Anambra State is number one in disability inclusion and no other State comes close. Before now, the plight of persons with disabilities was merely a political talking point, discussed during and forgotten after elections. Not any more, the events of the past three years of Governor Willie Obiano’s administration present incontrovertible evidence of a paradigm shift from talk to walk, from charity to opportunity, from privilege to right.
As we commemorate the seventh anniversary of Governor Willie Obiano’s administration in Anambra State, let us remember not to forget and we must not forget to remember that Governor Willie Obiano’s administration has been a game changer for the disability community. Chief Obiano has a life long passion for humanity and began to demonstrate his humane nature in favor of persons with disabilities by approving the establishment of the Office of the Governor on Disability Matters following his appointment of a person with disability as a Senior Special Assistant on Disability Matters who he later elevated to the position of a Special Advisor and a member of the State Executive Council. The Office of the Governor on Disability Matters serves to actualize the governor‘s vision for the disability community, assists in formulating and implementing policies and programs that make life better for persons with disabilities in the state.
In 2017, His Excellency employed several persons with disabilities into the state civil service workforce and promoted civil servants with disabilities who had been stagnated in various positions. The same year, he invited thousands of persons with disabilities into governor’s lodge with a message of hope and inclusion.
In March 2018, Governor Obiano employed five sign language interpreters who provide services to ease communication for the deaf in Government MDAs, hospitals, courts, security agencies, worship centers, sports programs, conferences and training.
Anambra State made another history when the Governor employed the first deaf sign language interpreter in Nigeria. A deaf sign language interpreter is a deaf person who is able to adapt the American sign language into local signs for the less educated members of the deaf community. HE has a political appointee who is a Special Assistant in Sign Language communication.
The Governor also employed three computer and Braille instructors, whose services have been indispensable in enhancing the productivity of the employed persons with disabilities while providing the entrepreneurs with disabilities the relevant technological skills for their operation.
In Sports, the Governor encouraged and promoted athletes and medalists with disabilities. Their trainers and coaches also received handsome packages from His Excellency.
Akpokuedike has always had amazing and sustainable Christmas gifts to the Disability Community since the inception of his administration. On the 18th of December 2018, HE signed into law, a bill for the protection of the rights, welfare and prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities, even before the copied but commendable action of the Federal Government. It is the only state in the south east to have such legislation for PWDs.
In December 2019, HE gave approval for the inclusion of a special choir, consisting of persons with disabilities to perform at the state Carol of nine lessons, where their performance mesmerized the entire state and the world. The jingles and sound bites remain in the social media and media houses around the world. Last December, 2020, despite the economic crunch and recession, occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS protests in the country, Governor Chief Willie Obiano , the Omemgbeodiuko of Igboland, Besides actualizing the pledge of gainful employment as a wedding gift to four persons with disabilities, gave the best Christmas gift to the Disability community by employing 131 persons with disabilities into the State Civil Service. This blast of the last Christmas is indicative of the path discovered and reconstructed by Governor Willie M. Obiano, the Executive Governor of Anambra State. It is a path to empowerment and a lift from pauperism. The employment of last December doubles the number of persons with disabilities he employed in 2017. HE, also in 2020, gave approval for the establishment of the disability rights law implementation committee, the first step towards the formation of the Disability Rights Commission required by section 3 of the Disability Rights Law.
When he began the construction of his monumental and legacy project to give Ndi Anambra an international passenger and cargo airport, Oguguo Ndi Olusi, as he is popularly known within the disability community, co-opted a member of the disability community into the Airport committee to provide the crucial advice on handicap accessibility in all terminal buildings.
The Governor has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to disability inclusive policy emphasized in his annual budget speech for 2021 financial year.
The Chairman of the State chapter of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) is not only an Executive Assistant to the governor on disability services but also a member of Anambra State Capital Expenditure Bilateral Discussion Committee for three consecutive years.
Anambra was the first and probably remains the only State to appoint a visually impaired Permanent Secretary and possibly, the only State that had two permanent secretaries with disabilities in the State cabinet.
Governor Willie Obiano and his wife, Osodieme, invited and dined with the leaders of the disability community in their country home. His Commissioners and heads of MDAs now automatically include persons with disabilities in their budgets and programs. Is there any Governor who has done this much?
Other Governors in Nigeria are now toeing this path because when a leader knows the way, shows the way and goes the way, others follow the way. The most recent is the Governor of Sokoto State, His Excellency, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (A rotarian) who has appointed a special adviser on disability matters.
Relevant authorities in all states and local government areas across the country should toe this empowerment path of Governor Willie Obiano, Oguguo Ndi Olusi (The Consoler), to ensure disability inclusion and equal opportunity and participation of people with disabilities across Nigeria.
The empowerment path is pivotal because every family has at least one person with disability. There is a popular truth that states, “If disability has not reached your home, it has not passed.” Contrary to what we may all wish, it may still be on the way.
Little wonder the head of the OGDM Media in Anambra State, Miss Chidimma Ajemba, chronicled and described the events of the past three years in Anambra State disability community as “a new dawn.”
The entire Disability Community in Anambra in appreciation pray that God continues to bless His Excellency and his wife, Osodieme, the first lady who, through her pet project, continues to give artificial limbs to thousands of the physically challenged persons, helps to fix the lips of babies born with cleft lips and palate. She also continues to rehabilitate persons with mental disabilities and build homes for indigent women. Anambra leads and others follow. May all who agree say “I”…..The “I”s have it.
Chuks Ezewuzie is the Special Adviser to Anambra State Governor On Disability Matters