Nigerian Evangelist, Gospel Musician Born With Cerebral Palsy Prince Emmanuel Benson Reveals How He Turns His Disability Into Ability
In this interview with Toluwalope Kareem, Prince Emmanuel Benson, a gospel star and evangelist born with cerebral palsy reveals how he managed to push himself to life despite his disability.
See interview excerpt:
At what point did you get into music?
I never knew that I would ever go into music. I never even dreamt of it because I didn’t even have the talent. I started writing things such as articles and poems in 1998 and in 2000, God started talking to me about starting a music ministry. At the time I was writing, I had never written any music lyric line let alone write a whole song, but God had his plans for me and here I am today.
What sort of musical training did you have to undergo to become a gospel act?
To be sincere with you, I never went for any musical training but whenever I am singing, you would wonder how it is possible for someone like me to do so; you would marvel. The grace of becoming a musician was bestowed upon me by God; it is a gift that comes naturally.
Was going into music a choice or did circumstances push you into it?
For me, going into music was not a choice and it was not foisted on me by circumstances. It was a calling from God and it took me a year to be able to accept that calling. But when the calling was persistent, I told God that I couldn’t do it. I even had to question Him about how it would be possible for someone like me to be able to sing. First, it is really hard for me to talk and it is also hard for people to hear me, let alone if I go into music and start singing. How would I sing? How would people hear me? These were the questions I had on my mind, but God insisted and told me that this was what He wanted me to do and that if I believed in Him, He was going to take me higher and people would definitely listen to me. Eventually, I paid heed to the calling.
I remember when I told my parents that I wanted to start singing and I would love to make an album, they just looked at me and laughed. They a said that I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. They asked me who was going to listen to me with the way I had difficulty in talking. But because of the assurance that I had from God, I knew that I would still go into music. The calling from God was a motivation for me, and I never gave up.
I also remember when I wanted to release my first album, I went to several studios but none of them gave me the opportunity I wanted. They all had the same thing to say which was that they didn’t want to spoil the name of their record label. The only help they said they could offer me was to buy my song but I refused to accept the offer. I kept on believing in God until I attended a programme where one of my godmothers in the ministry invited me to – she had asked me to come and sing. I never knew there was a producer in the congregation. After my performance, the man approached me and asked if it was possible for him to get the song that I had just performed on stage. I told him that I didn’t have an album and that I had been trying to produce one but that no one was willing to help me. He looked at me and gave me his business card. He asked me to come to his studio first thing on Monday morning. I was so happy; the card felt like a million naira to me and I couldn’t wait for the following Monday to come. The programme was held on a Friday.
All through the weekend, I was anticipating that Monday morning. On Monday when I got to his studio, he told me that he was going to help me with my album and he was going to collect a little amount of money from me. He said he would have done it for free for me, but that he wouldn’t do that because he wanted me to appreciate what he was doing for me. I was so excited even though I didn’t have any money. But I was overwhelmed by the fact that finally a studio was ready to help me produce my album. I left and began to talk to people to help me with whatever they could afford for me to have my album produced; I was able to gather the money within a very short time. I returned to the producer and he was surprised. He saw the determination in me and was very pleased. We started working on the album and my parents had no idea that I was doing that. Whenever I was going to the studio, I would tell them that I was going to church because I didn’t want anybody to discourage me at all.
Finally, the album was ready so I needed to go and pick up the demo. I asked my daddy to please drive me down to Ojodu-Berger, Lagos, that I wanted to see someone. I didn’t tell him we were going to a studio. He took me there and when we entered the house, he discovered that it was a studio. Meanwhile, before we got to the studio, I had called my producer to start playing my music so that my father could hear the music. When my father got into the studio he heard the music and immediately recognised my voice, he looked at me with a very big smile; you could tell that he was so happy and proud. He called my name and said, so this is what you have been doing all this while and I simply replied with a smile. My father had to apologise to me for not believing in me. When we got back home, he told my mother everything. She was also very happy; everyone at home was excited, they all started hailing me and calling me a musician.
Talking about constraints, were you born with this challenge or it occurred at some point in your life?
