By Richard Elesho
One is truly poor, only if he chooses to be. He who accepts the limitations of a disability, is disabled, indeed. The lives of three physically challenged persons, who have made their separate marks in Journalism practice in Kogi state, show that great strength can be harboured beneath any physical disability.
Born into different backgrounds and with varying experiences, their lives converge at two levels. First, in living with disabilities and second in their determination not to be held down by the impairments, even when society may have written them off.
The trio of Ishaq Dan Imam, Adeniyi Ezekiel Bada and Solomon Yahaya are People with Disabilities, PwDs with a difference. Theirs is not the usual lament and giving up associated with some in their stations or the rampant utter dependence on others for sustenance, in a choked and disabled economic space. Come along.
Ishaq Dan-Imam: A story of determination
After receiving a call that afternoon, Malam Ishaq Dan-Imam had to change his plan of not going out. There was a story to hunt down. His challenge, however, was how he would get an Okada, (as commercial motorcycles are called) that would take him to his destination. He is a person with a disability and every member of his household is gone in pursuit of daily chores.
He managed to crutch out of the house hoping to get help. The only passerby, a little boy said he was on an urgent errand for his parents. By and by, he got his wife on phone, explained the need to go out and requested she returned home with an Okada. Promptly, the woman complied and Ishaq managed to meet up with the unanticipated assignment.
Like many in his condition, access to public transportation and other facilities is a regular problem. “Sometimes, a commercial driver or rider may have slowed down for you. But often when they notice your physical challenge, they just zoom off, wondering in their mind who will help him to come in or go out of the vehicle?” Ishaq explained.
He is a pleasant personality. His handsome face, made more so by skillfully trimmed beards and moustache radiates smiles round the clock. The quality of his contributions to issues shows the depth of his intellect. Regular listeners to the Voice of Nigeria, VoN, where he is a Senior Correspondent would be familiar with his distinct baritone voice, not knowing he is crippled and can hardly walk.
He was not born like that, though. His dad, the late Sheik Shindar Jubril-Shuaibu of Ogha-Bete, Mozan district of Basa Local Government Area, Kogi State and mum had welcomed an addition to their family with eclat. The new child was not deformed in any way. Indeed, Ishaq was a boisterous toddler. He sat, crawled, stood and walked at the right times, without delay. It was at age three, that disaster set in.
“I was born normal. But when I was three years old, I became sick with Polio. My dad had travelled to the West for business. Mum didn’t know what it was and rushed me to the dispensary, where the Assistant, ignorantly administered an injection to me. In no time, my situation became worse leading to paralysis. That was how I could no longer stand, walk or do anything with my legs. I was immobile and had to be helped even for the most basic activities.
“My frightened parents started taking me to different places for help. But, non came. In the village, people concluded I must have been bewitched or afflicted by some evil forces. I became a big burden to my parents, who sold all their properties to correct my deformity, in vain. My dad resigned to fate, concluding it was the will of God.
The lad continued to grow in age, while his health deteriorated. He watched as his mates played around and went to school. Much as he craved indulgences, he was limited by his disability. Even then, he had dreams and prayed without ceasing for their manifestation.
Over time, his prayers were answered when Sister Nora, a Catholic Nun from Sheria came to the scene. The Missionary took him to a Specialist Hospital in Gboko where he underwent treatment for about a full year, after which he could now walk with the aid of clutches.
His disability now partially ameliorated, Ishaq enrolled in primary school, when he was already above that age, and began the ernest pursuit of his dream profession, Journalism. Many people in their community did not see the sense in sending ‘a disabled person’ to school
He, however, learnt faster than his peers. In a short time, he could read and write. He soon became an unofficial letter writer in the community. Even at that, not many people gave him a chance of survival, in a world where able-bodied men and women failed in droves. He once told a close family member how he would love to be a journalist. She responded in sarcasm, “you wey no get leg?”
Ishaq fell into deep ennui. But the way people wrote him off only helped to strengthen his resolve. He continued to pray that God should put the pessimists to shame.
