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Day the physically challenged grounded Abuja

‘I was almost hit by a woman with a car,’ says one of them. ‘Some people do not bother about our challenges; rather they push you down and abuse you. It is painful’

By Nkechi Chima

No one needs a soothsayer to know that persons living with disabilities are made to pass through traumatic experiences on a daily basis in a country like ours. For instance, commercial drivers and their conductors care less about them. They openly despise them at bus stops.

Drivers focus on ways of making quick money and therefore attend more to physically fit individuals. At the markets, many traders and passers-by also do not care about them, especially the visually challenged. It is indeed a huge pain in their hearts, at not being able to access some of the public utilities, like ATM machines, hotels, secretariats, hospitals, pedestrian bridges etc. easily, without assistance.

Sometime ago, there was an incident in which a motorist almost hit a visually challenged woman with her car at a market in Abuja, due to impatience. Their experiences are therefore heartbreaking. Apart from lacking the money to take care of their daily needs, they experience huge pains trying to live like others.

It is in a bid to make their pitiable situation known to the public that the Coordinator of Disabled Persons Needs Initiatives, Mr. Liman Usman, a visually challenged, recently led other non-governmental organizations and individuals on an outdoor mobility exercise. On 26 April 2017, they converged at Zone 6 and later headed to the popular Wuse Market, banks, secretariat, pedestrian bridges to practically express and explain the problems persons living with disabilities face in the society.

Usman who spoke on behalf of the group expressed disappointment that the disabled, especially the visually impaired in the society cannot board a bus without the help of another passenger. “Those with crutches struggle to enter public bus, while those on wheelchairs find it difficult to get inside the bus due to lack of provision for them,” he lamented.

He expressed his disappointment that persons with disability bills that would have taken care of these problems have been lingering for a long time at the National Assembly without being passed. He therefore appealed to lawmakers to understand the pains that the physically challenged go through and do something that would be remembered for a long time, about their plight. “We are not just depending on the government alone for the structural adjustments, we are also calling on corporate organizations, architects, builders, individuals and every policy makers to address the issues,” he said.

Usman also advised persons living with disabilities to come together to face life by mingling with the society to make their lives meaningful for their future. A 45-year-old blind woman, Rose Otoko, from Cross River State, shared the story of the agony she feels at being abandoned by her friends and relatives due to disability.

“I was not born blind,” she said. “My visual problem started in 2008, as a result of severe headache. During that period, I gradually lost my sight, after a doctor administered drips and drugs on me. Indeed, it is a big challenge for me, going to a market like Wuse. I was almost hit by a woman with a car. Some people do not bother about our challenges; rather they push you down and abuse you. It is painful.  But, we can’t question God for the challenges; we are rather pleading to the government to help us solve the problem.

An architect, Lola Ibrahim Oje, also expressed her desire for the society to embrace people living with disabilities, by sharing the story of her younger brother’s experience (he was amputated twice as a result of diabetic wounds). “Sometimes, they feel disconnected from the society because of ill-treatment,” he said. “It is unfortunate we forget that the society is inter-connected.”

Speaking in the same vein, the President, Global Hope and Justice, Mr. Paul Ihekwoaba, who uses wheelchair called on the National Assembly to approve the national disability bill in order to address the ill-treatment meted out, from time to time, on persons living with disabilities in the society. He said Nigeria is extremely backward regarding rehabilitating persons living with disabilities. “As you can see, it is traumatizing not being able to enter a bus provided for everyone. And there is this attitude of people, not to make efforts to help the victims access the bus.”

Ihekwoaba also advised Nigerians to shift from sympathy to empathy. “Of course, it’s no longer medical problems, rather, the society is our major problem. We don’t need the sympathy, but empathy,” he insists. “It is our civil rights to be accepted in the society. It is unfortunate that I cannot access the bank ATM easily like my counterparts in developed countries do because I am on wheelchair. Does it mean I am not supposed to do banks financial transactions? As you can see, I couldn’t climb the ATM hall for financial transaction in this bank. In fact, we are not treated well in this country.”

Ihekwoaba lamented that churches, mosques and hotels are not exempted from the alleged ill treatment being meted out on the disabled, as there are those that cannot easily enter a place of worship due to their condition.

He told the story of how he was invited to a Thanksgiving in a church, but couldn’t access the worship center because it was located on the floor upstairs. And, there was no lift or ramp available for people on wheelchairs. He told the story of how he, on another occasion went to book hotel rooms for his guests but the manager apologized for his inability to enter to inspect the rooms. “Many Nigerians see us as beggars, not knowing that many of us are well placed in the society,” he said.

Ihekwoaba further pointed out that there are also so many public buildings in Nigeria without parking spaces for persons living with disabilities. “As a physically challenged person, you are expected to park your car many kilometres away from your destination, thereby making it difficult for

you to access it. The society has made some of those living with disabilities prisoners and unable to partake in any social activities or earn a living for themselves. I visited a family in Nigeria who quarantined a 40-year-old physically challenged on a wheelchair. He has never obtained any formal education. In fact, he doesn’t go out from the apartment, as if he is an Ebola victim. His crime is that he has paralyzed limbs.”

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