'How we have survived despite our disabilities'

By The Citizen
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It is always a great feeling to perform extra-ordinary feats, but it's even more so, when this act is done despite a terrible disability.

Daniel Adeleye x-rays the lives of some young men who have refused to be caged in a corner by their disabilities.

Tuesday August 21, 1992 started like every other day for Sikiru Omiesan Adewale, a machine operator in a plastic producing company; bright, beautiful and full of hopes. But by 10.am that morning, the gleam of hope for a brighter future for indefatigable Adewale was suddenly replaced with a bleak one. By sheer accident, the machine he had operated for years slammed into his right hand, turning it into mangled flesh and bone in an instant. Long faces of horror greeted doctors' declaration that bubbly Adewale's right hand would have to be dismembered.

However, following the amputation, the 30-something year-old refused to be down-cast.

He said: 'After the accident and my right hand was amputated; I summoned courage and began to think of my future and what I could do for a living again. With my little education, I could not afford to be a waste. Although I was highly depressed, I took a decision right there in the hospital and called on a nurse to get me a pen and an exercise book. I began practising with my left hand, because I was right-handed before the accident. First, I learnt to write alphabets A - Z, and later I practised how to write words. That was how I switched to doing things with my left hand. Although life has placed me in Canyon's gloom, being an eager beaver, I summoned courage. I can actually say that I work harder now than before the accident; maybe because of how I trained myself. I even continued playing football as pastime after the amputation. I only stopped recently because of age.'

When asked if he felt any different going on the football pitch with only one hand, Adewale said 'I felt as if nothing had happen to any part of my body. I enjoyed dribbling my opponents and I even scored against them. Even now, I still organise football competition in the company where I work. We play inter-departmental matches and also play against other companies.'

On how he feels seeing other people with their full complements, while he is condemned to going about with a stump for a right hand, Adewale said one of his greatest fears when the accident first happened and the idea of amputation was muted was losing his friends and peers at work. But that has not been the case.

He says, 'I have more friends now than before. People in and outside my company have been so wonderful to me. There are however two occasions when I really wished I had my two hands. First was the day I was discharged from the hospital, when children from the neighbourhood took to their heels on sighting me with one hand. Second was when some of my friends and I went to a certain farm. On that farm, we were plucking mangoes and cashew. My friends climbed the trees and began displaying all manner of acrobatics. On those two days, I was highly depressed at my condition. But I immediately put those moments behind me, because it could happen to any human being. Before the accident, I was seeing people in that form too.'

What is it that motivates him? We ask.
Adewale said 'I derive motivation whenever I see someone who is hard working. I always feel uncomfortable calling people to do something for me because I believe I can do them  myself, even if it takes me longer time. Can you imagine that I buckle my wrist watch myself? I wash clothes, and I drive a car!'

Surprised, at his last claim, this reporter wanted to know how he manages to drive a car. His response was: 'Driving is something I had been doing before the accident; it has become like a part of me. So after the incident, it occurred to me that even people with two hands occasionally drive with one hand; so that thought galvanised me. One day my brother came with his car; unknown to him, I took the car key to see if my imagination can come to reality. I started the ignition, and to my surprise the car was moving. I was able to control it and I found it easy to do.'

He practically threw a jab at lazy able-bodied youths, when he declared that he does a lot of chores himself, including washing, farming, riding bicycles and even participating in the monthly Environmental Sanitation Day clean-up.

'Sometimes when I go on a delivery mission, because I now work with my company's marketing department, I would be the first person to step out of the vehicle and start off-loading the products. One day my manager (marketing manager) nearly slapped one of our staff, when he sighted me carrying the goods while the other guy stood akimbo looking at me. I was the one who was now pleading for him. That is because I took a decision not to be a waste product after the accident. Look around and you'd see many of my equivalents on the streets, begging for alms; that perhaps is why people look at me with surprise when I give them alms, even though we are supposedly in the same condition. I tell you, being slothful is worse than death.'

Speaking more on his condition, Adewale said 'Before the accident, my dream was to have a university degree; it doesn't matter if I used it to work or not. But I stopped along the way because of the accident. Now at age 54, I am still going to pursue my original dream of acquiring university degree at National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN. That will be an impressive accomplishment for me. It will also give me a sense of fulfillment.'

Aside the ambition to obtain a degree, Adewale says he will also like to run his own business venture. 'God willing, after my retirement from the company where I work now, I hope to venture into business and probably delve into local politics in Oyo State. I'm someone who likes to see to the affairs of people around me, so I'd be glad to play my part in whatever way to help my people politically or in form of philanthropy.'

Ibrahim Lateef, the one-armed bus driver
Adewale is not alone in this tale of dogged refusal to bow to a cruel fate. The case of Ibrahim Lateef is almost similar, except that he is nine years younger and a commercial driver.

