WHAT do Nigerians make of the money and national honours President Goodluck Jonathan splashed on paralympians after their victories in London? Are celebrations of the paralympians over, as they were in 1996?
There are different interpretations of the gift of N5 million (gold) N3 million (silver) and N1 (bronze) the athletes got for their efforts in London.
In an outing that the physically challenged saved the day, they deserve their prizes, as was the case when the Sani Abacha’s government rewarded them with N1 million (gold), the same reward it gave other gold medal winners.
Without any policies of rewarding athletes or other stellar performers, the President’s feeling is the determining factor. The devastations of crippling poverty hit the physically challenged more, and cash gifts like the President’s are seen as life lines.
Our concern is with what happens after the adulations. How would the presidential attention improve the lot of physically challenged people, whether they are in sports or mere folks wading through the daily tedium of survival?
Was what happened in Abuja a ceremony or the commencement of engagement of physically challenged people as humans? It may not be intentional, but policies that exclude them from participation in normal life, on account of their challenges, are discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The rewards in 1996 were the end of any attention for the winners. They returned to the normalcy of being “nobody” and to the same trials that keep them down.
There have been other occasions thereafter, when the government handed out money and immediately forgot the athletes. We think things should be different now.
A lot can be done for the physically challenged, leaning on the events of London. It is a shame that neither legislations nor policies recognise the special attention the physically challenged need.
Buildings, including the most modern ones, are not designed for their use. Transportation systems do not take them into consideration and few educational institutions have facilities for them. Years of trying to get other Nigerians to recognise the challenges they face have yielded no results. What next would government do about their plight?
Even for the paralympians, would they repeat the tales of neglect in 2016? They would, if there are no programmes to take Nigerians out of the doldrums that decades of not tending the country have imposed on its people.
When government rewards performances, it creates higher expectations of care for those honoured, especially when they are physically challenged. The care cannot be about providing sports facilities alone.
It should be an encompassing programme that reflects the needs of the physically challenged and sees their contributions to national development beyond excellence in sports.