BLESSING AFOLABI examines the plights of drivers with disabilities
Enthusiastic Lucky Uhumagho seemed to enjoy his day as he drove his neat minibus (korope) from his usual daily route to the park to drop off some passengers travelling to Ibadan, Oyo state. Once the passengers alighted, he scanned the milieu for another set of passengers to load the next turn. It was about noon and the usual hustling of passengers to board buses had lessened.
While at the park, Uhumagho was harassed by agberos (louts) to give them some money for tickets among other daily payments. But he begged for more time as he was just about to load another turn. Our correspondent had approached him at the time for an interview and he agreed provided it would be after he had dropped the next passengers at the park.
Uhumagho told Sunday PUNCH that he was gainfully employed before he had an accident in 2017 along the Benin-Okada road, Edo State, and eventually decided to drive danfo (bus) rather than beg for survival.
The aftermath of the incident he said left him a widower with three children. He explained, “After the accident, I underwent treatment in the hospital. During the treatment, my wife was due for delivery but died at a general hospital in Lagos because she could not get proper care.”
He spoke to our correspondent as they both rode in his vehicle to the park where he would later load another turn that he was left with nothing when he returned home. He stated that he couldn’t opt to beg or steal to feed his family, adding that he also had to pay house rent which left him with no option but to become a bus driver.
Uhumagho told Sunday PUNCH that he got the mini bus on hire purchase for N2.2m and started paying weekly instalments of N25,000. He added that he had succeeded in offsetting about N1.4m and still had an outstanding of N800,000 to pay up in nine months.
He stated, “I make about N9,000 every day. When I take out the delivery fee for the owner, I still have about N4,000 left, out of which I feed my children but it’s almost insufficient. I also have to take care of mechanical faults, fuel the vehicle, buy tickets and settle the task force and agbero daily.”
He noted that the number of passengers he got determined how much he made per day, adding that there were days he got many passengers while on other days it was less than expected.
He said, “I paid agbero N200 for my first turn. The cop lobbying at the park will also ask ‘where my own.’ If one does not give them, the day one needs help no one will come to one’s rescue.”
Also, a tricycle rider, Suraju Isiaku, never had envisaged he would ride a tricycle but joined the business nine years ago because of his condition.
He said his mum told him he walked properly at birth and that on a certain day while he took a walk with his friend, he suddenly fell and subsequently began feeling pains in his leg. He recounted that he couldn’t get orthodox medical attention in the village where he was and was taken to several traditional homes where they were told it was alujanu (evil spirits) that attacked his leg.
He noted that he was invited by his brother to Alaba, Lagos State, upon completion of secondary school education, adding that when he got to Lagos, his brother told him to return to the village and that he couldn’t assist him.
He said, “I didn’t have money to return to the village at the time and had nowhere to go or anything to do. Later on, a friend offered assistance and introduced me to the keke (tricycle) business. Since then I had been riding tricycles and I disbursed money to the owners until recently when I got a new one on hire purchase and paid in instalments weekly.’’
Data on PWDs
According to the World Health Organisation, over one billion people live with some form of disability. This translates to about 15 per cent of the world’s population, with up to 190 million (3.8 per cent) people aged 15 years and older having significant difficulties in functioning, often requiring health care services.
WHO stated that the number of people experiencing disability is increasing due to a rise in chronic health conditions and population aging and almost everyone is likely to experience some form of disability, temporary or permanent at some point in life.
According to the United Nations, people with disabilities include those who have “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.’’
WHO further stated that disability is a human rights issue, with people with disabilities being subject to multiple violations of their rights, including acts of violence, abuse, prejudice, and disrespect because of their disability, which intersects with other forms of discrimination based on age and gender, among other factors.
“Disability is a development priority because of its higher prevalence in lower-income countries and because disability and poverty reinforce and perpetuate one another,” it noted.
The United Nations Development Programme stated that 80 per cent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries.
The World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability, and tend to be regarded in their communities as the most disadvantaged.
In an article published in the International Research Journal of Humanities titled, “Impacts of societal prejudice on attainment of life/personal goals of physically challenged persons in Nigeria,” the authors opined that discrimination against persons living with disabilities was common in underdeveloped societies.
It stated, “PWDs are perceived as useless human beings, who are not entitled to life or reside with the human race. In Nigeria, the level of ill-treatment meted out to them by society is alarming, annoying, and highly disturbing.
“Attitudes of the public toward them are negative and hostile. Most of them, more often than not, are rejected in marriage and work settings, snubbed, and disgraced in the public.
“Consequently, they live in isolation from public life. They are often sighted in the streets of towns and cities, as well as on major express roads across the country asking for alms to survive.
“Living in such situations people with disability is prone to regret, suicide, termination of productivity and life/personal goals. Several cases have been recorded in Nigeria in the recent past.’’
