Adebola Daniel is the son of the former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel, and the founder, Debola Daniel Foundation. Confined to the wheelchair, his recently launched organisation is committed to ending the stigma attached to people living with disabilities. He speaks with DOYIN ADEOYE on the Nigerian environment and policies and how these affect the physically-challenged, among other issues.
WHAT are the visions and objectives of the Debola Daniel Foundation?
The thought of starting something to inspire a change in the mindset of Nigerian citizens popped into my mind sometime last year. Although I did not particularly know how I wanted to spark a change at the time, I knew I had to do something about the unending attitudinal scorning of people living with disabilities.
So the vision of the foundation in the long term is to seek an end to the stigma attached to being physically-challenged and to change the mindset of both disabled and non-physically-challenged citizens to push the notion that disability is not inability. Our objectives are to promote education, employment and entrepreneurship within disabled Nigerian citizens, while taking a top-down approach to discussing and influencing policy that affects disabled citizens.
So who stands to benefit from the foundation? Will a three-year-old disabled from a local indigenous area be inspired by this cause?
This is not just another foundation that gives wheelchairs, crutches, walking aids and the likes to beneficiaries, as there are possibly hundreds of other foundations that do that. We are here to remove the word ‘disabled’ from the mindset. We are more interested in the future of the three-year-old. The foundation is here to ensure that their future is bright. We want to make it their constitutional right to get an education that can enable them to get a job so they can take care of themselves. We want to make it their constitutional right to be able to visit places of leisure and work without being excluded because of inaccessibility, or by the judgment and prejudiced notions of others. In my opinion, stigmatism to disabled citizens is a hate crime and it should be treated with the severity that it deserves.
You mentioned that the condition started when you were diagnosed with paraplegia at five, with no medical clarity. Have you tried to find out medically what went wrong?
I did do some researches and I have a clearer understanding. As the days progress, my understanding increases. I will not delve into more details though, as this movement is less about me, it is about every citizen’s mindset.
Disability in Nigeria is often associated with poverty, and the mentality is that a physically-challenged person needs to beg to survive…
It is a mentality that needs to change. It is the case because disability is looked at in Nigeria as a charity situation and not a welfare situation. It is unfortunate that some people see it as a means of livelihood through begging for alms. Your dreams or talents should never be buried or forgone because of a physical setback. We should move away, as a citizenry, from the shackles of charity to the pursuit of welfare of disabled citizens.
What are your views on Nigerian policies and the physically-challenged?
There is a starting block that has a lot of potential to be built upon. The foundation hopes the bill being debated in the House now gets passed and ratified into law. The important issue here is to always seek to constantly update laws that enable Nigeria’s disabled citizens to have equality of opportunity.
How supportive is your family?
My family has been very supportive. I could not have wished for more.
Are there things that you would have loved to be more involved in that you felt your condition restricted you from doing?
I feel that disability generally removes spontaneity from an individual’s life. One has to plan and be very aware of the surroundings and accessibility in a way an abled person does not even consider.
How involved were you or would you have loved to be in your father’s political campaigns?
My father and I are extremely close. While he is focused on creating an egalitarian society with eyes on the welfare of the masses, I am focusing on the people with disabilities.
Would you love to go into politics someday yourself?
I will always be dedicated to selfless public service however form that comes in.
Did you have any fears while growing up; did the disability make you feel any different?
My initial fear was not being able to achieve my full potential because of the limitations of society both in Nigeria and internationally. So, yes, I did feel there were untapped capabilities within me that I could have exploited more. The important thing is to concentrate on what one can do and do it extremely well.
Have you personally ever been discriminated against because of your disability?
I have, a lot of times, especially in Nigeria in both government and private institutions. However, I will not go into specifics.
At what point did you develop the passion to speak and fight for your own?
I would say at about 17 years old. The journey to being independent and trying to live my life took a turn for the positive when I forced myself to learn how to drive. I told myself that if I could conquer this, I would truly discover independence. Once I succeeded in learning, I realised that the world was my playground and I promised myself that if my feet couldn’t take me to places, my arms would take me and if my hands won’t take me to places, my brain would take me, if my brain couldn’t take me to places, my words will go places.
I had my primary and the first half of my secondary education in Nigeria. I was at St. Judes in FESTAC, then CTC in Lagos where I finished my primary education. I started off my secondary education in Atlantic Hall before I moved to the United Kingdom where I finished my secondary education and A Levels at Caterham School. Finally, I attended the University of Surrey, achieving a Barchelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and finished off with an MSc at University College London (UCL) in 2016.
Are you married?
No, I am not married yet.
What are your dreams? What are your future goals?
I have a private passion for technology and I want to be part of a team that would one day be responsible for modernising the infrastructure of Nigeria while simultaneously pushing the whole civil service into a digital and largely automated age.
How do you relax?
I personally enjoy a good book. Reading an engaging book can really help me unwind.