Adebukola Adebayo is a member of the Governing Board, Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs, and also a senior executive of the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities. Adebayo, who is a trained political scientist, reveals some of the biggest challenges he has had to overcome in life in this interview with ERIC DUMO.
At what point in your life did you lose your ability to see?
I was born with the impairment, it is congenital. We are about four with the same condition in my family. It is not strange because there are parents who don’t have visual impairment and then go on to have two or three children with this condition. In my own case, my mother is the carrier; even though, she also does not have history of impairment in her family.
But despite this condition, I have always lived a normal life right from childhood. Even though the other children in the neighbourhood would sometimes call me all manner of names because my eyes didn’t look like theirs, growing up for me was normal. I learnt to do house chores, wash my clothes and play around with the other children. The only difference was that I had to go to a special school for the blind.
After my experience at the Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially Sighted Children in Lagos, all other schools I attended were normal ones. From King’s College to the University of Lagos, it was a normal life for me all through.
What did you plan to become in life at that period?
While I was at King’s College, I was exposed to the media, so I developed a strong interest in that area as a result of this. But eventually, I ended up studying Political Science at the university due to certain factors. Even though I would have loved to become a journalist, I have no regret today for studying Political Science because it has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities to impact on the society even better.
So you didn’t experience any difficulty while studying at the University of Lagos?
It was a great experience for me, especially because the campus was disability-friendly. I was able to move to lecture halls and other places I needed to be without any sort of hindrance. I stayed within the school campus and got all the assistance I needed, at times from people around. So, the experience was good for me.
While on campus, did you participate in unionism, considering your passion for advocacy?
As a Political Science student, not participating in unionism is like having a science student going to school and not doing practicals. I stood for a few elective positions at the time, using the opportunity to improve the cause of students on campus. That experience has helped me carry on with the roles I occupy today.
As a matter of fact, I am warming up to contest for an elective office in Lagos. I believe that this type of opportunity will help me further advocate for the rights and welfare of people living with disabilities in the state. We are still consulting and at the right time, we’ll let the world know what the plan is.
Where did you undergo your one-year National Youth Service Corps programme and what was the experience like for you?
I had my orientation in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, where I was posted to but later redeployed to Lagos to continue with the service. When I left secondary school, I had two areas in mind where I wanted to work – the media or academic environment. I was deployed to the Federal College of Education, Technical, Akoka, Lagos, to continue my service. I was in the General Service Department and lectured for a while.
How did the students there relate with you, considering your impairment?
It was strange to many of them because they had never been taught by a person with visual impairment. For me, it was also a great experience because I had not also been in a place like that; even though, it wasn’t the first time that I would be taking a class. Interestingly for me, it was there that I met my wife. She was a student there at the time.
So, how were you able to win her heart?
I simply made my intentions clear to her from the very first time we met and her response was positive. Even though she was a student there at the time, I met her through someone else. We were friends for a while before getting married. We have spent over 12 years together now as man and wife and are blessed with four children.
At the time you were still trying to win her heart, did some people, especially her friends, try to discourage her from accepting your proposal?
Yes, many of them. Even though I didn’t know at the time, I found out later that many people tried to discourage her from agreeing to my proposal. But because God was involved, they couldn’t stop our love.
How easy or tough was it for you to get a job after your NYSC?
I never got a job, even up till this moment. By my nature, I am entrepreneurial, so after searching for a job fruitlessly, I decided to do something for myself. While still at the University of Lagos, I always organised shows where we brought in musicians and speakers for seminars. That helped to fine-tune my entrepreneurial skills, which today has proven priceless.
After failing to find a job, I decided to set up my own business, which today I run side by side with part-time lecturing and other things I also do.
At the time you were to marry your wife, didn’t she raise any concern that you had no job?
Due to the support of my family, there was no way she could have done that. I am the last child of the family, so I got a lot of support during our wedding. I had a small business that was thriving already, so there was no reason for her to express such fears.
Do you think that as a society, we are becoming more aware of the needs of people living with disabilities?
I think the society is beginning to pay more attention to the needs of people living with disabilities; even though, a lot more still needs to be done. I was among the people who designed a framework with the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that elections and voting process are more accessible to people with special needs. This has helped to give people in this category a voice in the society.
We have done a lot of research and advocacy; it is time to implement all of these. The government especially in Lagos State has been very supportive in achieving some of these targets. Apart from government, INEC and a lot of development partners are supporting the drive to make life better for people with special needs.
Were there people who expressed doubts about your ability to study successfully?
By the grace of God I was among the best five students to graduate from my department during my time at UNILAG. When I went back for my master’s degree, I did very well too, so there wasn’t much reason for people to doubt my ability to come out successfully. My doctorate is also in Political Science because that is my turf, as far as I am concerned. God has been faithful, I must say.
What are some of the biggest barriers you’ve had to break to get to where you are today?
As a matter of policy, I do not allow anything to discourage my targets in life. If I am pursuing something in life and it doesn’t turn out the way I want, I don’t give up; instead, I device a new way to achieve a better result for myself. I don’t pass the buck when things are not working out, I simply face it.
All through my journey in life, I have encountered numerous challenges due to my disability. The society is structured in a way that your chances are extremely reduced in life as a person living with disability in Nigeria. There are infrastructural barriers and even structural hurdles unconsciously and ignorantly erected by the society against people living with disabilities. Survival in a society like ours depends on the ability of a person with special needs to find their ways around them.
Many times, colleagues come to me that they are looking for job; I tell them to go think of what they can do for themselves and not wait for a job because I didn’t even get a job on my own. So, there are always barriers against people like us but it is the will to succeed that can see anyone through.
What’s your biggest source of inspiration?
My creator, Almighty Allah, is my greatest source of inspiration. When the going gets tough for me at times, it is the grace of the Almighty Allah that sees me through. Without the support of God, I realise that whatever effort I put in will never be enough to get me desired results. It is through His mercies that I have got to where I am today.
Source: The Punch
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