Another eclipse fell when he could not proceed beyond Primary School, for lack of funds. But, one man, Musa Muhammed encouraged him to pursue his dreams. He it was who enrolled him at CMML Special School Iyale, where he started secondary education. He also used to package old newspapers and magazines for the dreamer, to horn his journalism skills.
Ishaq’s is a story of raw determination to survive in battles. He attended three secondary schools, because of intermittent interruptions occasioned by vicissitudes of life. In his West Africa School Certificate Examination, WASCE, the registration fee was paid as an act of benevolence by one Mohammed Adamu, then a young Reporter with whom he had an encounter.
Today, Ishaq is not only a secondary school certificate holder. He has a Diploma, First Degree in Journalism, and a Master’s Degree. That is not all. He hopes to complete a PhD, someday.
The broadcaster’s experiences about getting a job and marriage are not less intriguing. Hear him.
“People rate you by your looks and rarely by the quality of your potential. It is even worse in the aspect of marriage. Many people think when you suffer any physical disability you must be impotent. Society tends to believe your disability is physical proof of sexual deformity.
“But, more worrisome is the fact that when you eventually find someone and the two of you are in love and ready to marry, family members and friends will resist the move… Society is not kind to PwDs.” He said in low tones
Ishaq worked for his dreams. From a brief stint as a newsroom assistant at the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, he moved to VoN, where through diligence, he is steadily rising on the job. He is happily married and blessed with plenty of children, non of which is a PwD.
He prioritizes the education of his children. Presently, Abdulshakul his first son came into his dingy seating room, in Ibaji quarters. He just returned from school and brought his lesson notes for Daddy to peruse, as is his custom with all the kids.
Ishaq avoids going to assignments late. But he said the state of public facilities often makes access difficult for him. “Public offices are not designed with consideration for people in wheelchairs or crutches. Places without ram are naturally out of reach and assignments in places like that are impossible…”
Adeniyi Bada: From Pen to the Pulpit
A casual look at Adeniyi Bada seated or on the Pulpit does not give any hint of a disability. As he delivers the sermon straddling, now and then he accurately directs. the congregation to the scripture to buttress his points.
Soon the service comes to a close. Bada picks up his walking stick and points it to look for solids and identify voids. Then, he deliberately picks his steps. Only then will the visitor have an inkling, that the motivational preacher suffers visual impairment. Although his eyes are open, he does not see with them.
55-year-old Bada is also a Journalist, Author and Public Affairs Analyst. After serving as Correspondent of some national dailies, Bada became Publisher of The Public newspaper, a general-purpose community newspaper in Kogi, his home state.
The newspaper made waves in Kogi and neighbouring states, churning out stories as they broke. Bada who hated to miss stories had notable contacts in government, the business community and the informal sectors of society.
Then, suddenly disaster struck him without warning. “Everything was okay with me as a Journalist until 2014. I started having a strange sensation in my eyes. Then I went to the hospital where the Ophthalmologist diagnosed glaucoma.
“I thought it was just going to be a flash that will disappear after treatment. But unfortunately, there was no improvement. Instead, my vision declined rapidly, the more I tried. My wife and immediate family were very supportive. But the situation deteriorated until I can no longer see. I have been to so many places looking for help to no avail.”
Bada is optimistic that his vision will be restored with time. Until that time, however, he has elected never to remain idle. He said it is now far more difficult for him to hunt for and publish stories.
To manage the situation, as he can no longer publish monthly, he tries to get The Public on the newsstand every other month, where possible. At other times he makes commemorative publications.
He still maintains strong contact with many of his sources. He said he relies more on the skill of his modest staff to reach out and get reports. Then he debriefs them and dictates what should be written to a secretary. The text is read out to him even as he makes the necessary corrections. These processes are repeated often, depending on the peculiarity of each report, before rolling to the press.
An average reader does not know that it is with such painstaking effort that the paper heats the newsstand. Instructively, Bada used the same method to write and publish his autobiography.
In “Daring the storms” published by Malthouse Press Limited, 2019, Bada relives the trajectories of his life. In simple flowing and flawless language, the author takes the reader through the good, bad and ugly paths of his life.
