The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari on Disability Matters, Dr Samuel Inalegwu Ankeli, granted an interview to MUHAMMAD SABIU in Kaduna. The Benue born activist went down the memory lane and recalled his experience about how he was thrown out as a lecturer at Ahmadu Bellow University, ABU Zaria, when he lost his sights, amidst other issues. Excerpts:
How far have you been able to confront issues affecting people with disability in Nigeria?
Ankeli : You must know that my background is activism in disability. I lost my sights as a lecturer in ABU, Zaria, and I was thrown out. So, I have that passion to make a change. I expect that at my level, I should be able have some recognition even as a lecturer, but then, I was thrown out. And I’m saying that if this can happen to me at my level of education and exposure, it means it is going to be worse for those who didn’t go to school and don’t have a voice. And I made up my mind from 1996 to be a voice of the disabled. To me, my activism didn’t start today. When I ran for the House of Representatives in Benue State, they said it was not yet time for a blind man to represent any people and that it was going to be an embarrassment to the state to have a blind man in National Assembly.
When we kept on going, they stopped my salary being a director in the state Ministry of Agriculture. And for nine years, I was not paid. And today, I’m privileged, courtesy the generosity of the President Muhammadu Buhari, to be appointed as a Senior Special Adviser on Disability Matters to the President. My duty is to oversee and ensure that Nigeria has disability in its national policies, programme and project. And President Buhari has made Nigeria a more disability friendly country than he met it, and everybody must be involved – from government officials, private sector, business men, you and I, the family members, and of course to those who are concerned, the people with disability themselves. So it is a holistic approach.
What is your rating of this administration for appointing a blind man as SSA for the first time in history of Nigeria?
Ankeli: I think for now, we have seen the best we have never had. Since Nigeria got her independence, and even pre-independence era, we have never had this opportunity. So the President has made history and we’re expecting that we will toe the path in our families, offices, work places and worship centres. You have to create a place for people with disabilities. There is a saying that ‘if you want to do cheat a disabled, remember that a living dog is better than death lion’. God is not foolish to allow us, at this level, to be alive. We have something to contribute. We are special people before God. I keep on saying that any human being that works with God knows that disabled people are special and should be treated as such.
Until that is done, Nigeria will not come out of age. We have a solution, I know that, but what we are praying for is change, knowing that there is something we have and we can give.
The president has taken the lead as the first man in this country, I expect others to join him and change status and lifestyle of people with disability and make us more productive. The problem we have is the way we see people with disability, i.e the medical model and charity model. You think by giving me something, you are pitying me. No, we have the right. We are telling you that it’s our rights to be alive, to go to school, participate in political activities, be involved in governance and anything in the family. It is a right, for the fact that we are human beings, run around like human beings like you and me. That’s what we are saying. Give us a chance and see what we can do. But I tell you guys, we’re the best. I give you an instance of what happened in recent Nigerian athletics outing. Able people came back with one bronze medal, we came back with eight gold medals. We are champions, you must give us the opportunity and celebrate us as champions. We’ve done and shown you that we’re champions because God has given it to us.