The Elizabeth Dafinone Story
Written by Adeola Aderounmu and Elizabeth Dafinone
Former Senator, David Dafinone has been described as probably the most distinguished Deltan man alive in Nigeria. He is the patriarch of the renowned Dafinone Dynasty. His family owns a Guinness world record for having the largest number of chartered accounts in a single family. Apparently not all the Dafinone children became chartered accountants. One of them was neglected and abandoned to a lonely fate in faraway England.
This is the story.
David was studying at the University of Hull when he met and fell in love with a Scottish woman named Helen Joan MacKay. The affair was not a one night stand. They had a relationship and lived together in Hull. David‘s first child Elizabeth Oghenorvbo Dafinone was born on the fourth of June 1955 in Hull, England. At that time, Joan was a housewife so to speak.
Earlier, during WWII she trained as an SRN nurse in Edinburgh Royal Hospital. She told of how the nurses had to stay on the wards during the bombings to look after the patients. Sometimes she peeped out of the blackout curtains and saw the faces of the German pilots looking to see whether they had hit their targets.
During the time that the romance between David and Joan bloomed and produced a child, Joan’s family was skeptical about the relationship. They did not approve, not because they were prejudice, they just thought it unwise for two people of such different backgrounds to be together. Joan completely cut herself of from them after that, in order to be with David.
Unfortunately for Joan, in the late 1950s David met and had an affair with a young girl from the West Indies. Her name is Cynthia. When Cynthia became pregnant David was forced to leave Joan and started living together with Cynthia. Cynthia may have arrived in Britain along with her family earlier in the 1950s. It was a time when a lot of West Indians were encouraged to go to Britain to work. She may also have lived in Brixton, an area of south London.
Things turned sour for Joan, who had given up everything to be with David. Her parents were dead but she had two brothers. One was a lawyer and the other a doctor. When David abandoned her to hook up with Cynthia, Joan was completely devastated. Having lost her family to be with David, she was too proud to turn back to them. She became a lonely single mother.
That was the end of the chapter for Joan in David’s love life.
When David separated from Joan, his family members in Nigeria were not pleased. Apparently, his allowances were stopped and David had to work at the post office for a short while to make ends meet. In Britain at that time (1950s) discrimination on the basis of colour was rife. Joan Dafinone (formerly MacKay) was left alone to bring up a mixed child. She had no help.
Elizabeth, her only daughter and the first child of David Dafinone, was brought up in poverty. She and her mother moved from one place to another, usually finding bedsits. In the harsh freezing winters of the 1950s, they had just a two bar electric fire to keep warm. Elizabeth had burn marks across her legs caused by staying too close to the heat to get warm.
It was a long season of impoverishment for Elizabeth and her mother. At some point, they lived almost entirely on custard. A pot of stew could be managed for a week. David Dafinone abandoned his first family as they suffered. He sent neither money, birthday or Christmas cards.
At some point Joan embarked on a campaign of survival. She tried to reach out to David and also to the Nigerian High Commission in London. Her efforts yielded no results. Instead David resented her. Elizabeth recalled that she and her mother got help from the Church and a few kind people that they met.
The years passed by, Elizabeth came of age and the struggle remained unbearable for her and her mother. Her mother literally lost her mind because of the struggle. She went insane. Elizabeth’s closest friends saw her pains during her mother’s ordeal. As a result of David Dafinone’s betrayal, Elizabeth’s childhood became a long nightmare. A young girl at that time, she suffered some of life’s most dreadful ordeals-a broken home when she was a toddler, poverty and then a mother who became mentally ill.
Something remarkable happened when Elizabeth was about 14 years old. One day David and Cynthia showed up where she and her mother lived. Joan became hysterical when she saw them. After the couple left, Joan laid on the couch for days. She sobbed. She screamed. She felt a heart-wrenching pain.
Before the shocking short visit ended, David promised to pay for Elizabeths’ school fees so that she could attend a boarding school. This offer was soon taken up and Elizabeth left London to attend a boarding school for girls in Hampshire for 2 years. When she came home during the holidays, Elizabeth returned to her life of poverty. School was a relief from some of the pressure and desperate sadness she had to endure.
As a young girl, Elizabeth travelled to Nigeria to find her father. She made her way from London to Sapele with £100 GBP in her pocket. David was in Lagos when she arrived. So, she found her grandmother who welcomed her and took her in with love and warmth. She immediately adored her Grandmother who was the first relative and Nigerian person to make her feel loved and wanted.
