Obinna Odogwu, Awka
President of Nigeria Association of the Blind, Ebonyi State chapter, Mr Enyi Joseph Nwabueze, a lawyer, has cried out over the pathetic condition the visually impaired people are subjected to in the state, especially the ones schooling at Special Schools for the Blind in Opefia and Okposi communities in Izzi and Ohaozara local government areas respectively.
He lamented that aside the horrible conditions of the two schools which environments were overgrown by bushes, some girls in the school in Opefia had become victims of rape. In this interview with Sunday Sun, Mr Enyi narrated their ordeals. Excerpts:
How has it been handling the affairs of your association since you came on board?
I must say it has been much terrible. In fact, I met the association in a deplorable condition whereby the association had nothing. The association has functioned for over 15 years before I assumed office as its president. So, I began to construct the seal of the association, its account, logo, and the banner. Automatically, people are not much when I assumed office. In fact, we were not up to 20 as at that time. But I began to carry the message to most of the local governments. Today, we have 13 coordinators of the local governments in the state and we have over 300 registered members right now. So, it has been very, very difficult to pilot the affairs of the association because there is no subvention to carry out the functions of the association and when there is no available money, it is quite difficult to carry out public functions. But immediately after my assumption of office, I tried to use the resources available in my hand; not the ones of the association, to make sure that I overcame those challenges. To give them money to transport themselves to meetings and also to visit the schools which is also known as Special Schools for the Blind in Ebonyi State; giving them bus to come to the meeting. So, those things became challenging. But I said that God who brought me as the president will also see me through. So, we now started. I believe so much that today, the association has seen so many lights. So many of them have been empowered; so many of them have been ruled into institution, those that have no money. And some of them that have money, as well, we engaged them in skill acquisition. The people that were not able to pay, we also engaged them in that skill acquisition. So, I believe that the association has seen light.
Do the members of your association live together in one place, that is, a camp or do they operate from their various homes?
The members of the association operate from different places in the state. And we have overtime talked about secretariat for the association. We have met with the government to know if there will be any designated place for the association. They promised to give us an office at Centenary City, but that was not done since that time till now. The Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Religious Matters also made mention of giving the office at his own office at Presco, No. 1 Democracy Estate, but that has not been done as well. So, for now, we don’t even have a place of meeting. Today, we meet at All Saints (Anglican) Cathedral, Abakaliki where our chaplain lives. We also go to St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Ugwuachara where our patron also pastors. So, we don’t have a permanent place. We are making effort to get a permanent place. But I know that with God all things are possible.
From the feedback you get from your colleagues during meetings, do they suffer discrimination in the society? How do they cope?
This is a very interesting question. The association suffers so many discriminations; so many; in the hands of the government, in the hands of the members of the society. Let me start from the one done by the government. The widows have been empowered; so many of them have been empowered. About 4,000 widows were empowered with N100,000 each. The youths have also been empowered. They have been empowered with N200,000 and N50,000, but these visually impaired ones were left out. Now, a widow can go to farm and make money. A widow can also go to market and make money, but visually impaired persons cannot in any way go to the farm because they cannot be useful. They cannot farm or cultivate without being assisted by someone. So, empowering them will go a long way to help them. Then for the youths, I think a youth can be a cyclist and make money out of it. He can as well operate tricycle and make money with it. An able youth can also be a driver. It will be very difficult for a visually impaired person to be a driver. You know that a visually impaired person cannot be a driver. So, all these people who have source of living from somewhere; I mean, you will think about those who cannot achieve all these things by themselves; who cannot do all these things by themselves. So, these are the people that the government should be taking appropriate care of. Not taking care of them, just to give them money, but to empower them. Because when they are empowered, their families will have fewer burdens. When they are not empowered, their children will as well suffer. So many of them their children were sent out of school because of lack of school fees. Sometimes to get what to eat, they must go and beg in one place or the other. So, I think that this discrimination ought to stop. Sometimes, in the society today, you will see a visually impaired person who has this stick where nobody is helping him or her, you will see him and pass. You will see him and pass instead of assisting him to either cross the main road or to help him get to his destination. You will keep silent. I think that these people have been marginalized in the society. Then, in the two schools that we have, I think those are the government owned schools. What government does to community primary schools and secondary schools are supposed to be extended to those schools just like the School for the Blind at Opefia. I think the school is supposed to have been fenced by now. If you go to other community schools which the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) takes care of, I think they have good buildings, refectories if they are boarding. In these two schools, they don’t have refectories and they are not fenced. You can imagine were such school does not have fence, bad people from the society come to the school and steal their property. They come to also have one or two things with them. I overheard that one or two of them were raped by the bad members of the village. So, I think that if this discrimination stops, these people are supposed to be seen as one among the society.