The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities with its maiden edition in December 13, 2006, did a great deal of work concerning the deplorable conditions of disabled persons which included their accessibility to education, self-empowerment, and self-supporting employment.
Countries that ratified the convention were required to adopt national laws to enable persons with disabilities to have equal rights to education, employment, and cultural life and also to have the right to own and inherit property; not to be discriminated against in marriage.
More worrisome tales
Fifty-two-year-old amputee, Michael Akoma, a native of Abia State, married with four kids described his situation as pathetic. He said driving with one arm was stressful but had to take up the job because there were no other means to feed and couldn’t leave the responsibility of catering for his family to his wife alone.
He said he had to devise a means to support and not overburden his wife who was into the business of petty trading which he said was unsustainable.
He said, “I have been riding keke since 2008 before I had an accident in 2015. It was in the course of the business that I lost one arm. I got crushed by a car and my arm amputated. I spent several months at the Ikeja general hospital receiving treatment.
“I couldn’t resort to begging after the incident and didn’t want to remain idle. I got this keke on hire purchase and had completed payment. But it is giving me problems because it is an old one. I have to do maintenance at least twice every week to make some money.’’
Also, a professional Disk Jockey and barber turned korope driver, Harry Monday, narrated his ordeal to our correspondent with his wife in the cab. He stated that his condition wasn’t his doing and wouldn’t depend on anyone for assistance in feeding his family hence his choice of work to eke out a living.
He said he resorted to riding a cab because he couldn’t get other jobs and needed to earn a living. Despite his skills, he noted that he couldn’t establish his business due to a lack of funds.
The cabbie said, “I was born normal but fell ill for four years when I turned nine years old. Since then I have been unable to use my legs. My wife suffers same disability.’’
Monday noted that he got the cab on hire purchase for N2m and was currently paying in instalments every week, adding that it felt like he was working for the owner. He stated that whether he was tired, it rained, or sunny, he had to work because he had a target amount to reimburse every week.
He said, “Immediately I take out the amount, we make do with the balance from the day’s proceeds.”
He asserted that being a skilled artisan, he was willing to face his business if he got help because he believed it would thrive and would be better for his condition.
Our correspondent rode in another keke with a driver identified only as Mohammed and saw how he was stopped by one of the union workers to pay N200. Mohammed said he pays a levy of N1,700 per day despite being unable to make that amount sometimes.
He explained that he got maimed from birth and had no details of the history of his condition, adding that his quest for survival led him to become a tricycle rider.
Mohammed said, “I started riding a keke because that was what I could lay hands on after I relocated from Ibadan, Oyo State. Some days, I return home with N1500 or N2000 since I must pay the agberos and installments for the hire purchase of the keke. Getting passengers can be uncertain, some days I get a lot, other days I barely do.’’
In a previous report by The PUNCH, a cab driver, Babatunde Kewejo, narrated how passengers refused to enter his cab when they noticed he was physically-challenged. He said that he lost both legs when he was seven years old during a storm that happened when his mum was cleaning the compound and his determination not to be a beggar made him become a cabbie.
Faced with pain, disdain
Isiaku yelled that he felt pains consistently in his leg especially when he walked long distances, adding that driving wasn’t palatable with his condition. But noted that he had to make ends meet.
He said sometimes people looked at him with contempt and were afraid to board his tricycle when they noticed he is a person with disability.
“Occasionally, I get passengers, and other times I do not. Quite a number of them like me and pity me because they see me struggling and believe persons with my condition will rather beg for alms. At times, they give me money and pay more for their fare,” he said.
He said that he was struggling to cope with his condition because he had to run maintenance on the tricycle and pay agberos as well as other officials at the park.
Isiaku said, “I also have to fend for my family because I’m married though I lost my child and haven’t got another one yet. My wife is in the village and I visit her during the festive season. I have to keep managing this job, I can’t beg.”
In a similar vein, Akoma said some people do not board his keke because of his condition, stating that whenever they sighted his hand, even after boarding, they would alight immediately. He added that some people showed pity and gave him more than the fare charged. He noted that sometimes he was given N1,000 or N5,000 and they encouraged him to keep hustling.
Akoma said he was grateful he had not had an accident since he returned to the business. He added that though the police and officers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority do not disturb him, he would be glad if he got something else to do because driving with one arm was distressing.
He said, “Sometimes I shed tears when changing gear because I have just one arm to do that. When I get home, I feel severe body pains but cannot afford to do nothing. I have to take care of my family and send my children to school.’’
On his part, Uhumagho lamented that the job was demanding, as he faced challenges from the task force, LASTMA, vehicle inspection officers, and officers of the transport union. He said, “I shouldn’t be driving a commercial bus because my hand is not healed. I had to find relief in this business as I was left with no option.’’
