Special Report: How Physically Challenged Ikiotere Ayebatonye Is Setting Standards For PWDS, Despite Nigeria Harsh Situation

“While growing up, I was just contemplating within myself. How can every other child be normal and able-bodied while I am different? I could not comprehend since I was born disabled,” a 25 year old physically disabled, Ikiotere Ayebatonye, told this reporter.

NEWS DIGEST – Every human being has aspirations while growing up, which can define their actions and decisions. To those who grew up with physical challenges, living for people’s pity or not, becomes a matter of choice.

A physical disability is a physical condition that affects a person’s mobility, physical capacity, stamina, or dexterity. This can include brain or spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, respiratory disorders, epilepsy, hearing and visual impairments and more.

With an estimated 25 million disabled persons in Nigeria, about one in every eight Nigerians live with at least one form of disability.  The most common of these disabilities are visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical impairment, intellectual impairment, and communication impairment. Disabilities could be caused by preventable diseases, congenital malformation, birth-related incidents, physical injury and psychological dysfunction.

Although statistics are scanty about the demographic distribution of disability in Nigeria, available literature suggests that there are significantly more disabled women than men in the country and that due to the insurgency in the North-East, the region hosts the highest number of people with disability in the country.

For 25-year-old Ikiotere Ayebatonye who was born with upper and lower limbs case disability, living has been challenging with scepticism surrounding his future owing to his disability.  Ikotere who hails from Liama community of Brass LGA, Bayelsa State, is the third child of his mother, Pagabo Ebigoni, a petty trader who sells bean cake (Akara) and pap to cater for her family; her husband died 12 years ago, making her the bedrock of the family.

Where it all started from

Ikiotere Ayebatonye who grew up in the village fought through his physical deformity and even in his disability experienced fun with other kids in his neighbourhood. He however at a point, thought about his disability and why he is different from his mates, these thoughts led to several states of depression wishing he never existed but was able to scale through with the help of his mother. At a point, his future seemed blurry but swore not to be hindered by his physical state, accepted his deformity and pushed to be better.

“I was born the way I am and I grew up in my village. I’ll tell you that most of my mates, children who grew up with me never saw my physical deformity and even the elderly in the village. I was accepted the way I am, my family was just fair enough with me. I did not allow my physical deformity to depress me. I had all the fun in my childhood, playing in all types of places. Though in some cases, some children would behave stupid and I’ll just take it that that child is just stupid and just be myself.”

“My mama has 5 children, and I’m the third child. The way my mama responded to my disability even when she had 2 boys before I is awesome. She is the one reason I had the confidence I have today because she believes I am what God says I am, and that’s the mentality I grew up with.”

“I was told my deformity is “upper and lower limbs case disability” but I normally said I was physically challenged. While growing up, I had several thoughts within myself. I thought of how I am different in the midst of normal and able-bodied people. I could not comprehend since I was born disabled, but the good thing was my brothers and people who were around me were literally looking up to me and somehow depending on me in behaviour, sometimes academically.”

“While growing up, I began to wonder how my life will be in the future. I cannot do Bus conductor (Agbero) or other rough things with guys. What I can do is to focus on my academics, believe in myself that my physical disability will not be a hindrance for me to live the best of my life and become whatever I put my focus on. There are cases like when I feel hurt and sometimes ask God why but that’s a rhetorical question. Sometimes, I don’t want to come out of the house and sometimes I wish I never existed. So the way my disability has been for me is, I just live my life the way it is and try not to live in regret or seem pitiable because it will take me nowhere.” he said

How Ikiotere dared to be a graduate amidst obvious challenges

Despite his deformity, Ikiotere Ayebatonye, after graduating from secondary school, went ahead to obtain the joint admission and matriculation board (jamb) form without the consent of his mother who wanted him to learn a craft considering his physical state. His desire not to end up on the street made him make a bold decision to sit for the examination without informing his mother.

After the examination, he gained admission to study management science at Niger Delta University in 2016. Right there in the university, he was a victim of emotional abuse and received several backlashes from students and lecturers as a result of his deformity. His dream of becoming a graduate was achieved and he’s currently undergoing his NYSC programme in Bayelsa state, a feat mixed with depression, passion and determination.

“I had beautiful experiences, from my course mates to roommates and even the lecturers, they were fair enough. They didn’t segregate and also encouraged me more. The challenges that I had are when other disabled persons do something wrong, they generalize it to every disabled person. I have been a victim due to some disabled person’s antecedent. When I go to such places, I receive backlashes from other people because I’m disabled as well. What did I do? Life goes on, it’s just for me to live a productive life and tell them that even with a disability, one can be what God say he can”

“Sometimes my rights are being trampled on. Let me tell you one case in school. There was this course I failed but I was confident I can’t fail that course. So I went to meet the lecturer and when I met him, he thought I wanted to use my disability to gain favour and he spoke ill of me. I felt so bad about it. I was so annoyed as well. The truth is, I think I’m a strong guy. That’s why I keep striving, if not I would have thought of life as otherwise”

“I am currently undergoing my PPA in Bayelsa state. My camping trip was fun. I was at Ede camp, Osun state and the camp experience was lit. I participated in everything except parades. I partied, participated in SAED lectures, woke up by 4 am to morning devotion, got to the field early to sit by the corner to watch the parade. My PPA is fair, they sent me to my field -Ministry of Trade and Investment- and I studied Management Sciences, so I am going to work to gain more experience” he said.

