Chidi Olujie is the Secretary-General of the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf and a former aspirant to Ukwa-East State Constituency of Abia State House of Assembly under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Through e-mail, he communicated with TUNDE OGUNESAN on his mission in politics and the hurdles before him. Excerpts:
What is the hope of the disabled in national politics and representation?
There is always hope in life when we are on the right path. Sometime last year, I was among a group of people that took to the streets of Abuja advocating for the passage of National Disability Bill into our law. You know what, our voice was heard and the National Disability Bill was passed into law by President Buhari Muhammad himself. This achievement is one of the examples of hope we have at the national level. From my own optimistic perspective, I can be very sure that there is hope for disabled persons in national politics and representation, which only lies within the law and Fundamental Human Rights to combat all forms of obstacles and stumbling-block in all ramifications. And our hope will come into reality, and our specific demands will be met when government starts implementing all that is contained in the Disability Law for a thorough reformation, restructuring, rejigging, reviving and revamping for our full participation and involvement in the system of our Nation. By doing so, we are already, there, equal with our non-disabled compatriots.
Notwithstanding, I urge all persons with disabilities to keep working together, removing all self centered ambition. Keep fighting together for what we stand for, and inculcate in ourselves the spirit of brotherhood and total commitment towards our goals.
Can you tell us about your childhood experience, your education and how you managed to come this far?
Becoming deaf at the age of two as a result of medication complication was not easy for my parents and family, but with their love and care, the grace of God saw me through. Childhood education as a deaf person was not all that rosy. There were many challenges, and it took a lot of motivation and inspiration to see them through. My parents, siblings and friends were mostly in support of me, coupled with the fact that I was privileged to be provided with the necessary resources by them to thrive.
As the National Secretary-General of the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf, what can you say about the situation of disabled persons in Nigeria?
The situation of persons with disabilities in Nigeria is unfortunate. Constitutionally, we are yet to have an established commission that will adequately investigate the situation of persons with disabilities and implement the already signed disability bill. Educationally, there is no scholarship scheme to reward the intelligent persons with a disability, assisted technology frameworks for ease of access to education and most educational systems were set up without the plight of persons with disability in mind
Is that why some people with disability go into begging?
Well, begging is a social vice. It is everywhere, including persons without disability. It will not be fair to conclude that persons with disabilities are known for begging. Sequel to your question, begging is not the disabled person’s character or habit. When they are neglected and abandoned by their families and communities, they choose to beg for help to keep them surviving. That is not their fault because it’s the inability to access basic provision and non availability of basic social amenities result to their begging. Their begging can be condemned and commended, depending on one’s deposition.
Are people living with disabilities not feeling the poor state of the economy more?
Most of the responses already given shows the need for state of emergency to be declared on the PWDs in Nigeria. We are in a state where political and social instability is taking place. Political and social instabilities are the major factor. That is why we have problems with the present government.
Thought the National Disability Bill has been passed into law this year, it is a great impression. However, I urge the government functionaries and politicians to be more serious in implementing our Act into functional outcome. They should take disability issues more serious by ensuring the opportunity, equality, and promotion of persons with disabilities into government development agenda at all levels.
Would you say, in terms of security, people living with disability seem to be suffering the consequences of insecurity in the country?
Yes, they are definitely suffering the consequences of insecurity more than the able-bodied persons. How will a physically-challenged person run for safety? How will the blind man see? And the deaf hear? It is not really easy, and it is a serious life-threatening experience. I wonder how they will survive this continuous insecurity in our country.
How do you think it can be solved?
The present government should do the needful to end this ongoing insecurity, by protecting the lives and properties of all persons with disabilities more importantly.
How did you run your campaign, and will you say people accepted you?
Talking about how I ran campaign, I don’t see it as a problem because I ran my campaign as everyone else did from ward level to constituency level to state level without any barrier. I had two deaf persons in my campaign team in the persons of Monu El-dad as a Director and Nelson Jovial as a media aide.
I also have a loving support team, including my father, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, interpreters and a few others who play their respective roles democratically and politically.
They have been the backbone of the successful campaign I can testify. My communication with people of my constituency was not that difficult as I had at least four sign language interpreters to build the communication gap between us. One of the interpreters in the person of Ms. Vivian, she interpreted for me in the Igbo language smoothly.
My constituency desired a change in leadership and we mounted a strong campaign presence that was relatively easy-going by the masses we reached and who were able to make our job easier by giving us their massive support. Yes, they accepted me without equivocation, I really appreciate their love and support.
How and when did you begin to develop an interest in politics?
My interest in politics began when I was schooling at the University of Ibadan back then. My participation in the Nigerian Association of Special Education Students (NASES UI chapter) as Social Director and Nigerian University Deaf Students Association (NUDSA) UI chapter as the Vice President was the beginning of my political journey. It is a result of my desire to advocate for the rights and well-being of minority groups.
In spite of your acceptance, you lost Abia State House of Assembly election ticket in the last election, what was responsible for this?
There is nothing like losing when it comes to my constituency. I didn’t lose the primary election, not even when all my opponents in my constituency lost. Yes, because there was no primary election conducted in my Ukwa-East Constituency by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Because of return-return demand, it gave the present congressman the opportunity to return to the office. Even though there was a serious problem over the election, however, we have resolved our differences and embraced peace with the present representative. I have no problem with that now, after all we are all the winner with the present congressman. We move on.
Do you intend to re-contest?
Yes. I wish to re-contest for same position because I have a passion for my people and I really want to represent them well.
And you think your condition will not make people prefer other candidates to you?
It is not about my condition. It is about my manifesto. If your manifesto can speak a volume of what you intend to do for them, it will matter a lot. People will look at your intellectual and political capacity, this is why I believe they will accept me. I don›t need a sympathiser to accept my condition out of pity. I will like them to listen to my manifesto and accept my person as their representative.
You have facilitated some philanthropic development in your state, what are your motivations?
The act of philanthropy and joyful giving didn’t start with my political activities or intent to buy or curry votes. It has always come to me naturally, since when I was the welfare officer of our student Union government at the University of Ibadan. So far, my philanthropic efforts mostly cover areas of relief funds, provision of medical healthcare, women and youth empowerment, educational relief fund for high schools, widows, widowers and Persons with Disability Relief funds and many more.
I also collaborated with other NGO in the past in carrying out this philanthropic mandate before deciding to register my own foundation, Chidi Topaz Olujie Foundation. My belief is that this will enable me to effectively carry out more targeted Philanthropic efforts with my team. The motivation behind these philanthropic gestures is due to the love I have for God and for the masses.