Lateef, who drives popular Paragon passenger bus otherwise known as 'danfo,' shuttles between Agege and Mushin in Lagos Metropolis. He recalled how he got involved in a ghastly accident on the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on a fateful Saturday morning, while traveling with his family. Luckily, Lateef's wife and children came out of the accident unhurt, but he unfortunately lost his left hand, as it got cut off in the crash.

According to him, 'When the accident happened and I lost one hand, it was as if the world had come to an end. I went back to my parents in Ibadan, to receive treatment. I was in that condition when news came that my wife has left for another man, because she was not ready to go through my darkest moment with me. I was saddened by her sudden change of heart. To say the news hit me like thunderbolt is to grossly understate a glaring fact. I thought I would never become anything again in life; I even thought of committing suicide.'

Lateef's voice had a low rhythmic tenor, with his lips moving with a slight tremor as he narrated his ordeal. 'It came to a stage, unknown to my parents, when begging for alms was a weapon of last resort for me to survive. Along the line, a small still voice ministered to my heart against what I was doing to myself. At about that same time, my parents and siblings got wind of my new lifestyle and came to take me home. Thereafter, they encouraged me and tried to make me see that my condition is not the end of the road and that enlivened me.

'Because of this, I put myself together and returned to Lagos. When I got to Lagos, I went to Brown Street, at Oshodi. The fraternal sympathies from friends, the then leaders of NURTW in the zone brightened my spirit and made me face my life squarely. Since I was a commercial driver before the accident, I decided to toe that line, but I couldn't do much. My people at Brown Street retrained me in driving and I started all over again as a bus conductor. From there I was able to move vehicle, until I became an expert at driving again.'

On how he obtained driver's license even with one hand, he said, a friend helped him to get it, but when it became necessary to renew it, he went to Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) office.

'When I got to FRSC, they asked me how the accident happened, I explained to them. I also let them know that I was a commercial driver before the accident. They conducted a driving test for me and discovered that I could drive very well. The only thing they told me after the test was that I should try and fix an artificial hand, to enable me feel more comfortable while driving. But to me I don't see it as necessary, because I can even drive more than most people that have two hands.'

So now The Nation asked how he copes with the street urchins otherwise known as 'Agbero' at motor parks and bus stops. We also wanted to know how he copes with the unending arguments and insult from aggressive passengers.

First, Lateef says he endures the Area boys, and as for the passengers, he says nothing concerns him with them, because most of them may not even know that he has only one hand.

Asked if he ever considered his present condition as a stigma and a setback, Lateef's reply was: 'I wish I had two hands, I would have done better than this. In driving a commercial bus, there are lots of insults, especially from the passengers. Assuming I had two hands and I am able to further my education to a degree level, that would have possibly earned me a white collar job and  me due respect. Sometimes I consider my condition  shameful but at the same time, I thank God for giving me the grace to try in my little way to achieve what some people out there, even with their two hands, cannot achieve. I believe that destiny cannot be altered, what will be, will be. So I accept my fate. And I am using this opportunity to appeal to those people out there who have been unwittingly discriminating against physically handicapped to have a rethink.'

Isiaka Adio
39 year-old Isiaka Adio, fondly called 'One Nation' by his friends was hit by a stray bullet from sporadic gunshots by a careless mobile police officer in 2001. As a result, his right leg was amputated.

Adio had graduated, following years of apprenticeship as a panel beater in 2001; but his inability to raise funds to establish himself, forced him to take up commercial bus driving as a temporary measure.

Recalled Adio, 'After I completed my training in panel beating, I went into driving and I shuttled between pen cinema and Ojodu/Berger axis to raise money for my graduation and buy tools that the job required. However, one morning, about 8 months after I started this struggle, my bus developed a fault and for some reason, I swapped roles with my conductor, so I could monitor the vehicle, while he drove. During one of the trips, we were heading towards Ojodu/Berger, after dropping some passengers at a bus stop, when I suddenly noticed that some mobile police officers riding in a bus were chasing us. So we decided to park by the Agege Stadium and find out what the problem was, but as I came down from the bus to ask what we had done wrong, the next thing we heard were gunshots and a bullet hit me in my right thigh. To cut the long story short, the Mopol ran away, and I was taken to General Hospital, Ikeja for treatment. But to add salt to injury, the doctors were on strike, and I was in that hospital for two weeks without adequate attention from any doctor. By that time, the leg had begun decomposing and stinking; this prompted my aunty to take me to another hospital, where the leg was eventually amputated.'

