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Omeogu: Mental frailty worst type of disability

By Kehinde Olatunji,

Ugochukwu Omeogu is a polio survivor . Though he has lived most of his life on crutches, yet he has been able to change the status quo by rising above his challenges and converting them to opportunities to forge ahead in life.

Having risen above his challenges, today, Omeogu is a Workplace Attitude Expert, Personal Development and Career Coach. He is the Principal Consultant and  Prime Facilitator of Merignos Consulting & Mentoring Limited, – a Career, Management and Business Development Company. He also runs private Executive Mentoring and Coaching programmes for top corporate executives. He is also the founder of Wealthinaire Mentoring Ville, a state-of-the-art business mentoring facility in Lagos, Nigeria.

Omeogu’s mentoring and coaching experience and skills were developed at JP Morgan Chase Bank in the United States of America (USA) where he was the lead facilitator in the Performance Management Review Team (PMR). He was trained in Customer Service, Leadership and Organisational Strategy in JP Morgan Chase Bank in the United States.

He has also worked in one of the leading banks in Nigeria where he established with other topnotch leaders of the bank the Regional Private Banking Unit in Port Harcourt and facilitated the culture integration training.

He designed the Train-the-Trainer mentoring programmme adopted by Lagos State Government for the Secondary Teachers and Students in Lagos State.

He was the Regional Group Leader with World Lending Group in Dallas Texas in the United States where he functioned as the lead Loan Originator while mentoring junior officers to higher performance and also as a Senior Customer Relationship Manager.

In this interview with Kehinde Olatunji, he spoke on how the mind is a major factor in overcoming challenges.

Your story has inspired lots of people, both in the secular and religious world, tell us about yourself?
I have an interesting story indeed. My life is such that it shows that the human mind can withstand any type of onslaught. As long as it’s not messing with your sanity, your mind is intact and you have the capacity to think about the situation you are in. My story shows that there is nothing life throws at you that you cannot withstand.

At one-year-old, I had polio. Going to school was difficult, because I had to deal with the physical challenges of going to school every day, like other people. We had no car to take us to school. My siblings would walk a long distance to get to school, but I couldn’t do that, because I could not walk long distances. But, every day as my brothers woke up to go to school, I also woke up and dressed up with them. The only challenge is that when we get to the gate of my house, they would go to school and I would stay at the gate till they are back before I get back to the house.

I felt bad that I couldn’t go to school with them. Sometimes, I take their school uniforms and put them inside the water so nobody goes to school. Even at that, my pleasure, joy, and dream of going to school weren’t happening. So, stopping them from going to school was not still satisfying my own goal of trying to go to school.

On a fateful day, a young man who was always passing by my house on motorcycle saw me one of the days I was staying at the gate and said, ‘Hey, young man, I see you here everyday, crying and saying you want to go to school, what is going on?’ So, I told him I wanted to go to school, but I couldn’t, because the distance was too far, and I didn’t have the physical strength. He asked if my father was around. I said yes. He came into the house and asked my daddy if he could take me to school with his bicycle, as the school was on his way to work.
That was how I started going to school.

What I realised from that event is that anytime you are at the gate of your destiny, a helper will always show up. If I wasn’t coming out at that gate, I probably wouldn’t find the man to help me. My life story has taught me that the kind of outcome you want in life will be based on your determination to get to that particular destination.

After that, I got admitted to Holy Ghost College in Imo State, which was a boarding house. My first day at the school was with my Guardian. The place was full of life; the students were playing football, while others were playing basketball and some other games. It was a beautiful scenario; I was excited. But as we got into the compound, my Guardian took a turn to a place where there was barely any life; it was a very deserted area. As we got close to the place, I began to see people on crutches and wheelchairs, some were even crawling. I was like, is this how my Guardian sees me?

The people over there were helpless. Though I had very thin legs, I was still walking and I never ever saw myself like those people. It was something that shocked me. Realistically, I was supposed to be okay with the place, but somehow in my mind, I believed I didn’t belong there.

I left my guardian and carried my provisions and went to those that we saw earlier that were playing games. He called me to come back, but I said no, ‘I’m not going there.’ So, my things were moved from the place to where regular students were. That was how I left the place and then went to the regular boarding house. I never saw anything wrong with me.

