone here to build it. We are still reaching out. Everything about websites is advert. We are still looking at possible ways to advertise it, to make jingles. [Bilkis] promised N20,000 and when she was coming, she put the N20,000 in her [wedding] invitation, and I called Love FM and gave them both: see how you can manage a jingle with this. If you listen to Love FM, you hear the jingle, courtesy of the wedding that happened in Bauchi.