Some old traditions in Southern Nigeria do stigmatise people with albinism, however, due to civilisation such traditions are fast dying out today
The occasional good humoured name-calling like the “unfortunate or disappointed European” still sounds pretty nasty. If one can bleach and change the colour of their skin, then why can’t we accept albinos; after all it’s only hereditary and not contagious? Even now many people avoid sitting close to albinos in public transport or anywhere else for that matter.
READ ALSO: The plight of albinos in Southern Nigeria
Some witch doctors have been known to use albinos body parts especially their hair as ingredients in magical portions to make people rich. It is sad to note that presently Albinos; due to how the society treats them, are filled with fear. This fear manifests in workplaces. In fact some organisations don’t employ them even though they are qualified. According to Mr. Jake Epelle, a member of the Albino foundation, 99. 9% of Albinos are denied employment in Nigeria and this is worst hit in the Military and paramilitary forces.
The biggest problem facing the Albinos is social but in countries where albinism is seen as normal, these people are capable of performing their daily duties and even excel. Malian musician, Mr Salif Keita, is an example of an Albino who has risen to the pinnacle of his calling. As a child he suffered greatly from social isolation and was even kicked out of school because of his albinism. Today he is known around the world as the “Golden Voice of Africa” and has been cited as perhaps the greatest talent Africa has ever produced with his multiple world Music Grammy nominations.
He founded the Salif Keita Global Foundation to raise money for free health care and educational service for Albinos in Africa and around the world. The Late Honourable (Chief) Silas Iloh the former Nigeria Minister of Health is another prominent personality who was also an Albino. He was one time chairman of the governing Council of the Nigeria Albino Foundation and contributed in many ways to support albinism in Nigeria.
The Albino Foundation in Nigeria has also been trying hard to change the plight of Nigerian Albinos. But it is the wrong mentality that can make some people including politicians, learned people and the clergy to seek advice of witch doctors that has to change, otherwise Albinos will continue to be in danger, and living overwhelming feeling and anxiety for as long as they are being hunted not by animals or aliens but by their own fellow humans.
In Tanzania, discrimination against Albinos have taken a wicked twist as they including, children are being killed and mutilated on a large scale every year. In October 2008, Tanzania Albinos held a protest rally where they urged their Government to do more to protect Albinos or they may be forced to seek refuge in a safe country. It is a good thing that these people are coming out and making themselves visible. Nigeria Albinos should take a cue from this.
Like all kinds of prejudice, the best way out is educating the masses. It is very sad hearing Albinos tell their story, and the treatment meted out on them. I think what people need is education about Albinos; their struggles and challenges they face. Awareness and education are key to overcoming discrimination. It is ignorance that makes people discriminate against others. The Albino Foundation has been of assistance in this area as they ensure that families and schools make efforts not to exclude children with albinism in their families or communities is most helpful.
Religion has also had a positive impact on the plight of Albinos in recent times. Christians and Muslims alike are beginning to realize that before God all humans are equal and discrimination against them is a demonstration of disrespect to God and His work. However the Christian and Muslim communities can do more by actively organising support groups for Albinos, intensifying preaching on equity, love and justice, and regularly presenting God as the friend of all mankind. Jesus indeed has made it clear that “what you do to the best of his brethren, you do unto him” – Matt.25:45.
EFFECT OF CIVILIZATION ON ALBINOS
It may be true that some old traditions in Southern Nigeria do discriminate and stigmatise people with albinism, however, due to civilisation such traditions of cultural myths and superstitions are fast dying out today as people are becoming more aware that albinism is not an unnatural phenomenon. To cap it up, in 2014, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 13 June as International Albinism awareness day.
My recommendations are that Albinos should be tolerated and understood as not been responsible for their albinism. It is a kind of physical disability, therefore it is a duty of everyone to give special care and respect to them. Albinos should on the other hand be open, free, and not appear to suspect that other people are discriminating against them.
We must begin to encourage capable Albinos to consider career in politics so that they can aspire to policy making positions where they can directly effect the desired changes. We must also begin to showcase those businesses and other organisations under Albinos’ management to demonstrate their latent abilities in management.
Ophthalmologist and optometrists can equally help people with albinism compensate for their eye problem even though they cannot cure them. Clear national policies are needed, and communities should be educated about albinism to demystify this genetic condition. And assuring families of Albinos that their defects are confined to the skin and eyes; and advising on protective clothing, sun screening agents and correcting myopia would reduce the challenges they face. They can also be assisted with indoor occupation, early treatment of actinic keratoses and skin cancer to help many of them attain social acceptance, and a ripe old age.
Adedeji, a staff of National Museum, writes from Lagos