By Wole Mosadomi, Minna
These are neglected Nigerians because they are considered irrelevant in the national scheme of things. Nobody remembers them until when they are mostly needed. Even when they come knocking at the doors of Nigerians in search of assistance, they are either ignored or reluctantly given alms.
However, these same neglected Nigerians are sometimes sought for by politicians and even top government officials for self-serving purposes.
On different occasions, the blind, lepers and crippled, among others, were herded and hosted by top government officials for either luncheon or dinner during festive periods like Ramadan, Sallah, Easter or Christmas when they are lavishly feted. The merry making ends there until when they are needed again.
Occasionally too, Christian bodies and individuals from the society without any sentiment attached embark on periodic visitations to the motherless homes, leprosarium, homes of the blind, etc, to either share the word of God with them or to present some food gifts and token to them for their upkeep.
These people may be seen to be blind physically but they are not mentally or spiritually blind as attested to by our correspondent during an interview with them.
Our correspondent who visited one of the abodes of the blinds in Minna, Niger State, to know their feelings, how they voted and their experiences in last National Assembly elections reports that Nigerians and indeed government still have a major role to play in the lives of this set of Nigerians.
Alhaji Rabiu Abdullahi, who is the Chief of the Association of the Blind in Minna, told Vanguard Metro that they are happy to have voted like other Nigerians, albeit under agonizing condition.
The Chief who spoke in Hausa language said despite the fact that they were allowed to cast their votes, the experience was far from being pleasant. “We are aware that some of the politicians or their agents took advantage of our predicament to lead us to thumbprint for the candidates of their own choice and not our own choice because we are blind .
“We have our own candidates even though we can’t see them. We know what they have been doing for the society and we are determined to vote for them but unfortunately, we are denied our right choice,” he lamented.
He also lamented the shoddy manner they were treated at the polls, saying they were subjected to the rigour of queuing for long just like able-bodied voters and sometimes denied the right to be accredited when it was their turn.
He called on government to create a separate registration and voting units for them as well as allow them to qeue on a separate line in future elections. “We are also human beings and we should be treated as such and even with much care,” he said.
Alhaji Abdullahi made it clear that the physically- challenged are greatly aware of democratic developments in the country, adding that they have set aside every Wednesday and Sunday of the week to fast and pray fervently for the survival of democracy in the country.
He said though most of them (the blind) don’t know the politicians and the contestants: “Our belief, however, is that their success is also our success; the success of the state is our success, while the peace in the country is also our own peace too”.
Keeping abreast of election issues
Chief of the Association of the Blind said besides having educated children and relatives who brief them on the programmes of government, some of the politicians also visit them in their homes to canvass for votes.
According to him: “We listen to them to know their programmes. We also ask them questions and make up our minds on who to vote for even though we are not card-carrying party members. But once they’re through with their campaigns and elections, that is the last we will see or hear from them until another election period”.
Asked if they are also “treated well” by the politicians by way of gift of goodies, the Chief went into a prolonged laughter saying: “I must confess that they normally drop some money. But frankly speaking, rather than contribute to our upkeep or happiness, it invariably ends up giving us sorrow because what an individual gets as a share at the end is not up to N50 and what can this do in our lives?”
Coping with daily ordeals
Taking a deep breath, he described their living condition as very pathetic. “We have children who go to school; we need health care like other Nigerians because we suffer seriously to get medical treatment when we are sick; we find it very difficult to transport our wives to the hospital, especially at the point of giving birth to a child since there is no means of mobility because transporters, including Okada riders, neglect us”.
Alhaji Abdullahi called on government and even the politicians to visit their place of abode to see and understand their plight so as to provide succour to them. On why they still embark on street begging, despite the ban by the state government, the leader of the blind said they took to begging because they don’t have an alternative.
“Let me tell you, none of us is proud being a beggar though some are either blind and crippled, while others are also physically deformed. Government that said we should keep off the street should also provide an alternative means of livelihood for us. Niger State government should borrow a leave from Jigawa State government that has placed the beggars in the state on a monthly allowance. We are human beings; we also have a lot of responsibilities like any other Nigerians. None of us wants to be in the hot sun begging before we eat”.
Alhaji Abdullahi ended his submission with this witty phrase: “We are tired of pushing a vehicle without knowing its destination”. He also did not forget to call other Nigerians, apart from government officials and politicians, to come to their aid.
Other blind fellows such as Malama Aishat Ali said she and other physically-challenged women went through hell in their bid to vote.
She described her experience at the polls as very dehumanizing, adding that in spite of being a blind and old woman, she was kept in a queue for several hours before being accredited and allowed to vote without taking a drop of water.
Ibrahim Madaki Makafi also spoke in the same vein of his own experience.
According to him: “We were made to queue for a long time after we were sent back home before being recalled. And at the end some of us were led by strange men who directed us on who to vote for and that means voting for somebody who is not our own candidate but their own choice”.
They all spoke with one voice in calling on government and other related agencies to treat them with respect and care to enable them meaningfully contribute their quota in subsequent elections in the country.