March 5, 2005
STORY THAT TOUCHES THE HEART:We want our rights, not pity, disabled confab delegates insist
From: Vanguard - Lagos,Nigeria - Mar 5, 2005
By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja.
ORDINARILY, their names arouse no familiarity, neither do they ring any bell. They would not have been considered if names of heavyweight Nigerians were being compiled. But in their peculiar disabilities, they are desirous to prove that they have all the abilities like the able-bodied men and women out there to shape the future of this country.
True, the trio of Mr. Yinka Ibidunni, Miss Nike Akinbola and Mallam Danlami Umaru Basharu, ordinarily, would not have a place if physical attributes were to be reckoned with in the ongoing quest to reinvent Nigeria through the ongoing national political reform conference.
With one form of physical disability or the other, the trio would, indeed, have had no role in determining Nigeria's future in the face of the keener competition by physically able Nigerians to take a pilot seat in the nation's cockpit.
However, today, fate has made it that one blind man and two crippled Nigerians are among the 400 delegates specially chosen to provide a panacea for the nation's troubles.
Miss Akinbola who was crippled by polio when she was yet a toddler gives credit for her presence at the national confab to President Olusegun Obasanjo who she praised for readily identifying with the lot of the physically challenged in the society. Through sheer determination and sometimes happenstance, Akinbola, 30 this September, has struggled against the odds to carve a niche for herself amongst the nation's 400 wise men and women of 2005.
Winner of the NYSC state award in Imo State in the 1999/2000 service year, her reward was automatic employment in the Imo State civil service. But if Akinbola's story is that inspiring, then Ibidunni's version is simply stupefying. Born with glaucoma, a debilitating eye disease that deteriorated over the years, Ibidunni who became fully blind in 1992, today identifies himself as a computer scientist, a mathematician, a systems control engineer, a publisher and indeed a politician.
Ibidunni is publisher of nigeriannow.com, an internet news magazine with special focus on Nigeria. A Peoples Democratic Party's chieftain, he contested the PDP primaries for the Ogun Central Senatorial ticket with Senator Ibikunle Amosun who won the primaries to eventually pick up the Senate seat.
The three physically challenged persons have become the cynosures at the on-going confab. They sit beside one another on the front row of the auditorium of the International Conference Centre, venue of the conference. But that seems to be the only privilege that they enjoy because in virtually all other things, they are not spared from the rigours that other colleagues go through. Interestingly, none of the physically handicapped persons spoken to by Saturday Vanguard desired any special advantages.
"We are not asking for special privileges. I mean, if you are not a qualified disabled person we are not asking them to give you a position. What we are saying is that if you are qualified, they should not say that because you are disabled, they would not give you that position," Ibidunni told this paper before the conference adjourned for the weekend last Thursday.
On Wednesday, some scores of the deaf created a scene at the gate of the conference venue. They would not understand why they were totally left out of the confab. Thus, they were at the venue to protest against what they said was a deliberate discrimination against the deaf.
With banners and cardboard papers carrying different messages of disapproval, the protesting deaf persons expressed their bitterness with the policemen who stopped them from carrying their protest into the conference venue as they had threatened.
Some of the inscriptions on their banners read: "ABOUT 2 MILLION DEAF DEMAND JUSTICE",
"DEAF NIGERIANS DESERVE TO BE HEARD IN THE CONFAB", "SHALL DEAF CONTINUE TO BE BEGGARS EVERYDAY OF THEIR EXISTENCE?"
The protesting deaf persons who came under the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf were led in the demonstration by their president, Jonathan Tinat and Mr. Idemudia Lawrence, himself a deaf man and presently a Ford International Fellow at Gallaudet University, in the United States.
Following the non-inclusion of a deaf person among the physically challenged, the association had written to Obong Uffot Ekaette, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, whose office is supervising the confab for a redress. Ekaette on receipt of the letter had forwarded it to a subordinate, the permanent secretary (political) within his office, who it seemed was not really given any specific instructions on what to do with the demand from this class of disabled persons.
Following their frustration in getting the attention of the organisers, the deaf persons decided to take their case for inclusion to the conference venue where they met a barricade of policemen and other security officers who stopped them from getting to their pre-determined destination.
But that disappointment seems to be a temporary setback because they had vowed before leaving that they would be back if their request was not addressed by the appropriate authorities.
Beyond this dissent from their fellow physically challenged, what challenges face the three representatives at the confab? How do they cope with the demands of the job at hand? What do they want to achieve for their fellow disabled and for the country? How did their disabilities come about? How are they coping? What messages do they have for the confab leaders and their fellow compatriots? We took these and more questions to two of the physically challenged persons at the national dialogue. You will find their answers as revealing as they excite emotions.
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