The Anglo- Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind and also the Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He has been the Chair of the UN Committee since 2015 and presently serving his second tenure as head of the Committee. He recently spoke with Saturday Sun in Lagos.
What is the Chair of the UN Committee all about?
The United Nations Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a treaty that binds all member states to implement the articles of the convention, which deal with the rights and persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. So, we are talking about: accidental risk, industrial management risk, risk reduction political and public participation, and women’s rights. Nigeria has actually signed and ratified both the convention and the optional protocol, which has enabled the country to push forward a candidate to stand for election about the ideal. I was first nominated in 2014. I stood for election then, then I was nominated for re-election in 2018.
Did other nations participate in the elections?
There are eighteen members of the committee from all continents and all regions. Currently, on the committee, there are five African members, one Latin American, two from Eastern Europe and we also have from Asia and the Arab region.
With COVID-19, what’s your perception, are people with disabilities given audience globally so far?
Around the world, it seems persons with disabilities are actually left behind. The sustainable development goals are not being met. People are being left behind because, the sustainable development goals state that no persons should be left behind but in this critical moment, it looks like persons with disabilities are really being let down. So, the objectives and the goals of the SGD are not being fully met. I understand that there are so many deaths in care homes, nursing homes etc. and this is really not a good outcome at all. We’re calling everywhere for deinstitutionalization of all these homes where persons with disabilities are kept and that’s why these numbers of deaths are occurring. With regards to Nigeria, I’m afraid we are really far behind on the COVID-19 issue. Persons with disabilities have not been properly sensitized in terms of providing information on what to do, what the disease is actually even about, particularly deaf persons, who are supposed to be provided with signs language interpretation on television, at all the press briefings of NCDC and its task force, the deaf persons have been left out completely; similarly for blind persons who have not been provided information in an appropriate format, which is braille and audio. It is a difficult time for persons with disability really. Secondly, the issue of palliatives is also another issue for persons with disabilities. We hear hundreds and billions of naira are being collected for distribution to vulnerable groups. These vulnerable groups which include persons with disabilities are really being let down. I believe at the end of the day, there might be more people dying of hunger than of the COVID-19 itself in Nigeria. There’s a man in Ikeja, Lagos, he left his house about a week ago and just slumped. People had to rush to him and gave him food to eat because he had not been provided with any food. But government sometimes tries to put the cat before the horse.
What lessons has life taught you?
One has learnt quite a lot. I have learnt to be tolerant, persevere, to be patient and to just look at life and do the best that you can and offer the best of solution that you can.
Could you tell us any cherished memories growing up?
My memorable moments are usually in the educational institutions, which I went to. I went to the school for the blind in Lagos. Since it’s a school for blind persons, we grew up in a kind of natural situation like children should grow up. We didn’t really miss anything growing up there. I went to Kings College Lagos. Where I mixed with the other children. We all fitted in very well. Currently, we have a class set whatsapp group, which we have set up and exchange ideas. I was in school with persons like, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the current NSA, Major Gen. Mongunu, we were all classmates. I particularly enjoyed my educational career.
What were some of the challenges faced growing up?
I’m from Taraba State. Virtually, all my growing up was in Lagos. I came to Lagos when I was four years old but my parents were up North. I was the only one in Lagos. I grew up in Pacelli school for the blind. I go home from time to time on holidays. As a blind person, trying to move around the streets is not very easy. Independent mobility is not very easy. So there were many obstacles here and there. Open drains, open gutters, and when you are moving around it’s like you are throwing yourself into so many hazards but then as blind person you have to ensure you can get around independently, you cannot depend on brothers or sisters to be shuttling you from there to there, and you have your own private requirement as well. That was the biggest challenge I had growing up. I have been here in Lagos since working and carrying out all my other interactions.
Were there no blind schools in the North then?
There were, but missionaries who went round Nigeria looking for blind children to attend new school that has been opened in Lagos in the early 60s picked me up from my village. That was how I found myself here.
There are certain perceptions about the blind and persons with disabilities. What do you have to say on that?
Blind persons usually are often seen more on a charitable basis. Once you see a blind person you start to think, he must want something, seeking for some charity, which is a very unfortunate situation in which blind people find themselves. So anybody who sees a blind person the first thought that comes to the mind is, this must be a beggar and similarly with other persons with disabilities. The charitable model of disabilities still looms very large in Nigeria. We have not evolved into the human rights model of disabilities yet. We should, because we have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disability so we need to move the times, we are not. We are really far behind in advancement and development of persons with disability. There is a great need of awareness to be raised in Nigeria about disability issue. We still live in ignorance about persons with disabilities. There are still a lot of taboos and myths about persons with disabilities, which is why we are not moving forward.
Do you think we have enough institutions for people with disabilities in Nigeria?
It is not an issue of institutions for persons with disability, we will prefer according to the convention to have an inclusive education. We expect that children with disability should be able to learn alongside their other able bodied peers because learning together will actually help to erase these various myths and taboos in the society. It’s not just having more institutions, we need more inclusive institutions.
How do you start your day?
I wake up in the morning, prepare myself and go to the office. I run an NGO for the blind, the Anglo Nigeria. I attend to all the problems that they have. I attend to parents, I attend to government officials who come seeking for support and also provide general information. I printed materials into braille’s for blind children to read alongside their sighted counterparts, I provide some picture education, library services, training in braille mobility and typing and also run an independent living skills project. By 5pm I’m back home to my family. I live home 9am and close 5pm.
Is your wife physically challenged?
My wife is sighted.
How did you meet her?
We met in my hometown in Taraba State. We developed interest and here we are today. We have been married for 20 years.
How did you know she is your wife?
I have always wanted to return back to base. I went back to base and I met her. I wanted somebody who could relate well with my mum, who is still alive. As a blind person you wouldn’t be looking out for facial outlook you will be looking at qualities of honesty, sincerity and hard work in a spouse.
Is it true that blind people have inner eyes to detect or perceive a beautiful person?
I think it’s all in the imagination really. Some people might have that gift but I think a lot of it is in imagination. At least 99 percent of the time, they might come true.
Do you go to court as a lawyer?
No I don’t. The work of the NGO takes most of my time. I really can’t shuttle going to court. Going to court is not an easy movement. I chose the later being with the NGO and helping to develop other blind people. I worked in NTA for 12 years before deciding to set up the NGO as a senior producer of programmes and I also worked in Radio Nigeria producing one of their frontline programmes ‘behind the barrier.’ In the late 80s and early 90s, that was Radio Nigeria 2, in Martins street, Lagos.