Tuesday, 29 December 2009 00:00
HE exudes the confidence of a man who has just won millions of naira in a raffle draw. Boisterous and ever cheerful, Ahmed Olawonyin, physically-challenged and graduate of Business Education at the Oyo State College of Education (Special), Ibadan, wears a broad smile on his cherubic face. Wheeled into the living room by his father, Mr Wahab Olawonyin, the first attraction is his cheerfulness.
The 29-year-old Ahmed, now a student of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), studying Entrepreneur and Small Scale Business Management, is crippled from the waist down, yet he has the world in his pocket. With philosophical calmness and the kind of vision he proffers, he dares life and the unpredictability it offers. Indeed, he is a case study in ability in disability. The thought to make himself useful, not wanting to be a liability to his parents and to the society has provided him the energy to drive on. And always at the back of his mind, the future is shimmered with silver vision.
In a country where Olawonyin and his likes are given no chance to survive and make a meaning out of their disability, he has strutted along courageously, with a firm belief that it is not yet over until it is over. Going to school, which ordinarily would have been “come easy, go easy”, was made difficult for him by lack of infrastructure for the disabled.
“Going to and coming from school everyday poses the greatest challenge so far. When I was schooling in Ibadan, coming home (Lagos) after the session was always hell.
“Going to school, especially my secondary school at Ajuwon, Ogun State, was difficult. Because of bad roads, movement is always difficult, whether you are using a wheelchair or clutches. When I started, it was difficult especially when you are not from a rich home with a car, even at that it is still difficult. There are no infrastructure in the country to support the disabled. I wanted to go to the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, but because of its architectural design – no provision for climbing staircases by the disabled for lecture, no special road for them as it is done in other countries and no special arrangement for people like me in Nigerian universities, that was the reason I did not go to Ife or any other university,” Olawonyin said without a trace of bitterness in his voice.
The third in a family of five, he advised those like him to stop begging because it demeans them as human beings.
He said: “I will tell them to stop begging. I will advise that they should be educated, if at all they are not employed, they can manage small-scale businesses. Once educated, they are better than those not educated, begging is shameful.”
What is the source of his cheerfulness? “When I remember the fact that I am still alive, and that life still offers hope for me despite my present state, I feel happy,” he said philosophically.
However, Olawonyin laments that his disability is almost frustrating his efforts to be self-sustaining.
According to him, his parents have laboured for him all along and by now he ought to be paying them back but he is still a sort of a liability because of the present economic reality.
“I need a job… I want to earn a living so that I do not depend on my parents again. I want to be a man of my own. If not for my disability I would have been supporting them by now, at my age I am not supposed to depend on my parents again,” he said.
Olawonyin appealed to the government to come to his aid because it is only the Federal Government or state government that can give him a teaching job or a placement in any ministry. “A job I can sit to do,” he added.
He also said he could manage a small-scale business that did not involve much movement.
Olawonyin also asked the Federal Government to reorganise NOUN. According to him, examinations are shifted at will, without notice and for the fact that nobody knows when he is graduating raises a lot of concern.
“For me, I am supposed to be reading a three-year course but I do not know when I am leaving. At times, they will call you to come for exams only to get there and you are told it has been postponed. This does not show good organisation.”
Olawonyin says he loves three things in life: Watching football, reading and travelling. But he misses travelling. “I like travelling but most times I do not go out whenever I want. When I have the opportunity to go out I am always very happy,” he enthused.
Recounting the events that led to Ahmed’s present state, his father said it all started when, as a child – about a year old – preparing for his first birthday, he suddenly he took ill.
“By this time, he was already walking. It was diagnosed as high fever. Immediately the illness struck him, he could not walk and use his hands. We went to different hospitals, the situation remained the same. We took him to the village where we applied herbs. At first it worked. He was able to walk and use his hands. Somehow, months later, he relapsed. Then, my late father, who was an illiterate, told me to make sure the child was educated no matter his condition. Since then we have resigned ourselves to fate,” the father said.