I was born deaf and dumb and I was also paralysed for good 17 years. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I couldn’t hear, talk or move my body. All I did throughout those years was to lie down on my back and look. The doctors had told my parents then that nothing could be done about my situation, but I thank God that I have a family that is really close to God. If not, they would probably have listened to what the doctors had told them because the doctors told them that they were just going to keep wasting their money on me and there would be no good result at the end of the day, so they advised my parents to separate me from the other children. But because of the fear of God in my parents, they were not able to take that decision. I was like that for 17 years until God miraculously turned the situation around. Then I began to hear and talk and I was able to move my body, but I couldn’t walk or talk properly.
How did this affect your education?
Yes it did, because for the whole 17 years when I was deaf, dumb and paralysed, I couldn’t attend school. But after things improved, I had primary education. I was born in Kaduna and I was able to get primary education. My father worked with the Nigerian Air Force so I had the opportunity of attending the Air Force Primary School there. Due to the nature of my father’s job, we later moved to Lagos and I couldn’t continue my education because I was rejected by many schools. Also, most of the schools in Lagos were storey buildings, and with my condition, I couldn’t use the staircase. So the only option was to go to a special school. When I got to the special school, I was interviewed and given a little exercise to do. After the interviews, they discovered that I was very intelligent when compared to the others there. One of the women there made a statement which I would never forget. She said, “I don’t want to gamble with this child.” She felt that keeping me there would not be of benefit to me, so she decided not to admit me and advised my parents to take me home and train me themselves. Eventually I had to stay at home and develop myself there, so that I would be able to fit into the society. I may not have a school certificate to show to you if you asked me for one, but when it comes to the knowledge, I have it.
Did you have people that discouraged you along the way?
I had a lot of people that discouraged me at the beginning but I didn’t allow that to get to me because I knew where I was going to. Even as a person that is not living with a physical disability, there are some decisions that you would want to take in life and people would discourage you, so people would definitely discourage me. But I am someone who is very stubborn, especially when it comes to things that I know are very good and would benefit me. So if you ask me not to do that particular thing, I would definitely go ahead and do it just to prove to you that I can do it. So, when people tell me that I cannot do something, I just laugh because I know I will definitely do it, although it might take me a long time.
The first time you evangelised on stage, how did you feel?
I felt bad the first time because I was really nervous and I kept hoping that I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. When I got on stage, I was shivering. Also when I started singing, people found it really difficult to hear me. I saw that they were full of pity for me and that they were not pleased. This made me feel really bad, but I used it to challenge myself and I started working on myself to become better. I started building my self confidence. So, right now, there is no stage or place that you take me to that I would not be able to perform.
For people in similar conditions as you and have lost all hope, what will you tell them?
First, they should discover themselves and believe in themselves. Then they should work hard and learn that the sky is their limit and that whatever they want to become in life is up to them. I was having an argument with my dad recently and he was complaining that I was stressing myself too much. I told him that life itself was all about stress. So if you are not ready to face the stress, then you cannot make it in life. In essence, they must be ready to face the stress and all challenges that come their way.
What would you say your disability has taught you?
Somebody was telling me that he wished I could walk and I told him that regardless of my inability to walk or not, I appreciate who I am because supposing I was not like this; probably I might not have known God. And I might not have achieved what I have been able to achieve at this point in my life. Some other persons who are not living with disabilities may not be able to boast of what I have accomplished. I have composed over 150 songs; I have written two books.
I didn’t attend university but if we do a case study, we will find out that there are some people who went to the university and can’t boast of what I have. This isn’t by my power but by God’s doing. My disability has taught me that I should just be who I am and allow God to take me to where He wants me to be.
Are you married?
No, I am not married, but I am searching.
How would you describe your experience with women?
My experience hasn’t been a good one; all I have got are pains and deceit.
If you were granted one wish by God, what would it be?
My wish is to be financially and materially stable, and I want to fulfill my destiny so that after God calls me home, I will be able to boast that I have touched so many lives. I have many ideas which I have not been able to push out there because of lack of funds. I would love if companies could come and invest in me and see if they wouldn’t be surprised. I know what I can do. I composed an advert for a bank, but because I could not get to deliver the proposal to the management of the bank, it is still with me. If I should decide to send it out like that, people could easily have unauthorised access to the idea and use it to make money. If I am able to deliver it directly, I would be given audience.