As a result of the amputation, Adio said he became disillusioned. 'It took the timely intervention of my elder brother to stop me, when one night, I attempted to poison myself. That was because I never knew I could ever become anything again in life. He was with me in the hospital for the five months that I spent there, pleading and feeding me with words of wisdom and encouragement. One day, they brought another patient whose condition was more critical than mine and he died few days later in the process. When I saw this, I realized that when there is life, there is hope. So I summoned courage to live again.'

However, following that resolve, Adio said, 'I was without a job for 12 years, sitting in the bus stops and motor parks. During this period, I got married and was blessed with three children.'

Upon this revelation, one couldn't help but ask how he got married under his condition and without any source of income.

His response: 'Before the incident, my wife and I were already courting. And when it happened like this, she refused to dump me. She stood by me throughout the months I spent in the hospital. My wife is a virtuous woman. Among her virtues are loyalty, courage and truthfulness.'

Asked how he got back to driving and why he chose to drive even with one leg, Adio said 'With one leg, I couldn't go back to panel beating. So one day, my friend, Femi, had closed for the day and he ran out of fuel in his bus. He sent his conductor to buy fuel in a can to refill the tank, but after refilling, the ignition was taking longer time to start; so they had to push it and his conductor alone could not push it. I requested that I sat at the driver's seat and start the ignition, while he and his conductor pushed the vehicle. To my greatest surprise, I discovered that I could still drive. So I quickly pleaded with my friend to let me drive the bus the following day, so I could earn some money to feed my family. He accepted, and that's how I came back to driving.'

But how does he cope driving with one leg, and left leg for that matter?

Adio said: 'I had no choice but to do something. I needed to cater for my family; my parents were not financially balance and my children were growing older every day. To pay their school fees was becoming increasingly difficult, and there was no other means of eking a livelihood. I am clearly in pains doing the job, but what can I do? Sometimes I go on just one trip and back, and usually, the person who gives me the bus does it out of compassion, so I can put food on the table for my family. Besides, I cannot continue using my disability as an excuse to beg for money every day.'

We also asked how he fared with the tough conditions of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and the Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIO to obtain his driver's license.

'Disabled people are classified under category J in the FRSC plan.' He answered. 'What they did was conduct a test for me to see if truly I can drive, and I passed. The VIO occasionally stop me on the road, but they are always being gentle with me. Besides, most of them knew me before the unfortunate incident.'

On the issue of the 'agberos' or transport unions, Adio says, he doesn't give them up to what other people give because they know his condition.

FRSC, VIO speak
How safe is the public with physically challenged drivers on the road. Can they be trusted to drive carefully enough, considering that even full-bodied people still exhibit some inadequacies that sometimes result in fatal accidents? Is the procedure of getting a driver's license for the physically challenged the same with able-bodied people? We sought answers from officers of the responsible agencies.

Asst. Corps Commander Leye Adegboyega, Ota FRSC Unit Command, says the procedure is the same, but the group where the physically handicapped falls in FRSC's plan for obtaining a driver's license is different.

Adegboyega said, 'The physically handicapped is classified under plan J of FRSC. Though issuance of driver's license is a tripartite arrangement among FRSC, VIO and board of internal revenue, before a form is downloaded to any applicant, be it physically challenged or able-bodied, we need to access the extent of their physical fitness by presenting to us their physical fitness certificate, which is mandatory. After this, we take them to the field for driving test before we send them to VIO and later to the board of internal revenue, where they will get driver's permit.'

Echoing the same position, head of Vehicle Inspection Office, VIO Ota, Kehinde Paul Osukoya, says a physically challenged person is expected to obtain learner's permit and also must have attended a private driving school with medical report.

'Although a person may be medically fit to drive but VIO have the right to use its discretion to find out if the person is really capable. Medical fitness and capability are two different ball games. For instance, a person that has one eye may be medically fit to drive, but if anything happens to the one eye he uses to drive, he may not be able to control the vehicle.' Osukoya said.

Explaining further, the VIO officer says a person that has only one leg cannot be issued a driver's license because the position may be awkward to the throttle and break peddlers. Even if medical doctor says he can drive, such case is not acceptable unless the car such person wants to drive has been converted for that purpose.

'Sometimes, people with amputated hand or somebody who does not have fingers to grip the wheel steering, cannot be given a driver's license, unless he obtains it through the back door, which is now endemic in our society. Fingers have vital roles to play during driving.'

He frowns at the claim by some people that they are more comfortable driving with one hand, than when they are using two hands.

Osukoya also expresses dissatisfaction at the policy of government that makes the issuance of a driver's license a tripartite alliance. He says the policy encourages fake driver's license.

'Government policies must be abided by, but the long process the applicant's have to go through has contributed largely to the issue of fake driver's license, because many applicants are coward of procedures. It's supposed to be one short arrangement, where people could get their license at the right place and devoid of extortions.' The Nation