Linus Oota, Lafia
Tough people who have the power to withstand tough times always win. This should be the preface to the story of Philip Msonter, 27, who has literally walked through the “valley of shadow of death.”
His story has several chapters of tragedies, so much so it appeared he was a man marked by fate for misfortune. His first three older siblings died; then came the near-death experience that resulted from drinking a bottle of kerosene; the ordeal got him hospitalised for one year during which a raft of injections administered on him crippled him at the age of 11; then as a product of a broken family, he was consigned to fending for himself, despite his disability.
But by sheer determination, he has risen above his adversity and was able to pull off a feat that is even beyond some able-bodied men.
Today, he lives to tell the story––the story of survival, of resilience and focus, the story of how not to accept anything thrown at you by life.
“I’m encouraging myself and let my goal spur me on,” he told Saturday Sun reporter who stopped him for a chat at the entrance to Nasarawa State Polytechnic as he wheeled his way to classes. The few minutes interaction was enough to tell the story of his life thus far.
The day death could not take him
Philip Msonter, who hails from Makurdi Local Government Area of Benue State, is presently a pre-ND student of Nasarawa State Polytechnic, Lafia, a beneficiary of Nasarawa State Government scholarship.
That is the sunny side of his life’s story.
The gloomy part in the past, he concisely unravelled: “Today, I’m a cripple, but I was not born this way. This happened to me at the age of 11. My mother, a petty trader, used to sell fish. Any time she closed from market, she would buy Nutri Milk for me, because I was the only son of the family. One day, after closing at the market, as usual, she bought a bottle of Nutri Milk for me. She equally bought a litre of kerosene in a coke bottle. On getting home, she handed over the milk to me and put the kerosene under the bed.
“But my aunt overpowered me, took the milk from me and drank half of the content. The remaining half was not enough for me, so I searched round the house untill I sighted the coke bottle under the bed, I took it and drank the content thinking it was the extra Nutri Milk bought by my mum who, at this point, was in the kitchen preparing dinner.”
That was the beginning of his travails.
“Some 20 minutes after drinking the kerosene, I became unconscious. My mother walked into the room, saw me in an unstable manner and raised an alarm that attracted the attention of neighbours. I was forced to ingest palm oil so I could vomit the paraffin out of my system; after that, I was taken to the hospital.”
The cross of disability and a broken family
At the hospital, Msonter was in a critical, life-and-death state that saw him bedridden for almost one year. “The period was filled with lots of pains and troubles for me and my poor parents.The effect of the several injections resulted to my being crippled,” he recalled.
His personal misery is itself a consequence of the family’s general misfortune.
He catalogued the slew of calamities that ran the family aground. “We are seven in the family, the first three girls that were born before me had died; the last three girls that were born after me are all married but to very poor farmers,” he informed.
“My case is worst of all because my mother divorced my father few years after she gave birth to the last three girls and she married another man. At that point, she did not care about me anymore. My father who lived from hand to mouth had no assistance to offer me. So that is how everyone,my younger sisters, mother and father, abandoned me to my fate.”
He, however, blamed no one for his tribulation.“My younger sisters are all married to poor farmers who are equally managing to feed from hand to mouth,” he added.
The struggle for education
With the assistance of kind-hearted individuals, he was able to complete his primary education and proceeded to secondary school which he completed in flying colours.
“In the course of my secondary education, the Anglican Church Makurdi, through USAID, gave me a wheelchair,” he recalled.
After his secondary education in 2016, he found himself at a dead end.
“I could not go further due to lack of funds since I had no benefactor to encourage me.”
Two years later, Providence lent a helping hand. In 2018, the immediate past governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, offered scholarships to disabled people in the state. Though, he reluctantly applied, Msonter was among the lucky ones.
“I was offered a scholarship to study for a diploma programme at the state polytechnic in the Department of Public Administration, even though my preferred choice was Mass Communication,” he said.
Even as he bask in the euphoria of his modest achievement, Msonter decried the unfair treatment he gets from society.
“As a physically challenged person, I experienced a lot of discrimination in my growing years. That included stigmatization from my peers, especially, in school,” he said. “Many people looked down on me, thinking that all hope is lost; the society generally looks down on the physically challenged as being less human or as never-do-well. The treatment is at times very hostile to us in ways that make us question if indeed there is a place for us. But we thank God for the kind-hearted individuals and the Church.”
Having come a long way, there are still many bridges ahead to cross. At the moment, he is faced with pressing challenges.
“My major challenge now is accommodation because I don’t know anybody in Lafia. Feeding is a big problem to me, so also is transportation to school a major challenge, especially now that my wheelchair is in a state of disrepair,” he lamented.
He called on other disabled persons “to owe themselves a duty to demolish the myths and prejudices that form the foundation of society’s misconception about them.”
Said he: “Instead of begging on the streets, they should apply themselves gainfully; they should learn a trade or go to school where their chances of excelling is much because no educated person is useless.”
While urging Nasarawa State new governor Abdullahi Sule to emulate Senator Umaru Tanko Al-Makura by considering the plights of persons with disabilities, he equally enjoined parents not to give up on their children with disabilities.
“One should not dwell on the past, but concentrate on now; being challenged in one area does not mean that one cannot do what others can do,” he said.
Though the road ahead is bumpy and filled with uncertainties, Philip Msonter, believes God who brought him this far will not abandon him. He believes Good Samaritans are still out there who would help him cover the next mileage of his life.