By Bose Adebayo
Tobiloba Ajayi was born prematurely about 25 years ago. She suffered cerebral palsy while still in her mother’s womb and for 12 years after she was born could not walk with her two legs. She could have been thrown away by her parents but that was not to be her fate as succour was to come her way.
Today, Tobiloba is among several workers at the Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre, MAARDEC where she earns her livelihood in spite of her disability.
Also, Kazeem Adekunle was not born blind; he was one of the numerous Nigerians who fled the Kano crises some months back and was in company of his parents when their car had an accident along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Both parents and two children died on the spot while Kazeem remained visually impaired till today.
It was never in his plan to take begging as a means of livelihood but when help did not come from any quarter, he joined the army of beggars in the Ikorodu area of Lagos where he presently earns a living.
MAARDEC president, Cosmos Okoli also suffered poliomyelitis at the age of four and he was subjected to humiliation among his peers but he worked hard to become the best in school and today he has risen to a position where he uses his philanthropic disposition to better the lot of several persons with disabilities.
Although there have been campaigns against maginalisation or discrimination of people with disabilities, many of them still suffer rejection from families, relations as well as government at all levels.
In some cases, most Nigerian infrastructures like pedestrian bridges, public toilets, bus-stop shelters and similar amenities lack provision for people with disabilities. This, however, does not seem to have deterred them as they continue to strive to do whatever their able-bodied counterparts are doing even when it appears every hope is lost.
It is against this backdrop that MAARDEC Empowerment Centre says it intends through a contest tagged “Ms Wheelchair Nigeria 2010′” to produce many role models who can give hope, courage, inspiration and motivation to people with disabilities.
Speaking with Vanguard Metro, Okoli said the competition is designed to celebrate the most accomplished of women in wheelchairs as well as their unique contributions to society. “Ms Wheelchair Nigeria is not a beauty contest in the sense that there is no emphasis on women’s physical appearance. It is open to the married, widows and divorcees,” he noted.
According to him: “The competition provides an opportunity for women achievers who happen to use wheelchairs to successfully advocate for over 20 million Nigerians living with disabilities by raising public awareness to their plight and thereby influence attitudinal, architectural and social change for all Nigerians,” he explained.
Okoli said the first zonal pageant was held in Owerri, Imo State on November 7, 2010; the second one took place in Ondo State on November 13, 2010 and November 20 in Abuja.
The grand finale comes up on Saturday December 4, 2010 at Yard 158, Simbiat Abiola way, Ikeja, Lagos.