The ongoing Paralympics Games in London is symbolic of the world’s recognition of the weak and disabled among the human race, but it’s even more so for the Nigerians in their midst. Rejected and dejected at home, and without absolute recognition in the country’s constitution, the Nigerian representatives at the games are not just making the country proud.
They have (so far) proved that what physically normal, strong, agile and healthy Nigerian athletes can aspire to (and may not achieve), they can accomplish it in a grand style.
At the Paralympics Games, two Nigerians—Yakubu Adesokan and Ivory Nwokorie set the medals rolling in. Adesokan won in the 48 kg powerlift category with a record lift of 180kg, and Nwokorie also took gold in the women’s 44kg category with a 109kg powerlift.
More medals have since been won by the Nigerian athletes and still counting. The Paralalympics Games is the idea of one man, Dr Ludwig Guttman. It was his answer to the excitement of the games for the disabled. The initiative was intended to lift the spirit of wounded veterans of the World War II, many of whom had spinal cord injuries. He kick-started the parallel Olympics for the disabled in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury Garden, just as the 1948 London Olympics kicked off in London.
It was not until 1960 that the first Paralympics Games were held in Rome.
For the 33 Nigerians participating in the Paralympics, it was more than dreams come true, if you juxtapose their neglect and second-class citizens status at home. Many of their compatriots are beggars and dregs of the society back home, as they are considered inferior. Their participation is a morale-booster and confidence building mechanism, coming from a depressing environment like Nigeria, a country that denigrates and dehumanises its citizens and leaves them bereft of their humanity. Nigeria disables its citizens instead of dignifying them, and does not accord them any form of respect. Thank God for the Paralympics and the initiator of the noble idea, the disabled, now in London, whether they win or lose, can now hold their heads high
Their participation in itself is an accomplishment. It is a proof of our shared humanity and commonality.
Meanwhile, at the just concluded Olympics Games which Nigeria sank a whopping sum of two billion naira to prepare for with fanfare, the athletes could not come back home with a single medal. Kenyan athletes got 13 medals, but dissatisfied with their modest performance compared with their previous superlative outing, the Kenyan government set up a committee to look into the country’s dismal performance, proffer solutions and kick-start preparation earnestly for the next Olympics. The action is on-going with the seriousness it deserves; whereas in Nigeria, after the initial threat of fire and brimstones, all is now quiet. I can almost bet that the scolding has ended and anger subsided, until three months to the next Olympics.
As against the hopeless situation thrown up by our able-bodied Olympians in London, the disabled athletes have rekindled our optimism in the Nigerian spirit; that unrelenting force of mind that the ordinary Nigerian possesses. Is it not an irony that disabled people who are largely marginalised at home have now posted the country’s name in the medals table, in what you can call the triumph of adversity over opportunity and privilege?
Despite this seeming hopeless situation, there are exceptional cases of individuals and/or governments’ solidarity with the weak among us. It was a pleasant surprise for me to read in Blueprint of Thursday, August 27, 2012, the story of a disabled Jigawa school teacher that became a lawmaker, courtesy of the magnanimity and large-heartedness of Governor Sule Lamido.
Adamu Shu’aibu, according to the interview, is a secondary school teacher. He became paralysed after a fall, a day after he returned from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi with his certificate in B.Tech (Agriculture).
It was during the governor’s visit to his school that he noticed Shu’aibu on a wheel chair teaching his students. The governor’s interest in the welfare of the disabled might have drawn him to the wheel-chair teacher whom he later chose to run for the state’s assembly election.
Shu’aibu is now a member of the Jigawa State House of Assembly.
Shu’aibu’s elevation by the governor is only a culmination of his (the governor’s) profound and deep-seated concern for people with disability. Early in his administration in 2007, the governor signed into law the social security allowance for people with disability. He has remained the only governor to have done so. By that law, every disabled person in Jigawa state collects stipends of N7, 000. 150 people were chosen from the 27 LGs of the state. Today over 4,000 of people with disability are in the state’s payroll. He soon followed it with a Talakawa programme, although I do not know how impactful that has been.
The lawmaker in the said interview said: “Whatever I become now and in future in politics, God used Governor Lamido to achieve it. He is one leader with very keen interest in people with disability.
You know generally, people living with disability are discriminated against in Nigeria. But in this state, the governor treats this class of human beings with respect and this is one big surprise that stands him out as a great Nigerian leader.
Honestly, the governor strikes me with his level of concern for those of us living with disability in this state,” he said among other things that the disabled enjoys in the state.
The lawmaker also added: “I cannot say that it is my making but rather the interest of the governor to show examples to the rest of the country and, indeed, West Africa, that there is ability in disability, and also to demonstrate that being disabled does not mean you cannot attain the necessary height in any pursuit, nor is it the end of your life”
Just as it took the initiative of one man to set standards for the Paralympics Games, Governor Lamido may well be on track to change the course of history for persons with disability.