Elizabeth and her grandmother in Sapele around 1979
David Dafinone soon found out Elizabeth was in his mother’s house and arranged for her to be driven to his home in Apapa. It was here that he made a comment that he never completed. “l loved your mother, but…” David took to calling Elizabeth, Lizzie, and promised again to look after her but the promises he made were only partly fulfilled. His words were “you can have anything, but your mother will get nothing”
He sent £1000 via an assistant named Solomom Onomakpome so Elizabeth could continue her education at a higher level. Cynthia had expressed shock when she found out that Elizabeth had stayed with David’s mother in Sapele. Elizabeth believed that Cynthia was not keen on Nigeria and could only say negative things about the country in which she now lived.
After school, Elizabeth studied nursing because that was what her mother wanted her to do. But it was too distressing for her. She found it heart-breaking and can still clearly remember the individual characters who she nursed through their pain and subsequent death. Elizabeth went further to study French and Italian at university.
After the inital £1000 to help her in her studies, financial assistance from David Dafinone stopped abruptly after he received a long letter from Joan, who lambasted him for his initial neglect of Elizabeth. So, Elizabeth worked her way through university with the help of a UK student grant. Obviously, she found it hard financially on her own and on occasion found herself homeless in both Paris and London. However, she made it!
Over the years, Elizabeth spoke many times with her father and Cynthia. Both of them were aware of her struggles but did nothing, despite her father’s wealth. In one conversation, Cynthia said “I feel sorry for you!”
The struggle is not over from Elizabeth. Now divorced, she has continued to look after her ex-husband for many years. He’s living with cancer and has gone through a transplant. It has been a life loaded with difficulties caused by lack of support from David Dafinone. Amidst this she raised her own daughter.
David Dafinone remains a well-respected Nigerian patriarch. When his fame was on the rise and Elizabeth showed up in Nigeria, it seems that all he could think of was a complete cover-up of her existence.
When back in London, David telephoned Elizabeth to tell her of her mother’s letter and said he had been embarrassed by her appearence in Nigeria. Surely, the apprearence of a child you had in England cannot be the worst scandal in Nigeria during the 1970s. It’s doesn’t augur well with the image of the Dafinones that David neglected his first family and made them suffer for most of their lifes. Joan died in poverty in 2002. David was a wealthy man from a young age. He could have taken care of them.
Terri (aka Daphne) Dafinone, one of David’s children once told Elizabeth that part of the problem was that she was estranged from her roots. She implied that since Elizabeth did not know her Nigerian family or country, she had been left on her own without the knowledge of where she came from. But who created the problem? When he abandoned Elizabeth as a toddler, David created the problem that would last for two life times.
Elizabeth cannot be sure that her mother Joan did no wrong. Why did David abandon Joan? Why would a father walk away from his first child just when she started to hit the floor and walk around? Was it because as Joan had claimed, Cynthia had family who forcibly persuaded him?
Whatever it was, Elizabeth was innocent because she was just a child. Why did David suffer Elizabeth, like he did Joan? Why is Elizabeth not fit to be revealed even now that David has hit 86? The denial has been extended to Elizabeth’s young daughter who was recently told “to go back to the hell she came from” by her grandfather-David Dafinone. Elizabeth has been called a “cheap blackmailer” by David Dafinone. A similar expression was made in an anonymous email sent from one NIGERDELTA account. It is a strange accusation because although David Dafinone obviously has something to hide (his first daughter), Elizabeth has not asked for money to keep her story quiet.
Joan brought up Elizabeth to love and respect her father, despite what had happened. This, Elizabeth has done all her life, keeping silent and never arguing or causing offense to him or the family. However, when Elizabeth’s child was insulted and became upset before she even had a chance to explain why she had called her grandfather, Elizabeth couldn’t hold back any longer. She decided she had enough of the denial. A loving mother, Elizabeth has endured a lot but she will not sit back to see her child suffer verbal abuse.
This is not a story of hate. It is not about revenge or retaliation. Children are real people and adults who bring them into this world must be able to stand up to their responsibilities. It is shameful and very cruel to turn one’s back on an innocent child, a toddler in this case
This story, “The Elizabeth Dafinone Story”, is one of survival in the absence of a father who abandoned his family. It is the story of a young girl who grew up without protection and love from her father. It is a story of rejection that has left irreparable emotional and physical damage.
David Dafinone failed woefully in his obligations as the father of Elizabeth Oghenorvbo Dafinone and now as the grandfather to her daughter. His lack of responsibility, integrity and even politeness, begs disbelieve. It is shameful behaviour from a man who presents himself as an admired, respected Senator and patriach of Nigeria.
All her life, all that Elizabeth ever wanted from her father was some love and care.
When a man is separated from a woman because they no longer love each other or for other reasons, the interest of the child/children involved in the union must be paramount. If this story changes for the better just one parent’s attitude to their child, it is a story worth telling.