Meanwhile, at the former place, the toilet was very close, everything was made very comfortable for them, because of their physical disabilities. At the new place, where I insisted I wanted to be, the toilet and bathroom were located separately. But, I have always never known limits. I never knew I couldn’t jump the fence nor cross the road. At the hostel where the regular people were, because the toilet and bathroom were at different locations, that means I have to take my bucket of water, cross the gutters and walk a long distance, but I couldn’t do that because of my physical challenges.

So, every morning, someone had to help me but at some point, each time we are having a meeting in the hostel, may be during the morning devotion, when I’m about to say something or contribute to the discussions, the students would tell me to shut my mouth, this is because they helped me to carry my stuff to the bathroom. Actually, I thought it was out of goodwill; I never knew that I was indebted to them. I learnt something from that.

Anytime you receive value from people or any kind of kindness, even though you didn’t beg for it, you are still indebted; whether it is solicited for or not. As long as you have received value from people and there is no corresponding value back to the source of that value, such a person is indebted.

I felt like these guys were talking down on me, because they helped me, so I said  it wouldn’t happen again. So, I started to share my provisions with the students. I would ask if they were hungry, I would give them cornflakes, biscuit, milk among others. That is me being upfront to give you something, so the next morning, if I ask you to help me to take my bucket of water, you will help without hesitation. Anytime someone takes my buckets of water to the bathroom, I will always make sure I give something in return.

At one point I see lots of students wanting to help me with my bucket, because they knew they would get something in return.

Of course, my nickname became the ‘Million Dollar Man.’ That was an interesting story of how my mind refused to accept my challenges as a defining factor in my life. And that refuser challenged the status quo. I found out that anytime you have a vision for your life, the world would make a space for you to achieve it. There’s always a space for you for whatever you want in life, you just need to make that determination.

How have you been coping with your disabilities and does it affect your productivity?
At a point in time, I figured out that anything I lose physically, I make up mentally. Based on my situation, I am primed to think creatively more than a regular person. For instance, if I want to get up right now from this seat, I have to do some calculations. I have to plan how I will take my crutches, I’m already calculated but if I want you to stand, you will do that outrightly. So, the tendency for you to be lazier is higher. The body has a way of making up what you lose when one part of the body is not working; it makes the other parts of the body augment.

I began to see how I could make up for my physical challenges and decided to be more knowledgeable so that when I hang out with friends, I have answers to questions. I began to study a lot, guess what happened? I had more answers to more questions. So, my friends were dependent on me for solutions and the first person to run to when they have any issue with their academics or life is me. I became the person they come to and what I thought was an alternative (my mind) became the main thing. Right now, I have lots of people who come to me to find answers.

The lesson here is that your hands and legs are accessories while your mind is the command center. If your mind is not working, your legs or hands are useless. So, today, I have trained lots of people around the world, I coach people and get paid in foreign currencies. Basically, my mind is all I need to be great.

Healthwise, how has life been on crutches?
The human persons are made up of three persons. There is the spiritual, which is driven by purpose and vision – That’s the human person. This human person requires the word of God to stay alive. There’s the intellectual person, which is the mind. This person requires knowledge to stay alive and lastly, the physical person, which is the body.

This particular person eats regular food and sleeps to stay alive. I recognise the three persons that come together to form the individual. I do spiritual exercise, which is fasting, meditation, and studying the word of God. These are what strengthens my faith and my belief in who I am and who I am supposed to be and my capacity to make an impact in the world. Also, I do intellectual exercise by studying, researching, listening to other people, and building relationships with people, learning about the earth, physics, and chemistry and about the nature of the life we are living. My mind gets exercised each time I study or learn something new. My physical body does not require knowledge; it requires physical exercise.

I have a gym at home and in the office. I do all these things to increase the strength of my body. There are different types of exercises that I do that are unique to people that have post-polio syndromes, because part of what polio does is more muscle atrophy; it reduces the nerve endings. The nerve endings in the body do not fully develop. So, because it’s not fully developed, it reduces the quality and quantity of muscles one can have.

There are some kinds of exercises I can do with my hand that make it weaker. If someone without polio does the same thing, it builds his or her muscle better. I eat mostly vegetables and fruits. I avoid a lot of drugs and the only time I take drugs is when I know I cannot take care of the ailment nutritionally. I try to get eight hours of sleep. I listen to jazz music. I do lots of research that is guided by knowledge based on my unique body type.