Uhumagho said he would still love to remarry, noting that it would be after his last child clocks 10. He added that no one could take care of one’s children like one and that he derived joy in seeing his kids around him. It’s the reason he said he keeps pushing to make ends meet despite the hurdles he faced with the job.
Experts urge impartiality
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Eke Ubiji, said that an individual with disability working in the transportation sector was a huge contributor to the economy.
He stressed that the fact that they were not soliciting alms showed they didn’t want to be liabilities to society, adding that they should be encouraged and motivated in every way.
Ubiji opined that the government could do a lot in assisting the individuals like what was done to support SMEs. He added that funds should be created such that individuals with disabilities could access them to make them economically independent.
Commenting on the access of PWDs to funding, he said that many of them get the bus on hire purchase and invariably pay higher for the equivalent cost price. He advised the government to give them interest-free loans to acquire facilities such as keke and be given a longer time to repay.
He said, “Private bodies should pay close attention to assisting PWDs among them.’’
On his part, a professor of Sociology, Bayero University, Kano State, Ismaila Zango, noted that individuals with disabilities were usually discriminated against because society saw them as dependent persons who couldn’t contribute to the economy.
He said PWDs who had motor skills or gainfully employed are few and should not be discriminated against but rather encouraged and supported to do more.
He added that many of them were enthusiastic and skilful in their jobs and must be given inclusion in society. Zango further said that he was glad the current administration had done a lot in that aspect.
He advised the government to set up a deliberate social policy to eradicate discrimination against PWDs and provide access to loans, equipment and other resources needed for them to be economically and generally independent.
On her part, an expert in access to justice for PWDs, Prof. Fatima Dantata, stated that the issue of marginalisation and discrimination of PWDs had been long standing in history and not peculiar to Nigeria. She added that in history, PWDs were neglected from birth and most times left to be taken away by the gods, stating that development had made the situation better even though more needed to be done.
She stressed that PWDs had human rights and people who had stereotyped stigma and segregated against PWDs had not realised that the potential that abounded in every human must be utilised.
Dantata said, “Individuals with special needs should be seen as contributors to the economy and not dependants, be respected and accepted as normal humans like us. They should be given equal opportunities where they are able to do what they desire to. They should be patronised without disdain in whatever vocation they choose and be assisted in promoting their businesses.’’
She urged the government to mount active sensitisation activities to eliminate discrimination against PWDs so individuals could see them more in the positive and not in the negative. She added that they should be given inclusive activities in society rather than making them mere beneficiaries.
She said, “The larger society can benefit from their potential. They should be allowed to be contributors to the economy and not merely recipients.’’
Commenting on the issue, the national public relations officer, National Union of Road Transport Workers, Chukwudi Asogwa, said physically-challenged individuals who are members of their union were supported and given preferential treatment. He said they were encouraged to join the union to get equal support meted out to other members.
Asogwa noted that there were packages in place for PWDs. He said, “If there are vehicles to be distributed, we prioritise them and ensure they receive before others.’’
He advised the government to offer them employment where their services were required because some of them could do better than those not physically-challenged. He added that they should be empowered and given financial support.
Also, the National President, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, Abdullahi Usman, said physically-challenged individuals were being discriminated against, noting that the act was uncalled for.
He added that the primary need of PWDs in Nigeria like every other citizen was to be economically independent, stating that they required skill acquisition for self-reliance.
He noted, “In the northern part of the country, there are many PWDs who are beggars and this problem originated from their homes, the community, and religious leaders. PWDs are made to go out on the streets soliciting alms to earn a living.
“Individuals should assist PWDs in gaining access to education and employment instead of giving alms all in the name of charity. We should co-mobilise members of the community where we live to assist PWDs to learn skills that can make them independent and contributors to the economy”.
He said the Nigerian government and religious leaders were contributors to the reason PWDs solicit alms, noting that they only gave endearments and organised several unsustainable forms of charity.
He advised that religious leaders should be sensitised on their responsibility in facilitating the self-reliance of PWDs.
Usman also urged the government to provide access to education, employment, and skill acquisition rather than celebrating charity donations of wheelchairs, foodstuff and other items.
He said, “The government should rather celebrate those who are graduates, have skills and businesses despite their condition, and support them with start-up grants.’’
He added that there were many PWDs driving commercial buses to earn a living, urging promotion of public awareness to eradicate discrimination against PWDs and enlighten the public on the measures put in place for physically challenged individuals to drive seamlessly.
He said, “Most of them drive automatic cars/buses which makes it easy for them to navigate the road without a hitch. We need some juvenile associations and media brands to educate the public that if they do not support these persons, they will become beggars and invariably, become liabilities to society.’’