By Wole Mosadomi
They keep looking expectantly as usual for alms but little or nothing is being dropped for them. This has been the situation lately as they file out each day in their respective locations hoping to get some help for sustenance.
But the helpers they have always depended upon to drop some coins and notes are now no longer available. These days, motorists, pedestrians and others who used to act as good Samaritans simply walk past them without caring to drop any money or provision for them.
The times, it would appear, have changed and proved to be very difficult for the handicapped and the poor in Minna, the Niger State capital. And, this unfortunate trend is not boding well for the poor and the handicapped who depend solely on alms to survive, thus worsening their predicament. Some of them have no hands to work, while others cannot hear and see, and only depend on the help of others to move about in order to seek for assistance.
They are Nigerians but are handicapped. They are voiceless and totally neglected and forgotten just because of their disabilities. Government does not have a major welfare plan in place for them either at the federal, state or local levels of governance and they are left at the mercy of kind-hearted members of the public for survival.
The alms they receive from members of the public are no longer forthcoming probably because of the prevailing economic situation across the country. This situation has in no small way contributed to the hardship being faced by these categories of persons. While government makes noise about providing social safety nets for the poorest of the poor in the society, it is not clear how many of them are being catered for by any level of government, political actors and social humanitarian groups.
For instance, during major festivities like Eid-El-Mubarak, Eid-El-Fitri, Christmas, Easter and New Year when alms are generously given out to people, the handicapped such as the blind, cripple, people with polio, spinal cord injuries and leprosy are virtually overlooked in the distribution and sharing of opportunities and welfare materials by politicians and top government officials as well as individuals.
The just celebrated Sallah seems to be one of the unhappiest time for these less privileged and voiceless people in the society. In an interview, all the blind men, women and other physically-challenged people interviewed in Minna on how they celebrated the Eid-El-Kabir described the festivity as one of the worst in recent times.
“Our expectations were high but the patronage both from government and individuals was very poor. In fact, our hopes to get gifts from them were dashed,” Malam Mohammed Abdul, a blind man lamented.
“I am a widow and have five children and since the death of my husband about three years ago, I am the only one taking care of myself and the five children. I can say that this was the worst Sallah we ever celebrated because we received no assistance from the government or individuals,” another blind simply called Aminat declared. The Chairman, Polio-affected Persons Association, Niger State wing, Malam Awwal, described the last Sallah as “very dry” because there was no form of assistance from government. “In the past, the Ministry of Women Affairs used to send some gifts in form of food items like rice, grains like maize, millet, among others, to celebrate the different festivities but for the past two years, nothing of such had been sent to us.
“However, an individual brought four medium size bags of rice for the 57 registered polio affected members in the state. I am not sure whether other physically-challenged people like the cripples, and members of the Spinal Cord Association, among others, were reached. Government and public-spirited individuals should always remember us during these festivities like Eid-El-Kabir, Christmas and New Year, among others. In the past years, we were given cows and foodstuffs by government and individuals and these were shared amongst the blind, crippled, deaf and dumb, even the abinos among others, and that gave us a sense of belonging and comfort.
“What government and other public-spirited Nigerians should note is that we are also human beings like them, happily married with responsibilities like education, health, etc., to carry even to our extended family members,” Anwal said. Similarly, the Chairman, Blind Association, Niger State, Alhaji Rabiu Abdullahi, described the last Sallah celebration as “very low key”.
“The state government has totally abandoned us. They don’t even know we exist and we are suffering in silence. Nothing came from the state government to us for the Sallah celebration, but we are aware that politicians and other well to do people in the society were adequately taken care of by the same government,” Rabiu lamented.
Alhaji Rabiu Abdullahi said he remains grateful to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who sent him a ram and another Nigerlite, Alhaji Yakubu Garba, who also remembered his family saying: “These gifts from them made me and my immediate family members have the feeling of the Sallah this year, otherwise we would have been thrown into hunger and unhappiness.”