What do you think the government can do to help those living with disabilities? Well, I beg to differ. Everybody can develop himself or herself, everybody can think better than I think, but not everybody will do it. There are so many things people can do and not willingly do.

Further on the government, when we talk about the government, we think we are talking about an alien, but the government is us. We are the government; we are the people that make the government. The government doesn’t come from outside the country, they are part of our family members, our church, mosque, and culture. So, everything you want those people to do, you have to do it yourself.

There’s no way we can expect a government that is like us and from us to do something that’s outside of what we do ourselves. So, before we start putting blame on the government, I think we should start to look at our family, cultural and religious values, and begin to change things for the better because somebody will go to the government to expand what we already do.

I’m sorry to disappoint you that I’m not holding the government responsible. I’m saying we have to hold ourselves responsible for the life we want and then extend that life to the structures of government to help make those particular things available to everybody. If we are not living that life as a people, the government cannot give it to us.

So, can you just tell us about your qualifications and the awards that you’ve won?
I try not to talk about those things; I like to talk about the lives that I have impacted and gotten better. I love when people are challenged when they are younger. I hate to see old men trying to make a change. I wish they knew better. One of my life goals is to help young people when they are still young to begin to forge the type of life they will live when they are older. It’s difficult to bend an old man and it’s easier to form a young person.

Do you think persons living with disabilities are receiving the right attention in Nigeria?
I think nobody is receiving the right attention in Nigeria and I think there’s nothing special with people living with disability. Disability is not a death sentence; it is a challenge to make other parts of your abilities to become more viable. That is my personal opinion.

Nobody in Nigeria is receiving the right attention. Everybody has something that is being denied from society, from the government. We have not got to the place where our self-governance has recognised our innate capacity to govern ourselves to the level that we can have the liberty to dream dreams, have ideas, visions. Have we put systems and structures in place to help us create the life that we want? The idea that the people with disabilities are not receiving the type of attention doesn’t hold any sense.

I have my limb not working, but someone has been abused all his life. So, physically, he looks okay, but mentally, that person has the worst disability than someone who has a broken leg. As long as your mind is healthy, you believe in your potential, you know that your life is designed to rise above challenges, to create alternatives where there is none, there is no issue to worry about.

As a matter of fact, disability is based on personal definition, because one’s leg is not working or someone is blind is not enough to limit anyone that believes he or she can achieve great things. Matter of fact, you are not an eye, you are not a nose, you are not a mouth, you’re not a leg, you’re not a hand, you’re not an ear, so because your leg is cut off, you say the whole person is disabled.

How would you assess the discrimination against persons with disabilities act signed by President Muhammad Buhari? The law talks about how people with disabilities should be given the same opportunities as those who don’t have disabilities.

Why would I employ anyone who is going to be a liability to my organisation? The question is, what is a disability? If you can create value for me, you are good to go. I would build a step where there’s none, but to come to me on the condition that because the reason I can’t employ you is because you can’t climb the stairs.

I will tell you a story. When I was doing the youth service, I served in Imo State, when I got to the camp, everyone with a disability was asked to go (there was a special place for them) but I stayed back. I was the only one who stayed back and they came to me to ask questions, I simply told them I could be useful one way or the other. I asked them during the endurance trek, who is going to take care of their personal belongings when they are gone.

During the NYSC camp, I was the one that led the revolution in the camp for us to be paid our allowances. And I was the only trusted person, why? Physically, I’m not a threat, so I told everyone to keep cool, no violence. In fact, the evidence that we aren’t violent is that I led the revolution.

When I came out of the camp, I saw a guy at a Junction along Owerri Road. This guy was a cobbler. Also, this guy was engaged in a bricklayer job, he also had polio; his right leg was bad. I said to him, ‘you make shoes, awesome. You go to the site where they are building houses to help them to pack blocks. You put sand on a plate and then carry it with one leg. You’re trying to do something, but you’re doing it in the wrong way.’

You know what I did, I went to the sawmill, I got them to give me planks that they were no longer using, I called a carpenter who knows how to build shanks to donate his time. The question I asked the people in the sawmill is, ‘is there any part of the plank that has no market value?’ They replied yes and I said, ‘Can I have them?’ They gave me those things, I have the pictures and I told the guys that are building the houses, the carpenters that, ‘Which day of the week are you free so that I can use your time?’ They gave me the time when they were free.

