By Cosmas Okoli
The way and manner a government treats persons with disabilities shows how responsive or irresponsive that government is.
The disabled constitute the most vulnerable members of any society and a government that discharges its responsibilities to them, no doubt serves the entire citizenry creditably.
The Cross River State Ministry of Social Welfare and Community Development was established and charged with the responsibility of providing social welfare services to the disabled and others citizens in Cross River State. Its major focus is on the welfare of the disadvantaged groups in the state.
In view of the laudable objectives of the Ministry, when they approached us at Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC) in 2010 to supply mobility aids and appliances, we were very excited with the prospects of working with the state government to empower persons with disabilities in the state.
MAARDEC was established in 1991 with the vision to empower persons with disabilities through the provision of innovative and affordable mobility aids and appliances and complementary services to ensure that they are socially, economically and politically relevant to society. 50% of our workforce is made up of persons with disability.
We were excited when we were told that Governor Liyel Imoke layed a lot of emphasis on the protection and care of the disabled. So we really looked forward to an exciting partnership with Cross River State.
When we were eventually contracted to supply a substantial quantity of mobility aids and appliances viz:wheelchairs, leg braces, artificial limbs, Braille embossers, Braille machines etc, we did not hesitate to raise funds to execute the contract with the hope that our payment will not be delayed by the ministry.
All the items were supplied. Medical consultants such as prosthetist and orthotist, audiologists and medical engineers were engaged by MAARDEC to ensure that all these items were properly installed in the schools and other centres where they were needed including the St. Joseph’s Center for the Blind in Obudu, while individual recipients were professionally fitted with the limbs, leg braces etc.
Two installmental payments were made by the Cross Rivers State Government at the time, which covered the cost of producing and importing some of these machines into the country. A substantial balance of N2, 315,693.44 (two million three hundred and fifteen thousand six hundred and ninety three naira forty four kobo) till today, is yet to be paid.
MAARDEC is a non-profit organization. Our revenue is internally generated mostly through project executions and sales of mobility aids and appliances. So when we are owed, our clients suffer and we are unable to fulfill our obligations and commitments to the society at large not to mention our inability to pay our staff.
We have spent a lot of money and time, in our effort to get the Cross River State Government to pay the balance of our bill to no avail, so we are left with no choice but to reach the Governor through this medium.
At this juncture it behooves one to ask: was the Cross Rivers State Government’s intention to reach out to persons with disability in the state truly genuine? Or was it just another political stunt to endear itself to the hearts of its citizens? The failure of the state government to pay our organization two years after fully executing the contract satisfactorily raises a lot of questions.
Certainly, the Governor is not aware of this; surely, there has been a breach in the chain of communication between the office of the governor and the relevant offices whose duty it is to ensure that this payment is made, or perhaps someone in the hierarchy of the state government has simply failed in his or her duties to the state.
We at MAARDEC want to use this medium to appeal to his Excellency, Governor Liyel Imoke to use his good offices to please see to it that this debt is paid without further delay.
We can assure his Excellency that once this bill is paid, our doors will be open to continue to partner with his government, in reaching out to persons with disabilities in the state. May we use this opportunity to thank other state Governments and corporate organizations and individuals who have partnered with us successfully. You are the reason why we are still here 22 years.