Sometimes ago, I was the host of a television programme, “Wake Up Nigeria Show”, designed to discuss the challenges facing Nigeria on a daily basis. This show featured experts as guests. One feature I invested so much energy in was the disability segment titled, “breaking beyond the barriers.”
That segment showcased people with disabilities to our teeming viewers, the challenge(s) they face, how they broke the hoops on their paths to be what they were. Guests on the show provided solutions to the problems faced by special people in Nigeria.
Not one of my guests had anything positive to say about government. Theirs were cases of self-help. They achieved what they could without government support.
I have seen many with lack of faith in themselves. You wouldn’t blame them. Nigeria is not a caring society. It is one where people with disability are without significance by religious persons, who claim to know God, but make room only for those with full limbs and government policies tilted to the so-called fit people.
At a summit for people with disabilities, my path crossed that of Margaret Uko Ekanem . She gave a wonderful speech at the occasion and I invited her after to the TV program. Thankfully, she obliged and we had a good show.
I found her to be bold, with zest for life. She managed, at the time, a cosmetic company with a high turn-over of staff, many of whom were sacked because they took advantage of her visual impairment to steal many of her cosmetic products.
Margaret Uko Ekanem lost her eyes suddenly as a JSS 3 student of Federal Government Girls College, Abuloma, Port Harcourt. The school, like others, built for the able, had no facility for the blind and so she had to go to the school for the blind at Afare Uku in Umuahia, Abia State, where she was taught all she needed to know so as to cope with life as a blind girl.
She ventured out from there to Queens College, Lagos, and obtained a Diploma in Mass Communication, from Our Saviours Institute of Science, Agriculture and Technology (OSISATECH) in Enugu State.
She was happily married to a journalist with a private radio station in Port Harcourt. On my program, she mentioned her daring moves to see a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, her home state.
Both the governor and his wife were at Nsukka to be honoured by the University of Nigeria. Security was tight as usual but she hung around the arena where the vehicles of the first family were parked. Thanks to fate, she caught the attention of the governor’s wife who asked her security detail to allow her journey in a car in her convoy and thereafter introduced her to her female special assistant.
That became her waterloo as the same assistant made sure her demands never got to the governor’s wife until they left Government House. Although the governor’s wife was kind enough to give her some money at their first meeting. Helping the vulnerable, for me, goes beyond the piquant-symbolism of handing out nickels.
Margaret wasn’t looking for a human mustard-plaster. All she wanted was a job in Nigeria or scholarship to school abroad. The PA to the governor’s wife talked her out of scholarship and never gave her the opportunity to meet with her principal, save for that time she rail-roaded their convoy.
We discussed all these in 2016 and we hadn’t met each other since then, until recently. She heard my voice as a guest on a radio station and asked that I visit her which I did for the first time at her Koko-Ama residence near Marine Base in Port Harcourt.
Shockingly, I discovered that her husband had moved away from the house. He said he was no longer keen on the union. She said she went to FIDA (federation of women lawyers) to report him, and he was told to provide sustenance money for her and their daughter and pay rent for their accommodation.
I think a journalist should know better. Instead of leaving a visually-impaired person in the lurch, why not do the needful? Even though I am no saint, conscience wouldn’t allow me steal into my house, move out my belongings and take my child, who is less than six years, away from her mother and play evasive games knowing that the mother is visually-impaired. Shouldn’t a journalist know better?
As at my last visit (so far), the landlord had cut power and water from Margaret’s apartment because of her rent which was due. The landlord seems to be joining issues with Margaret instead of her husband who signed the lease-holding document. Why join issues with a visually-impaired lady who is mistreated.
There are many Margaret Uko Ekanem out there, who are not ready to be a burden to anyone but society doesn’t care about them. Can’t anyone out there give this lady a job? Akwa Ibom State where Margaret hails from, can at least give her a job.
According to George Washington, “let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a freeman, contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
I would like to end this essay with some questions for government and society. Can there ever be a place for humour in the life of the disabled? Is there disabled friendly environment in Nigeria? Do we have barrier-free restaurants and alternative routes for the disabled? How do the disabled manage to deal with self-confidence? How do they feel when they have to ask for help? Are people with disability lawless?
Abah writes from Port Harcourt.
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