Gabriel Dike and Kehinde Olayinka
Though physically challenged, 34-year-old Barnabas Abiodun Raji is a regular face on the campus of the Lagos State University (LASU). He became more popular when he met former President Olusegun Obasanjo on December 22nd, 2019 at a function in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
In an exclusive interview with The Education Report, Raji gave reasons he wouldn’t take to begging, his rough road to acquire education, how the LASU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Olarenwaju Fagbohun, and Prof Biodun Akinpelu supported his university education and his dream of governing Lagos State in future.
What is your background like?
I am Raji Barnabas Abiodun, I am an indigene of Ilogbo Eremi in Badagry Local Government of Lagos State. I was born on December 26, 1986. My father was a traditional herbalist with three wives while my mother is a trader.
What are your challenges ?
I faced a lot of challenges, the road to success is not easy. In 100 level, I did not have a wheelchair, I crawled from one lecture hall to another, from departments to faculties for lectures to the extent that it affected my knees. Some LASU staff bought a wheelchair for me. Mrs. Dosumu, Mrs. Agosu and the Dean, Student Affairs, joined hands to buy me a wheelchair. Apart from that, paying school fees has been a major challenge. My father died in 2004 and my mother had earlier left him before his death. So, it was not easy picking my school bills but with the help of Prof. Biodun Akinpelu, I paid my school fees for my 100 level. I met the Vice-Chancellor at a function and he tapped me at the back and said I should come and see him in his office. I and a colleague went to see him. He asked how we were coping with lectures. We explained to him that lectures were not easy, especially our movement from one lecture hall to another and also from one faculty to another. We told him we couldn’t wheel ourselves through the various staircases while going for lectures, so he said he would ensure that we have easy access to lecture halls.
New buildings in LASU now have slopes to enable us to wheel ourselves to lectures and other activities on campus. This is how I have been managing and God has been using people to pay my school fees at 100 level, 200 level even 300 level.
How did you manage to scale through primary and secondary education?
It is through Gods’ grace and determination. My dad before he died did not even know that I had started school because he was sick from 1997-1998. I started schooling in 2000 and it was my step mum, who was selling bread that used the money to sponsor me and my sisters to school. My mum had divorced my dad then, so she didn’t know whether we had started going to school or not.
How easy was it when you wrote your UTME?
It was not easy, I encountered a lot of challenges. The first one, my centre was inside Morogbo, Beula Comprehensive High School, it was far. So I took a motorcycle early in the morning. I wake up around 5.00 am to prepare and the bike man would drop me at the school and would come back to pick me. There was a day I had an accident while heading for the centre, I was injured but I didn’t mind. I continued with the journey and after my WASSCE, I made good results except for Mathematics which I didn’t have a good grade and then I wrote JAMB and NECO. I gave money to someone for my exam registration and the person duped me. I was just shocked until Professor Akinpelu came to my aid and registered me without my knowledge, he just called me and said, I have registered you at a school, Shalom Merit College, Egan, Igando. So, I had to prepare myself for the exam and when the time for the exam came, he (Prof) took me to the school. I fetched water from the school well myself in the morning to bathe and cook. Sometimes, people around would bring food for me.
How many times did you write JAMB, NECO, and WAEC?
I wrote JAMB, NECO, and WAEC once. I faced several challenges while preparing for the examinations. Thank God I overcame the challenges and succeeded.
How supportive were your parents in your quest to acquire education?
My elder brothers and my step mum supported my education. She doesn’t have anything, she sold bread and made sure I went to school. She brought the ram and goat, she was rearing and gave the principal of my school, saying ‘’look at this ram and goat, is it up to his school fees?” If he said no, my step mum would ask him how is left to complete the fee. They would negotiate and later she would give me the balance to pay the school fee.
That is how I paid my school fees. I did not really have full support from my parents, because of our financial situation.
As a physically challenged student, has it opened doors of opportunities for you?
Yes, it has. It has made it possible for me to meet my vice-chancellor and also meet the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. I was able to meet different people and get employed as a Lagos State Government staff. The most important one is meeting Prof Akinpelu, who God used to see me through my secondary education and currently university education. I would forever remain grateful to him.
How do you cope with lectures and exams?
My major strength is that I am determined to succeed. When I was in 100 level, I was coming from Ilogbo Eremi to campus to receive lectures and go back. But when I calculated the amount I spent everyday and the stress I went through, I felt it was better I stayed. I slept in the class during exams and even during lectures. When everybody has gone home, I have my own class, where I sneak in and sleep. I take my bath and do everything in school. It is only during the holiday that I go home.
Is the government doing enough for physically challenged students?
