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Against All Odds: The Success Stories Of Nigerians Living With Disabilities

In this part of the world, anyone living with any form of disability is automatically believed to be a person of little value to the society. They are seen as people that should be pitied, ignored, and most of the time they are denied opportunities without a second thought.

Nick Vujicic, 35 years old Australian and father of two who was born without arms and legs, fought against all odds to become a painter, swimmer, skydiver, and motivational speaker and has since become a worldwide sensation. His story, which continues to be a mystery to many, must have unearthed the fact that disability may just exist in the mind alone.

A scholar once argued that if disability is truly measured by physical capabilities, then many physically able people who make excuses when it comes to chasing their dreams or getting a job done even when circumstances or situations are in their favour are in one way or the other disabled.

Though many still nurse the belief that people living with any form of disability only deserve a limited corner of the world or the crumbs that fall from any table either rich or poor, many people with disability around the world have found strength in their weaknesses. They have challenged the odds, turned circumstances in their favour and redefined success.

Just like Nick Vujicic, there are successful personalities with disabilities in Nigeria who rose above all clichés and barriers to become successful in their chosen paths. Some of them may not be celebrities like Cobhams Asuquo and Yinka Ayefele who are renowned Nigerian musicians, but they have refused to be defined by their inabilities.


Cobhams Asuquo

The first two who shared their inspiring stories with Saturday INDEPENDENT personifies the phrase, ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonades’.

Chike Okogwu was physically impaired after he suffered a spinal cord injury from a freak accident on his way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on Friday December 15, 2006, in the company of the iconic Nollywood actor, Jim Iyke and another friend Victor.

Though Okogwu moves around with the aid of a wheelchair, he admitted that using the world ‘disabled’ is demoralising.

We asked him, “How did you get physically impaired?”

His response; “I like the way you put it. Some will poke me and say hey! Disabled. Of course, I am not disabled; I just have an impairment in my limbs,” he explains.

Describing how he felt after he learned that he would be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life, Okogwu says, “My world collapsed. I was a young, ebullient and boisterous man full of life and goals. Yes, I was devastated. I had to trade in the currency and audacity of hope, fuelled by the promises in the words of God. Six weeks after crash, I found myself in South Africa courtesy of my mentor, boss and friend, Mr. Edward Boateng, the creator of CNN’s Inside Africa Program and the Chairman of the Global Media Alliance whom I represented here in Nigeria for a couple of years.

“In South Africa, I underwent a series of treatments, therapies and what have you. The doctors and I gave a great fight, however, the reality was there, that I might have to live the rest of my life on a wheel chair. My only sister, Oby and I cried and wept to God. I had a conversation with God where I asked God, why me? And His response was, ‘If not you, who else’?


Yinka Ayefele

“I said, okay, can I have the benefit of exchanging this predicament with anyone I hate so much? He said, ‘by all means, do’. I searched the whole world for one and found none. It then dawned on me that this was ‘my calling’. I said to God, you have to lead the way and do the work whilst I follow like the calf yoked to the bull in ancient Israeli agrarian culture in the Bible.”

Okogwu who is presently the Principal Consultant at Innovative Ideas Development Services (I.I.D.S.) worked closely with former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Sometime in 2010, he was involved in the Pastor Tunde Bakare led Save Nigeria Project and later on in January 2012, in the course of his research in Harvard, got involved in the Fuel Subsidy Protests.

Okogwu, in addition to several awards from rotary club recently in Abuja where he is based, says former president Jonathan holds him in high esteem after his team in SURE-P was given the responsibility to head the Railway Subcommittee as convener.

“That subcommittee worked really hard and I use this opportunity to thank the Chairmen of SURE-P at various times namely, Dr. Christopher Kolade, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (Rtd.) and Mr. Ishiaku Akau; the entire board members, my immediate and external team members, staff and personnel for the opportunity to serve. By January 2014, when I was moved to another department, the Lagos-Kano Western Line was completed and running; the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri Eastern Line and the new Abuja – Kaduna Standard Guage lines were 65 and 85% completed respectively. This feat alone endeared me to the former president, who by the way never ever interfered or influenced our decisions. We were given a free hand to operate. So those trains that are running today is the handiwork of this man and his team that delivered. Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa finally completed the railway projects,” he stated.

Though Okogwu is not serving in the present administration for personal reasons, he is more into infrastructure financing and a strong advocate for people living with disability.

Before Razak Adekoya turned 24, he was already a voice to reckon with in the media. He doubled as an accounting student in University of Lagos and a part time columnist in a few magazines. His only vice was his bad sight, which he managed fairly until an eye correctional surgery was booked to fix his sight, which went from bad to worse and he lost his sight completely.

“I had retinal detachment. This was expected to be corrected from bad to good but turned to worse and I became completely blind. How I felt after I was given the news cannot be explained. It’s like when light is suddenly taken from you and you are plunged into total darkness,” he said.

Adekoya who is said to have maintained a 4.2 GPA while in the University of Lagos before he became blind had to get special training at the vocational training centre for the blind.

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“I was trained on how to read and write in Braille. Then they trained me on mobility, which gave me skills to independently move and go anywhere, basic computing skills usage as a blind and numerous vocational skills like how to make batik, bead bags and how to play musical instruments.”

After he accepted his fate, Adekoya decided not to wallow in self-pity. He started looking for means to stay afloat and continue writing, which was one of his passions that served as a means of little escape. He started finding out ways to do the simple things he usually did on his own when he had his sight, such as picking up his own calls, replying text messages and event chatting on Whatsapp. 

