A graduate of the University of Calabar, Ruth Innocent, whose photo with a tall male corps member at the National Youth Service Corps camp in Bayelsa State went viral on social media due to her diminutive stature, tells ALEXANDER OKERE how she found love
A photo of you posing with a male corps member you reportedly fell in love with went viral partly because of the difference in your heights. What is the real story behind it?
My name is Ruth Innocent. I am from the Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from the University of Calabar. I graduated in 2017. I completed my National Youth Service Corps programme in 2022. I served in Rivers State. I did not serve immediately after graduation because I relocated to Abuja and started working. I am a professional make-up artist.
Actually, we were in camp but before we became friends, I didn’t like him because of his height; he is eight feet tall (not verified) and I am still struggling with three feet (not verified). At that time, I was not comfortable seeing a ‘giant’ each time I turned to see who was behind me. So, whenever he came to a place where I was, I would leave the place, and that made people around me to start laughing. He used to tell me not to see him as harmful.
There was a day we had a skills acquisition and entrepreneurship department class and I arrived to see that the class was already filled up with corps members and I could not see what was happening in front because of my height. I tried to see if I could see who was addressing us but I got fed up and sat down somewhere. Moments later, he came and asked if I wanted to see who was speaking, and I said yes. So, he carried me on his shoulders so that I could see what was happening in front. But suddenly, many people in the class left what they were doing and started staring at us and laughing. From then on, we started talking and became close.
How did you confirm your heights?
We measured our heights in camp. His height was confirmed and he was popular because he was the tallest corps member in the camp.
What did other corps members in the camp think about the friendship between the two of you?
We started getting attention and favour in camp. People started calling us a couple. When we went to the market, people gave us discounts. We got special attention. I started liking him to the point that each time I was outside my hostel and didn’t see him, I would call to ask him where he was. We became close and I started giving him the green light. When we left the camp, we kept in touch and decided to take the relationship seriously. Since we couldn’t see, I kept in touch through calls.
Did you know your photo would go viral?
I didn’t know the photo would go that viral. At first, I thought if I posted the photo and he already had a girlfriend, she would protest. When I posted it, I told him. Although he was okay with it, he asked me why I didn’t inform him before I posted it. He didn’t sound angry when I posted the photo, so I felt relaxed.
What other thing do you find attractive about him?
His name is Philip. He graduated from the University of Lagos. He is from Ibadan, Oyo State. He was a quiet, reserved kind of person in camp. I realised that he got the attention of many tall ladies in camp. It was interesting that someone like him who did not make friends easily wanted to be my friend. I felt he was not the type that womanised. He likes me and did not hide it or pretend about it. I just feel he is genuine. He is older. He was different from every other guy in camp.
Were you posted to the same place for your primary assignment?
No, we were not. I relocated to Rivers State but we both camped in Bayelsa.
How did you cope with the distance? Did you visit each other?
I was okay with the long-distance relationship. We talked on the phone. It was when I decided to visit him in Bayelsa that a flood disaster occurred.
Is it true that you both took part in a contest and won an award as the tallest and shortest person in camp?
No, it was not a competition. We won an award in our platoon; we were in the same platoon. He was the tallest and I was the shortest.
You mentioned that you were initially uncomfortable with the height difference between both of you when you met. Were you ever bullied because of your height?
I faced a lot and I don’t know which of them to talk about. When I was in primary school, I had a schoolmate who was a bully. He was hefty. We were not friends but he had a way of making me feel uncomfortable. He was fond of interrupting me and my friends and relaxing his hand on my head. When I asked him why he kept doing that, he said that was the only place his hand could be since I was close to the ground (meaning that I am short). Each time he said that, people laughed at me and I would run to the class and cry. To avoid facing that, I stayed away from breaks just to avoid him.
In my church, I used to be mistaken for a little girl because of my height. So, as a 10-year-old girl, I was made to take part in activities meant for children who were five years old and below.
At the university, one day, a lecturer told me not to enter his class because it was for mature people and that I was not up to the age range of his students. I tried to tell him that I was a member of the class but he refused to the point that my course mates started laughing at me. I was embarrassed and had to leave. It was later that the class representative told him that I was a member of the class. The lecturer later apologised, saying he thought I was the daughter of one of the students who came to school with her child.