Ikiotere present and how he’s setting a roadmap for his future

I have just been in one sexual relationship, Ikiotere Ayebatonye told this reporter. Ikiotere got separated from his lover after she travelled out of the country and found another man, he has ever since been single, chasing financial independence and making plans for his future. Ikiotere, who is passionate about making a difference and creating an impact, says he wants to have a business in the agro-based sector even with his shoemaking skills. His thought of whether this can be achieved because of his present financial status was disclosed to this reporter. For many people living with disabilities, Ikiotere Ayebatonye has chosen to stand out and to make a difference in the world of persons with disabilities (PWDs)

“We have many more worrisome things to be concerned about like poverty, crisis, chaos, parents dumping their children in the gutters, on the refuse, and many more disheartening things going on in the world. The least I can do is not to sit in one place and look at people to feel sorry for me and beg or depend on people to give me before I eat. I am the kind of guy that believes our physical deformity should not restrict us to being lazy, as long as there is one little thing that we can do, we should do it better. If Mr A doesn’t accept it, Mr B will accept it.”

“All of us belong somewhere in this world, it is left for us to figure it out and live life to the fullest than staying in one corner to look pitiable thinking there is nothing for us in this world”

“I want to work. When I went to my PPA, I was asked if I would want to work, I said yes. Hopefully, I want them to retain me because it is a government-owned job and I’m trying to prove that even with my disability, I’m capable of tasks.”

“I have the intention to create my own business in the agro-based sector, but I don’t have the financial capabilities. So, I need to work to generate finance to go into it to help the nation’s unemployment rate. I have learnt shoemaking, but that’s just for security in case my plans don’t work out. I’m still in the learning process, so I haven’t faced any challenges, just finance will be my setback. If I depend on people, some will accept me and others will not, but it’s all good.”

“Just give us peace, also, give us the space and watch us (people with disabilities) manifest God’s Glory that’s in us. To the people with disabilities, don’t think the world is over or you don’t have a purpose in this world because you are disabled, we have every chance to manifest God Glory in our lives” he said

 What is the law saying about disability in Nigeria?

On January 23, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, following 9 years of relentless advocacy by disability rights groups and activists. The law brought a major relief to anti-defamation campaigners, who accused the Nigerian government of not doing enough to protect citizens with disabilities. The law brought a major development in protecting the rights of people living with disabilities.

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with disability, if an individual is found violating this law, he/she will pay a fine of N100,000 or a term of six months imprisonment.

The law imposes a fine of one million naira on corporate bodies, Discrimination against such persons is prohibited in public transportation facilities and service providers are to make provision for the physically, visually and hearing impaired and all persons howsoever challenged. This applies to seaports, railways and airport facilities. The rights and privileges of persons with disability include education, health care, priority in accommodation and emergencies. All public organisations are to reserve at least five per cent of employment opportunities for these persons.

The Act gives citizens with disabilities the right to file a lawsuit for damage against any defaulter. It provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs. Before a public structure is constructed, its plans shall be inspected by relevant authorities to ensure that the plan conforms with the building code.

A government or government agency, body or individual responsible for the approval of building plans shall not approve the plan of a public building if the plan does not make provision for accessibility facilities in line with the building code.

An officer who approves or directs the approval of a building plan that contravenes the building code commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of at least N1,000,000 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both. In Section 31 of the Act, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities will be established and an Executive Secretary will be appointed as the head of the commission.

Has there been full compliance and implementation of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 across the country?

Peter Ekemini, program officer at the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) said there are still gaps in the implementation of the disability act as government institutions and parastatals to a very large extent do not know their clear roles and responsibilities, as well as the provisions of the disability act.

CCD is the premier organization of, and for persons with disabilities that works to promote disability rights, independent living, inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the development agenda.

Peter Ekemini however commended the Federal Government in signing the disability bill as an act after 18 years of struggle and also implementing section 31 of the Act which provides for the establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

“The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 is weakly implemented, notwithstanding we must commend the effort of the Government in signing the disability bill as an act after 18 years of struggle and also implementing section 31 of the Act which provides for the establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

“There are still gaps in the implementation of the disability act as government institutions and parastatals to a very large extent do not know their clear roles and responsibilities, as well as the provisions of the disability act,” he said.

Peter Ekemini while lamenting on how the social-economic condition of the country is affecting citizens said Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) are the “worst-hit” of the crises.

“It is evident that the social-economic condition of the country at this point is critical for most citizens of the country, as such, PWDs are the worst hit of this crisis, ranging from the high level of insecurity, high cost of living, inaccessible health care, high level of discrimination, negligence on the part of the government to provide sustainable welfare packages in the post-COVID-19 era amongst many others.”

Ekimini said Persons with Disabilities are being abused and discriminated against daily and there are no statistics to show these figures.

“Cases of abuse and discrimination of PWDs are recorded on a daily basis across Nigeria but till date data remains a major challenge in the disability community.”

Ekemini went further to urge the Government at all levels to create an enabling environment for PWDs to effectively participate in decision making at every level of governance.

“There is this popular saying that there is nothing about us, without us. As such we advise that the Government at every level, create enabling environment for PWDs to effectively participate in decision making at every level of governance.

“Also PWDs should be encouraged to participate in politics and lastly, government institutions should as a matter of urgency domesticate the disability Act as well as internalize the disability Act into their organisations’ policy framework to enable PWDs to participate on an equal basis with others,” he told this reporter.

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