“Technology has made things easy. I use the same phone as yours. On my android phone, I use an App called Talkback. On my iPhone, I use voice over. If you use either of the phones I mentioned, visit accessibility under settings in your phone. These apps are there. You will only learn how to use it and master it. For my computer, on my Windows operating system laptop, I installed a screen reader called JAWS. This allows me to use all computer softwares and surf the web. In fact, I build websites for people,” he explains.

Being able to do these few things and writing once again gave him the courage to start seeking employment in media houses. He went to a prestigious national newspaper in Lagos with the help of a journalist friend but was denied even an interview.

The editor, though touched by his situation could not employ him. He sent him off with N2000 to aid his transport. But all Adekoya needed was a place to get little income and not be a liability to his family who had lots of dreams for him.

“None of the companies gave me a chance to prove myself. After I wandered around the country, no organisation gave me an opportunity, including places I have past colleagues and friends. I was so angry then. One day, in 2014, I tore my CV in front of City Fm after I was told they have no vacancy for someone with blindness like me. I made up my mind that day that I will stop job hunting and if I will ever do any full time job again, I will never hunt for it. It will come to me at ease,” he said.

Any other person would have lost the will to move on but not Adekoya.

In 2015, he established a firm, 360 Connect Communications. “I decided to dive into international development fully for a medium term profession and I now work as the public awareness and communications manager, USAID; strengthening advocacy and civic engagement projects.

On how he got the job with USAID, “I applied for it, though I got to know about the USAID project while volunteering as a social worker. I led a communication team advocating for inclusive education for children with disabilities.”

So far, Adekoya still builds website for people on request. He has written three books, which have been published. One of them is ‘Brand your blindness’ and he married his heartthrob two weeks ago in Ibadan.

“I have published three books now. I will urge you to read my book, ‘Brand your blindness’; it will answer many past questions about me for you. Though it was published in 2015, it is still relevant. Blindness does not translate into incapacitation. I wrote my books with my intellect not my eyes,” he said.

Another great inspirational story is that of David Akanji, an educator who just got a doctorate degree in Special Education from Gallaudet University, Washington DC, United States of America. He is a man who does not believe that his sight impairment is an excuse for him not to reach the heights. In fact, Akanji is a better cook than some with unimpaired sight.

“I had seriously looked into the problems of blind people like me in Nigeria. As I was thinking about this problem, I started to have the feeling that one day I will go into the nitty gritty of these problems. As I was examining the problems facing blind people in Nigeria, I was able to realise that the contributing factor to the problems of blind and visually impaired people in Nigeria must be poor management on the part of administrators.

“The journey has not been easy. One thing about disability that I do not like so much is that you have to prove yourself to people every time. As far as people are concerned, once a person is disabled, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can come out of you. It is left to the physically challenged person to prove that physical disability is not a barrier to a willing soul and also there is no mountain a man or woman cannot climb provided he or she sets their mind to it.

“As far as my accomplishments, I strongly believe that I have changed most people’s attitude towards people who are physically challenged. If I can do this, then there is no excuse for anybody not to want to strive.”

Upright Wonders is the Minister and Proprietress of Eastern Star Care Foundation, Lagos. Although she is blind, the entrepreneur has found a way to become a success. The visually challenged Evangelist Upright Wonders wasn’t born blind. She went to primary and secondary schools with her sight intact. She lost her sight at a time she was preparing to proceed to the university to further her studies.

She was then working with the then Cross River State Television, now known as Channel 45, Uyo.

She had worked with them for two years and was about going into the university when the problem started. She lost her sight in a mysterious circumstance that defied medical explanation.

She immediately went into cosmetics production and was soon training others. “I acquired the skill on how to make these products by going for training. It was after I completed my training that I started making the products to sell. The money I get from the ones that I market for the foundation is what I use for training those under the foundation.”

During the agonising period, she had a divine inspiration to go into production of home care products. How did she go about it? There was no money. She eventually got about N10,000 from her fellowship at Winners’ Chapel in 2010 to start her first production, and four years later, the business had grown to over N100,000. She said that as her business started to grow, she decided to take it seriously and put herself into it, which she noted was not an easy task.  She specialises in the production of personal care items such as liquid wash, but she has now expanded the business to include, insecticides, germicides and other cleaning products.

A good number of them dispelled the notion that being disabled is a license to begging. They also feel shame unlike many who are of the notion that they have natural thick skin that absorbs shame.

According to a popular shoemaker that is confined to a wheelchair whose shop is on 77 Awolowo Road, Ikeja, Lagos, begging is the most shameful thing for him to do.

“Some people see my condition and believe that begging is the only thing I can be good for, but I am very shy. I become ashamed when people hand things to me when I did not work for it. This is why I cannot beg for alms. I love to work and here I am making shoes and repairing shoes,” he said.

Just like the shoemaker, Alimot Mafayoto, a physically impaired woman, owns one of the biggest bread retailing stalls in Oke-Aro bus stop, Ogun State. Mafayoto told Saturday INDEPENDENT that she was not born with deformed legs. She explained that when she was six years old, she cried from her dream to reality only to realise her legs were deformed.

The mother of a daughter who is presently expecting her second child said that she never furthered her education for personal reasons, but could not resort to begging because it is beneath her. She has been in the bread business for over eight years. She worked in a bakery as a cleaner for years before saving up money to go into retailing.

Though Mafayoto agreed that she is surviving with the money she makes from selling bread, she has a dream of owning her own bakery and going into full time food stuff business.

There are so many physically impaired people in the society who are contributing positively to the society. They are hardly recognised, but they wake up and move forward not wanting to be discouraged by their circumstances.

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Written by PH

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