Ikiotere Ayebatonye’s disability would never hold him back from achieving his dreams. Despite the challenges he faced, he went through school undaunted. Now a serving corps member in Bayelsa State, he trudges on undeterred. CALEB IJIOMA reports.
Every human being has aspirations 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. 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 data suggests that there are significantly more disabled women than men in the country and that due to the insurgency in the Northeast, 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 skepticism surrounding his future. Ikiotere who hails from Liama community of Brass Local Government Area, 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 breadwinner of the family.
“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,” he said.
Ayebatonye who grew up in the village fought through his physical deformity and even in his disability to experience 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. He wished he was never born.
But he was able to scale through with the help of his mother. At a point, his future seemed blurry, he 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 mother has five children, and I’m the third. The way she responded to my disability even when she had two boys before me was awesome. She is the one reason I have confidence. 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 I was lucky my brothers and people who were around me were literally looking up to me academically.”
“While growing up, I began to wonder how my life would be in the future. I could not do bus conducting (Agbero) or other rough things with guys. What I decided to do was to focus on my academics, believing in myself that my physical disability would not be a hindrance to live the best of my life and become whatever I have my focus on. There were cases like when I felt hurt and sometimes asked God questions. Sometimes, I didn’t want to come out and sometimes I wished 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 seek pity because it will take me nowhere.” he said
Becoming a graduate amid obvious challenges
Despite his deformity, after graduating from secondary school, he went ahead to obtain the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination 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 inspired him to make a bold decision to sit for the examination without informing his mother.
After the examination, he gained admission to study management science in Niger Delta University in 2016. Right there in the university, he faced challenges as a result of his deformity,despite having beautiful experiences.
His dream of becoming a graduate was achieved and he’s currently undergoing his National Youth Service Corps (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. They encouraged me more. The challenges that I had were when other disabled persons do something wrong, they generalise it to every disabled person. I have been a victim due to some disabled person’s antecedent. When I go to such places, I received insults 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 disability, one can be what God says one 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 didn’t fail. So, I went to meet the lecturer. 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 serving in Bayelsa State. My camping trip was fun. I was at Ede camp, Osun State and the camp experience was great. I participated in everything except parades. I partied, participated in Skill Acquisition lectures, woke up 4 am to morning devotion, got to the field early to sit by the corner to watch the parade. My place of primary assignment 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.
Hopes for the future after bitter relationship experience
Ayebatonye got separated from his lover after she travelled out of the country and found another man. Since then, he has been single, chasing financial independence and making plans for his future.
He wants to have a business in the agro based sector even with his shoe-making skills. For many people living with disabilities, he has chosen to stand out and to make a difference in the world of persons with disabilities (PWDs).