I went to where they were selling zinc. I said, ‘Can you give me zinc that is out of shape, that is not needed anymore?’ They gave it to me. I brought those things and I went to the same place this guy was without roof making shoes. I brought a carpenter who was free on a particular day. I went to the sawmill, I brought planks, I brought zinc and I brought nails and went and brought paint. Together, this young man and the artisans built one of the finest shoe making shops.

After the whole thing, I went to the commissioner for women affairs office, when I walked into her office, she saw me and was like all these people have come again. That was the first impression she had of me. I said, ‘Madam, I have come to give you a gift.’ She was like I should hurry up, that she has a lot of things to do. I said, ‘There’s this young man who makes shoes at the junction, right outside your office and I’ve built a shop for him. I actually bought some shoes and leather and I’m about to give it to him, but I want the women affairs commission upon which this project falls into to come and present the gift to him.’

This means the commissioner’s office will get the credit. She called the directors to come, saying, ‘This is the kind of young man we want in this country.’ This is a woman that has already written me off. So, the power to change the narrative is with me not until anybody else. Guess what? The woman called the governor, called the Imo Broadcasting Station and sent a bus to the villages to bring the blind, crippled, deaf for the commissioning of the project.

I took pictures with this guy and the question I asked everybody that day was, ‘Between this guy and myself (I was on crutches), who is disabled? The person that gave the vote of thanks was a blind man.

I think it’s a de-service to humanity to discount a person in the context that he is disabled. As a matter of fact, that is not enough to say that the person is disabled.

Do you belong to any disability group that canvasses for people who have these situations?
I’ve tried to work with them. Most of them are looking for money to feed themselves. Most of them are not doing it for the right philosophy. Most of those I got in contact with are trying to find a way to make money for themselves. Each time I try to come close to them, it’s always one problem or the other. I’m not trying to disrespect those who are doing it for the right reason. But what I found is, people are doing it for their own advantage. Many of them are using the NGO concept to appeal to the consciousness of the society to make money off people.

I went to a motherless baby’s home in Lagos and the children are taught that they are orphans. If you take a child who has no mother and father and raise him as an orphan, you made him an orphan, he’s already an orphan by not having a mother and father. You’re supposed to raise him to be responsible for himself.

Anytime I visited them, they were taught to tell you their incapability. You disable them and you now reiterated the fact that they have nobody and that he has to beg anybody that comes into his life, for money. They will even take pictures with those kids and then score political points with it, that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

It’s not right to try to seek a means of making money using these people as leverage. I know you expected me to glorify the attitude that people are trying to seek the help of people with disabilities but in fact they are using those sentimental values to enrich themselves rather than becoming successful. It’s just right to find a way to give back to these people out of what you’ve created rather than use their circumstances as a means to create something for yourself.

What advice do you have for those that are challenged and the government?
My advice to everyone is that we have to take personal responsibility for our lives so we can help someone else. One of the reasons why you have to learn to become successful is not so that you can become successful, it is so that you can help other people become successful. A service to many leads to greatness. So, in this consciousness of us trying to become disciplined, learn about how to create wealth, learn about how to build businesses the right way.

We can develop the discipline that we can transfer to our children, our neighbours and by extension, bring that into our governance. So I’m opposed to the fact that there is a government out there who is making us in here not to be successful. No, that government is a reflection of us. Until we change, we can’t get a different government from what we are. For the people with disabilities, I want to let you know that, I don’t know who is listening to this particular programme right now, there’s nothing wrong with you.

As a matter of fact, that disability is a situation to prove that the human being can rise above all circumstances. I tell everybody that I begin the peak to speak to anyone with a disability. There’s nothing more that can stop a man whose mind is built. I am a symbol of strength not a symbol of weakness. It shows you that if I cut your legs, cut your hands and your mind is working, it can rise above any circumstances and even lift men whose hands and legs distract them from using their brain to get what they want. I hope that makes sense to you.

I thank the person that developed this as a concept to help me work better. As a matter of fact, this is not a disability, this is basically a working aid to move around my garden, move around my house because if you really want to travel around the world, you don’t need legs, you need brain, you need wonderful things but if you walk around your house, what you need is just your legs. You don’t need to walk long distances to become what is demanded but you have to travel deeply into the consciousness of man and the world to become successful.

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