I have not even benefitted anything from the Federal Government, but state, yes. It was during Ambode’s administration that he came up with an organisation called LASODA ( Lagos State Disability Association). I registered with the body and heard in the news that Ambode approved N500 million for physically challenged people. I was shocked because we in LASU have not benefited anything from it and later I went there and they asked that I should fill a form. They gave me one wheelchair but I gave it to someone like me in LASU because I have one already and later they called us to come and fill another form and write our Bank account number. They transferred N100,000 to my account. That is the only benefit I can say I benefitted from the Lagos State Government.
So, what do you want the federal and state governments to do for you and other physically challenged students?
What I want is for them to carry us along, they have neglected us for too long. After my first degree, I plan to go for my masters. After which I plan to contest for the governorship election in Lagos, so that I will be able to assist my people (physically challenged), because they have neglected us. I know what it takes to contest and become governor, the pain as a physically challenged person will spur my chances. If I become governor, I know what to do for our people. I am a Lagosian, I know that if I contest, I will win.
Recently you met the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at a function, can you describe the encounter?
I was very happy because it was like what the Bible said, ‘’can a good thing come out of Israel?” I didn’t even expect such a thing can happen to me. Even though there was controversy on social media, people called me to ask if I was the one with the former President in the photo? I said yes that I am the one and many asked me to send them money. One said, ‘’I know he (OBJ) will give you money.” I said just an encounter with him doesn’t mean he will give me money, it is not about money issue but my encounter with him would remain evergreen in my life. At the function, I went to him and I said Sir, can I have a picture with you?, he was glad. He also gave me a token, he was glad and stood at my back to take the picture. Though Chief Obasanjo was in a haste, if not I would have had time to interact with him. He couldn’t wait, after the picture, he shook my hand and left.
The few minutes you spent with him, what did he say to you?
He congratulated me because Prof. Akinpelu told him that I am a 400 level student of LASU. He advised me to study hard and he shook my hand. He also told me that I should keep moving and shouldn’t be distracted. I should not allow my condition to discourage me and that I have a very bright future ahead.
Was their anytime you thought of giving up on your university education?
Yes, that was when I was not able to pay my school fees at 100, 200 and 300 levels. As I am now, I don’t even know how I will pay my school fee (400 level). I just trust God, that what He has done in my 100, 200 and 300 levels, He will also surprise me and I will find a way of paying my 400 level school fee, that is the only hope I have.
There are NGOs and wealthy Nigerians, what do you want them to do for you?
I will be very glad if they can sponsor me. I am studying Computer Science and the reason I am studying the course is to become a guru in computer. If I have the opportunity to be sponsored to India when I come back, I want to build my own computer, so that I can assemble smartphones, smart computers, we can do it. like I read in a book about Philip Emeagwali, he is a Nigerian and he is doing excellently well abroad. The fastest computer was built by him and I put myself in his shoes that I can do better also. That is why I need help. If they can sponsor me to learn this course abroad, when I come back, I will be useful to Nigeria, not for my own pocket but to build things. So that our country also would be independent, because we depend on other countries for small things. I don’t want that, I want us to be independent to produce things on our own.
How are you being treated by your colleagues?
They have been nice to me. They are even the ones that encourage me and some of them would want to back me. I would just say no, and tell them it is part of life. I tell them that if I allow them to back me and I don’t feel the pain, how would I encourage others. If my children ask me, ‘’Daddy, how did you do it?’’, what will I tell them? My colleagues in the department often beg me so that they can wheel me around the campus. They would ask where I am going? I would say I am heading somewhere and even though their route is different from mine, they would want to push me to where I was going. I am so happy, they make my education easy.
What about your lecturers?
They have also been treating me good, like Dr. Akanbi, he taught me MAT101 (Calculus). Immediately he is through with lecturing, he would carry me to where I am going. He would put me inside his jeep and my wheelchair and drop me where I am going. All the lecturers are treating me well. They have supported me in every aspect, academically and financially.
Can you recall how you met Prof. Biodun Akinpelu?
I can’t forget how I met him. God used that man (Akinpelu) to uplift me and also support my educational pursuit. I referred to him as my mentor. He is the man God used to award me a scholarship in his wife’s secondary school. If not for God and him, I wouldn’t be in this position and for me to gain admission into LASU, he was the person behind it. I can’t forget the date I met Prof. Akinpelu, it was on September 10, 2007. What really happened is that, I was in JSS 1 and promoted to JSS 11, my school had not resumed. Prof’s wife school had resumed for academic activities while my school was to resume on September 22, 2007. As I was passing by, at the front of his wife’s school, ZIKLAG Group of Schools, Thanni Estate, IIogbo Eremi, I went in to make inquiries if I can attend tutorials there. Fortunately, I met Prof. there and I greeted him. The way he even attended to me as if he had known me before. He asked me what happened, I told him I was passing by and I noticed the school was opened and that I wanted to attend the tutorial there. That I was in JSS1 promoted to JSS 11 but my school had not resumed. He asked me about my parents. I told him my dad is late and I don’t even know where my mum is. He said “ok, can you bring someone from your family that will stand for you because I want to offer you scholarship?
