Years back, the call for a just, equitable and inclusive society in all ramification has been the dominant struggle by persons with disabilities in Kogi State, Nigeria and indeed, many other developing countries around the world. Since a struggle of this magnitude is best achieved in group rather than as an individual, so many associations of persons with disabilities were formulated at State, National, Regional and even International level. Notable among these associations is the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), an umbrella body of all persons with disabilities in Nigeria with branches in all the 36 States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is not to leave out the other Associations formulated by the various Clusters of disabilities to project their own peculiar interest. In Kogi State, where this article is mostly concerned with, there exist, in addition to the JONAPWD branch, the Kogi State Persons Living with Disability Association which is currently under the Chairmanship of Comrade Arome Ibrahim.
Generally speaking, it is safe to say that, with the combined efforts and consistent struggle of all the stakeholders (both disabled and non-disabled), a whole lot has been achieved even though we still have a long way to go. The questions here however are: have these achievements so far translate into an improved standard of living in the life of the ordinary persons with disabilities at the grassroots? Does the Justice and equality being clamored for from the outside world exist within the disabled community?
It is sad to say that, in Kogi, my home state, the tribal and regional sentiments which was, of course, before this current administration, the determining factor of who gets what, when and how in the state has also been the module operandi adopted by those at the helm of the affairs of persons with disabilities within the State. Since the existence of JONAPWD & KGPWDA in Kogi State, the leadership has been dominated by people from the Eastern part of the State; from Hon. Solomon to Hon. Hassan and now Comr. Arome. Shouldn’t I equally mention that this aforementioned people have also been active and favoured politically in one way or the other has the former two, at one point or the other, served as an SSA to the State Governor on Disability Matters while the latter is currently serving as and SSA to the Chairman of Omala LGA. While I, for one, do not see anything wrong with the political office they once held or still holding since it may be born out of their personal relationship with the government of the day, I however think it’s worth questioning the fact that in a State made of three districts, only one, the Eastern district, dominates the leadership of the disabled community in the state to the detriment of other districts.
Furthermore, a critical look into the activities of Kogi State Persons with Disability Association under the leadership of comrade Arome in this past few years will get a conscious mind wandering on what informs his administrative decisions and if he ever feel accountable to the thousands of persons with disabilities in other parts of the State. From the information at my disposal, several allegations have been leveled against him in the past. A particular case of reference is in 2017 when the state governor invited some members of the disabled community for Iftar (breaking of fast) during the Ramadan of that year. It was alleged by some of those who attended the event that the governor made an announcement of 2 million naira donation but after the event, they were told by the leadership of the disabled community who led them into the events that the money received was 1 million naira, out of which an initial N35,000 was given to those from the central senatorial district with a letter addition of N30,000 after series of complaints and reports were made. What happened to the remaining amount and how it was distributed remains a mystery yet to be unraveled and, this is just one out of many order allegations.
More recently, precisely on the 6th of March which happens to be last Saturday, during the Federal Government distribution of financial grants to some women of Kogi State which was held at the state capital, it was alleged that 116 slots were allocated to women with disabilities and it was to be overseen by Arome and those in his leadership circle. Of the 116 slots giving, only nine came to women off Ebira extraction, five of which are residents within the state capital and only four where from the Central Senatorial District. A brief talk with some persons from the Western district shows that they were also kept in the dark and have no knowledge of the financial distribution. The question however demanding an urgent answer from Comr. Arome and he’s clicks: why only four from the Central Senatorial District? From where did he get people to fill in the slots given to Persons with Disabilities? or is the allegation that they brought in their non-disabled friends and relatives to fill in the slot meant for persons with disabilities true?
While I wouldn’t want to dwell much longer on the many flaws and obvious injustice which characterized the leadership of the Kogi State disabled community as some other concerned members of the community have said and written a lot about it in the past, I however wish to call on our political as well as leaders of thoughts both at the local and state level to as a matter of urgency, look into this age long injustice and subjugation suffered by persons with disabilities from the Central and Western Senatorial District under the leadership of Arome and his cohorts. I equally want to use this medium to call on the Honourable Chief of Staff to the Executive Governor of Kogi State, Pharm. AbdulKareem Asuku to fulfill the promise he made in January last year to call all concerned members of the disabled community to a round table discussion with the view to resolving the many issues bedeviling the growth of the community particularly in the area of leadership. To paint a clearer picture, as it is in the disabled community of the State, it is a case of few benefiting and enriching themselves with what is meant for the entire community and if this is not nip in the bud, it will amount to a case of modern slavery within the disabled community. If this is allowed to continue, all the good intentions and efforts off his Excellency Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello towards carrying persons with disabilities along in the scheme of things will only be like a drop in the ocean as the few who have made themselves the Lord of the disabled community will scuttle the noble efforts of our governor for their personal benefits and that of their associates, leaving others to keep wallowing in dejection.
It is my sincere hope that this write-up will push the right people to act and restore fairness and accountability to the leadership of the Kogi State Community of Persons with Disabilities so that we all can live they just, equal and inclusive society that we all clamor for.
Written by Abdulazeez Asadulla Ahmed from Bayero University, Kano