What was your relationship with guys like in the past?
I suffered oh! It got to a point where it became a prayer point for me. I did not have guys coming to ask me out until I got to my final year in the university. I felt that it happened like a miracle. We were friends who used to dance together during the (Calabar) festival. I thought I was not in his class because I am short. I used to see him with big and tall girls. Although I liked him, I pretended not to. While we were dating, I asked him in a passive manner whether he liked short girls and he said no. I got to know what he had in mind to avoid being jilted. A lot of times, I felt depressed and the urge to commit suicide twice.
Can you talk about it?
The first time was when I relocated to Abuja after graduation and had an issue with my relationship in 2019. It was very bad for me. I prayed to God to give me a man. I asked myself whether I was that bad because I know I do not have a bad character. I am only short. It was really eating me up. I had a good job in Abuja but I did not have the joy that came with a man calling me to ask me how my day went. I had female friends who had boyfriends and spoke with them in my presence. It was so bad that I used to go to church to pray about it.
When I had a misunderstanding with one of my friends, she told me that I was jealous because men came for her and none came for me. I felt bad and cried that day. I took a locally prepared insecticide, otapiapia, and wanted to die. I just thank God that the insecticide had been diluted with a lot of kerosene. So, it did not affect me as much as it would. I went to a hospital and took some drugs. I had to go for counselling and was advised to stop staying alone.
The second time I had suicidal thoughts was when I went through a lot of stress at the university. I was told that the school fee I paid had not been confirmed. So, I gave a friend some money to help me sort it out but the guy ran away with the money. When I asked him why he did that, he told me that I should be careful about the people I called my friends. I was hurt and felt it wasn’t worth living. So, I wanted to take my life but I thank God. I believe I am medically okay. Every other member of my family has a normal height; it’s just me.
Is it true that you and Philip are engaged?
We are keeping that confidential till the right time. The relationship is serious.
How convinced are you about it?
I do not think he has a problem but there is a saying that one should expect the worst so that when the worst comes, it doesn’t come as heartbreak. Even if it doesn’t work out, it is fine, at least I will know that I had a man who loved me and discussed a future with me. I will feel the way a woman feels when she is loved by a man. I will feel fulfilled that a man once came for me.
Has he introduced you to his family?
I have spoken with his sister on the phone. I also spoke with his friends.
What is your biggest fear about dating such a tall man?
My biggest fear is that his family members may not accept me because of my height but I think love conquers all. But I don’t think I have any worry about his height; I have always wanted a man that is taller than I am so that our children won’t be too short.
What do you want his family members to consider?
They should consider someone who shares a future with him (Philip), someone who completes him. They may think I am not tall but some ladies are not tall but have the characteristics of a lady he wants. Some may think a lady is not compatible with a guy because she is not tall; so, they focus on one (per cent), which is the height, and neglect the 99 (per cent), which may be other things like humility and fear of God. People should not focus on height; height should not be a problem. They should focus on other things.
How have you handled the popularity that came with your viral photo?
The phone calls have been massive. The day PUNCH newspaper published it, I was sleeping. I didn’t even know that it had been published. When I woke up, I had 115 missed calls. I was surprised. Over eight of the calls came from people whose phone numbers I did not have saved on my phone. When I went online, I saw my photo on social media. I got calls from my former primary schoolmates.
Also, I have been getting a lot of attention from people, even those who were not friendly in the past. It has really been mind-blowing. I never thought I would find love in the NYSC camp. I used to think I would never find true love. I used to think relationships are not for short people but comforted myself when I saw people shorter than I am in happy relationships. So, I knew my situation was not that bad. No be sey I ugly; at least I fine small. So, I gave myself the confidence that I can be with any man I want.
Have you been getting words of advice from friends, especially your female friends, about your relationship?
Yes. A lot of them have been telling me to keep the relationship private because if it crashes, having another man will be a problem. They tell me that many people think we are married already. So, if anything (bad) happens, people will think I am coming from a broken relationship. But I tell them that what will be will be. If the relationship is going to work, it will work, and if it won’t, there is nothing I can do about it. I believe in enjoying the moment. This is the moment. Let me enjoy it.