Bada recalled how he became an author in blindness. “The book is a Divine inspiration from beginning to end. I started by recording myself, putting my entire life into perspective as I could recollect. I then engaged someone to transcribe, proofread and read it to me. Unfortunately, he reaped me off. He collected my money but did not do the job. He did not return my digital recorder.”
Following the disappointment, he enlisted the services of another person who did the work satisfactorily. Bada looked back proudly and declared, “the best thing that has happened to me is writing a book that I cannot read. Each time I listen to the comments of those who have read the book and how it touched their lives, I feel honoured by God.”
Bada believes the darkness will soon be over, but while it lasts he said he wishes to acquire the skills of reading and writing by braille, as other privileged people with sight defects, do. “With that, I think I will perform better professionally, in this competitive world that excludes people with disability from the scheme of things.”
Solomon Yahaya: Showing ability in disability
Solomon Yahaya, another Journalist with visual impairment, has over time overcome the difficulty in reading and writing. The Radio Presenter is trained and proficient in the use of Braille, also known as “touch trust for the blind.”
A staff of Radio Kogi, he along with his equally impaired female colleague, Mrs Agnes Ejei,
initiated “World of Special Persons” a trailblazing programme focused on disability issues and how PwDs can achieve fulfilment.
Solomon is also the anchor of “Building the society” and a notable public speaker in his state. Talking about the origin of his problem, he said he grew up to meet himself blind. “Although my mother, who should know, told me I was not born with blindness. She said it was when I was crawling that she noticed some difficulty with my sight. As I was growing up, the situation was getting worse… By the time I became conscious, I could no longer see.”
Solomon who is happily married with children studied English. He was employed in Radio during the administration of former Governor Ibrahim Idris, whose special intervention ensured the engagement of many qualified PwDs in the civil service, including Mohammed Sule Hassan, a Business Administration Graduate and staff of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.
Solomon acknowledged the usual problem of the blind in seeing or locating places, he however explained that marginalisation and lack of working tools are of greater concern to him as a Journalist.
“The greatest challenge I have on the job is access to technology. The gadgets that are common like phones or computers are not disability compliant. They are not inclusive. Those that are disability-friendly are too costly. I just cannot afford them. You are then left to rely on the assistance of others. Many times you just have to accept what they give you, as they may also have their schedules.”
He said PwDs face greater discrimination and stigmatisation in their regular activities. “They discriminate against us everywhere including the market. Some people will refuse to sell things for you because of superstition. They fear that once they sell something to a PwD, they will not get market again. When you are remembered at all, it must be at the last part as in remnants. Some call us “these people.” or “disability ” They will say these people are coming again. They don’t even remember us by our names.”
Solomon cautioned against class stigmatisation. “Many people have limited knowledge about disability. People should practice inclusiveness in their daily activities. Disability can happen to anybody and at any time. Like me now, my parents are normal and all my children are normal, but here am I. So disability is not in our genes. It just happened like that.”
Solomon’s dream is “to have a PhD and continue the journalistic practice till old age.”
Disability is a global problem. It is described as any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or effectively interact with the world around, socially or materially. These conditions, or impairments, may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or a combination of multiple factors.
The conditions may be present at birth or acquired later in life through accident, conflicts and spiritual infliction.
According to the World Health Organization, WHO, about two billion of the world’s seven billion population are facing one form of disability or the other. A good chunk of this figure is in Africa.
The five most common types of disabilities in Nigeria are blindness, hearing and speech difficulty, crippled or physical impairment and intellectual impairment. These conditions accentuate social inequality and poverty.
Nigeria has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, among other relevant global and regional efforts relating to PWDs. Governor Yahaya Bello has also signed the Kogi State Disability Act. But to date, the commitments are far from full implementation. Most state and non-governmental interventions are understood within a discourse of welfare and charity.
Analysts advocate that more efforts need to be directed at promoting inclusion, eliminating stigmatisation and making the good life available to all and sundry.
For now, kudos to the three Kogi men of letters and others like them, who are standing tall despite their disability, in a very negative world!