I went home to tell my brother and he followed me to see Prof. He told my brother that he would take care of my education from JSS 11 to SS111. So that is how I met him. Ever since that encounter, he has been there for me, even books that other pupils buy, he will just tell them to give me for free, everything free, feeding free, even excursion to Benin, it was free. Even my WAEC and NECO, he was the one that paid for it. He was even the one that took me to the school at Igando and also picked me after I finished the exam. I was at Abeokuta in 2016, when he called me to send my credentials and later asked me to come and write an exam in LASU. That is how I became a student of LASU by God’s intervention and the help of Prof. Akinpelu.
What is VC’s disposition towards physically challenged students?
Under his administration, the university has changed and he has even made it conducive for learning. The VC met I and some of my colleagues that are blind, who are also students of LASU. We told him the challenges we were facing, moving from one department to another and that we could not wheel ourselves because of the stress and the staircases. It was not sloppy, it was during our time that he declared that all the faculties should have a special section for the physically challenged, even those that didn’t have space had to create one. The ongoing construction, provides a sloppy way to aid our movement. So with that development, he encouraged us and even gave us N100,000 each. At 200 level, I paid 75 percent of my school fee and it remained 30 percent and during the exam, I was told I would not be able to write the exam. The exam started around 1.00 pm and would finish at 3.00 pm. I ran to him and when he saw me, he called my name and asked what happened? I told him I was not allowed to write the exam because I had not completed my school fee. He just called the people in charge and said put his bill on my account. He issued a letter to me and I wrote my exam. So the VC has been so good to us.
Some referred to LASU as a glorified secondary school. What is your reaction?
I don’t agree. What happened is that they are referring to LASU of old, where riot, cultism and other vices occurred on a regular basis. I use my own self as an example. Before now I said I can’t come to LASU, but the university has changed. It has been transformed by the VC, Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun. Under his administration there has not been any riot, that is why I tell people that LASU of old is not the LASU of now. If they can maintain this, I will like all my children to have their university education in LASU.
When are you likely to graduate?
My programme is a five-year course and that means I would graduate in 2021. It will really pain me because the VC’s tenure would have ended by then. I will certainly invite him to my convocation because he supported me and my colleagues.
After your first degree, what next?
After my first degree, what is next is for me to do my masters, I don’t want to waste time. After my M.Sc I want to contest for the governorship election in Lagos State because our people are suffering, and I believe that God can use me and other people to support the youths and transform the state as well as the nation. If God can use Prof. Fagbohun to change the history of LASU, then he can use me to change the history of Lagos State and Nigeria. I want to be the first physically challenged person to contest for governorship election in Lagos State.
Looking at education in Lagos State, what area do you want Governor Sanwo-Olu to focus on?
I want advise Governor Sanwo-Olu to pay attention to primary and secondary schools because both are the foundation of our education system. I want him to also pay attention to the plight of physically challenged students/people that are not educated. I would like the governor to ensure that they are educated up to university level. I am fortunate to be one of the physically challenged that are educated. I tell other physically challenged persons that they can make it because I was able to work on my mind and motivated myself.
Many would have expected you to take to begging, what gives you that confidence and boldness?
The reason I am not on the street begging is that begging even brings more problems to those involved in it. Some people would go to the herbalist and would be told to say all the curses of their life on the money and give it to beggars. So the beggars who collect the money will be the ones to continue to carry the problems. I met one of my friends by name Success on a commercial bus. He asked what I was I doing in LASU, I told him that I am a student, he was shocked.
Do you have any regret?
The only regret I have is when things were not working well for me, then I was a Muslim, and things were very difficult for me. But since the day I accepted Christ, things have changed and it is a new story. I have no regret now. I see God’s plan in my life and I speak it into my life and I see the effect. I say good things to myself and I have seen it manifest.
Do you have a girlfriend?
God’s time is the best. So I am waiting for God’s time. I do admire some girls on campus and they do likewise. But I don’t have their time now because what one will eat forever one should not allow it to stop his vision. If I have girls on campus, they will be a distraction to me. So, when I have ‘arrived’, they will be the one begging me to marry them. I wouldn’t beg for them for now.