Did you reach out to those two students that were raped so as to get first hand information and even find a way to stop future occurrence?
I have gone to the schools about four or five times. In 2017, the then Commissioner for Education asked me to go to the school and find out the immediate need of those schools of which we used our money to transport ourselves to the schools. And then, we found out that these schools were not fenced and that was when we got this information. Then I called the first girl in question. She told me how it happened. She narrated that it happened around 7:35p.mnon that particular day. She thought that the person wanted to take her to the hostel, but she never knew that the person had bad intentions. She followed him and in the process, she noticed that she was almost out of the school. It was at that point that she started asking questions about who was holding her. The person refused to talk. Before she knew what was happening, she had already been put to the ground and another guy came. That one assisted the other guy to remove her wears before she was raped. After that incident, the (Reverend) Sister in charge of the school reported the incident to the head of the village to find out who the persons were, but he couldn’t fish out these persons because the security outfit of the area was not tight. For the effort that I have made to know if the government will be able to come to their aid. Personally, I have met with some top government officials and they promised that something would be done in the school. I met with the Chairman of Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) in 2016 and he told me that the money that comes to UBEB comes quarterly; that they have about three or four quarters in the year that money comes to UBEB; that money does not come to UBEB monthly. He then promised me that in 2017 that the project of that fence would be captured in their budget, but that was not done. So, till now the foundation of the fence has not been laid. So, I believe that I have tried in meeting both the individuals and the government officials to see how they could help these people, but I believe that everything is possible with God.
In other words till today, nothing has been done about it?
Yes. Nothing has been done about it. Up till now nothing has been done. The rape incidents first happened in 2016 and repeated in 2018. It happened in Special School for the Blind, Opefia in Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. And the two rape incidences happened in the school. It is only God that is saving the ones in Okposi. Why I said that it is only God that is saving those people is that the place is not fenced. And because that place is so bushy, snakes can easily enter their hostels. The place is very, very bushy. Even the villagers see the bushy environment, but they have never at anytime thought of helping them to clear the bushes. They have never thought of helping these persons because they are fighting with them over a secondary school. The villagers want a secondary school which was approved for that school for the blind to be given to them. The government approved a secondary school for the blind students, but the people wanted to convert it to their community secondary school. That was the reason the community is not eager to help them clear the bushes. In that Okposi as well, the blind students cook beside their bed. They go to market by themselves. If it is where government has come in, they would have refectory, school staff, but because the place is not organized, they cook by themselves.
Do they have any hospital or clinic around?
A refectory has not been given to them talk more of the clinic. There is no clinic there. They go outside the school. The people at Okposi go to general hospital in Okposi to get medical care. Some of them in Izzi, come here in Abakaliki to get medical care. You can imagine when somebody has problem at night, how would they do it?
This school for the blind in Okposi, do they have staff at all or are they on their own, managing themselves?
The proprietor of that school is visually impaired. So, because he is visually impaired, the teachers are not much. They are not up to five there. Their computer room is locked because there was no one to operate it. When I visited, they cried out over lack of staff in the school; that government should come to their aid. We have so many visually impaired persons that have certificates. Why shouldn’t government employ those ones and send them to those two schools where they specialized? When I spoke with the Chairman of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), he told me that they were trying their best. He said that there was no way they would be feeding the students there with their own money. Most of the parents of the visually impaired persons that go to school don’t take them seriously because they felt they won’t do much even after graduation and as a result, they usually feel less concerned taking care of them.
Do the people of Okposi community, especially the villagers around the school assist the students in any way at all?
That is what I am trying to say; that the discrimination is indescribable. The discrimination is much. Like the one in Opefia, it was the members of the community who went and cut off their power cables from the transformer. For over six months, there was no light in the school. They cut of their transformer in the absence of the principal. The reason they gave was that the principal has not paid electricity bill of the school; that it was only the community that had been paying and they were making use of it. The two communities are not helping at all. If the communities are helping them, they would help in clearing the bushes. Then, the one of Opefia, if the community is helping them, they would have set up a vigilante that would help in securing that environment. So, I think that they are not in any way helping to secure the lives of these people.