By Emmanuel Unah
A blind man, Ukpochi Ekpe, in Calabar, carries all his belongings strapped to his body as he moves round the Cross River State capital to beg for alms.
Whether it rains or there is sunshine, he is a regular sight on the streets of Calabar as he navigates his way with his stick while crisscrossing major roads to Ika Ika Oqua, Watt and Beach markets located far away from his residence on IBB Way.
Ukpochi, who said he had no wife or children, stated that he became blind in 1988 while undergoing training as a police recruit.
He lamented that as soon as the police authorities discovered that he was not able to read words written on the board properly, he was disqualified from the training and, from Ikeja, Lagos, where the exercise was holding, he returned to Calabar where he had been tramping the streets to beg.
“I was in the police college for six months and, when it was time for us to pass out and I was to read, I could not see the board clearly. I thought the meals we were served were responsible for my poor sight. When I told one of my friends what was happening to me, he attributed it to the effect of the sun in which we marched during the training”.
The beggar explained that when he reported his situation to the Provost of the college, he was examined and it was discovered he was losing his sight.
Consequently, he claimed he was delisted from the training and asked to go home.
“The police authorities know I did not run away, they asked me to leave the training because of my plight and, today, some of those who trained with me at the police college are inspectors, superintendents, assistant commissioners and so on”.
Asked why he carries all his belongings with him wherever he goes, he said the door to his room is broken, the roof of the house blown away and miscreants get in freely to steal his properties, saying that is the reason he carries them along on his begging rounds.
“I live in a mud house and the door is broken and the roof blown away, so when I keep my things, some people go in and steal them or sometimes destroy them, so I have to move around with my sleeping plastic, my spoons and clothes”.
On the claim that his bulging body is stuffed with drugs, Ukpochi said he does not take drugs neither does he sell drugs.
He said someone once gave him two aluminium cooking pots and, after some days, some people went into his house and dug holes in the pots, saying when he made to cook with them, water leaked from the holes and put out the fire.
“I had gone to Atakpa Market that day and made some money and, on my way back, I fetched water at Chalsma Hotel and I wanted to prepare food because I was so hungry, but when I poured water into the pots, the water leaked and quenched the fire and these are new pots the person just gave me. When I used my finders to run through the pots, I found that some people had used nails to open holes in the pots”.
Ukpochi said he wept bitterly that day and that, since then, he decided to go about with his properties wherever he goes.
‘I am blind and not mad but that is the reason I move about with my properties”.
He said he needs help from members of the public in form of skill acquisition so that he could stop begging on the streets and be able to fend for himself.