By Peter Duru

PHYSICALLY-challenged Lucky Onoja from Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State is a man who has refused to give in to challenges. He conquers obstacles. His story is intriguing. About 10 years ago, Lucky won a gold medal in powerlifting at the National Sports Festival. From his wheelchair, Lucky now exports footwear.

As a source of inspiration to many, he clearly demonstrates the fact that despite being confined to a wheelchair, his dreams have not been thwarted by reason of his physical constraints. Today 33-year-old Lucky, a professional footwear producer whose products are sold within and outside the country, has broken barriers and made a bold statement by his unparalleled acumen that stands him out.

By dint of hard work and determination, this father of two has succeeded in overcoming his challenge and established himself as a renowned footwear producer in this part of the country and has invariably made a loud statement that there is ability even in disability. His accomplishment in his chosen trade has made him a household name that is acknowledged at most social or political gatherings in Makurdi town and other parts of the state. Lucky who is always proud to tell his story, narrated to Area Voice how a Catholic priest discovered the potentials in him and gave him a ladder to climb the stairs of life to become self-reliant despite his physical challenge. His words: “I was not born crippled. It happened to me when I was seven years old. It happened when I lost my mother, but I realise that even with this condition I can be who I want to be, and with that in my mind I didn’t give up on life.

“I kept on pushing, and to help me be useful to myself, an uncle of mine who was a reverend father took me to Otukpa Community Secondary School in Ogbadibo LGA. I was in that school and usually struggled to attend school because I had no wheelchair. That was when the late Reverend Father John Adeyi took me from the school to Otukpo to stay with him. He built a house for those of us who were physically- challenged in Otukpo where he was taking care of us near Saint Daniel Hospital in Otukpo, Otukpo LGA.

“He normally used to tell us that we should be telling each other that we will not be dependent on anybody or be beggars for survival. He encouraged us to learn an art that we could survive on when he is no longer around to take care of us. At that point, I decided to go into shoe making while others took to other crafts there in Otukpo. Father Adeyi took care of us. He acted like our parent and took care of us.

“Then, there was a time around 2011 or so, the Benue State Sports Council came to Otukpo for talent hunt. I went for the talent hunt and participated in powerlifting. They saw that despite my disability I was able to lift the weight very well. I was immediately engaged by the Sports Council. After the recruitment, I participated in the 18th National Sports Festival, Eko 2012 and won a gold medal for Benue. Excited by my feat former Governor Gabriel Suswam gave me a house in Makurdi. I had to relocate from Otukpo to Makurdi to live in my new house. I have been staying in Makurdi for about 10 years now.

“Unfortunately after sometime I had a hand injury. And with that, I find it difficult to lift weight. So I resorted to making shoes which I trained for. At the moment I am fully engaged in footwear making. As we speak that is what I do for a living. And that is where I eke out a living to take cake of my wife and two kids.”

An obviously excited Lucky said his story should be a source of encouragement to anyone who has relapsed into despondency saying: “My advice to everyone out there is that no matter the condition you find yourself, it will certainly not be the end of life. We must keep on pushing and one way or the other, you will make it through the help of God. My shoe making business is moving very well. Recently about four months back, I shared something on Facebook, though normally I use to post on Facebook but in this particular post, I made a footwear and when I wanted to snap with it my son went behind me.

“I snapped with him and shared it on Facebook and in less than three hours, about 600 people shared it and it went viral; popular celebrities posted it on Instagram. People like Tuface and AY also shared it and since then I have been receiving serious footwear orders even from outside the country. I have been taking care of my family from the business. But while I do the footwear business, I am also treating my injured hand, I am hoping to return to training to commence my sports activities.”

While lamenting the general perception that people living with disability are beggars, Lucky noted: “On that basis, life has not been easy, especially as a physically-challenged person. Most people see the physically-challenged as beggars. When you visit people the impression is that you are there to beg. That has been our challenge; people believe that with our condition we cannot have a family, raise a family or take care of our families, which is not true.

“The fact is that people with disability need love; it is not all of them that need your money. What is paramount to them is your love, words of encouragement which help them keep moving on in life and not the twisted impression or perception.”

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