April 6, 2024

“They don’t care about us”, by Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

Michael Jackson hit song, “they don’t care about us” was what came to my mind as I read the ordeal of Debola Daniel at Kentucky Fried Chicken at the international wing of Murtala Mohammed Airport of all places. Debola isa son of OtunbaGbenga Daniel, the former governor of Ogun State and senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District.

He was denied entry into the KFC Restaurant at the airport because of a policy of “no wheelchair” allowed. The manager from afar shouted “no wheelchair allowed.” The issue here is not Debola’s parentage, but the fact that this is a straight case of discrimination against a physically challenged person and a breach of the laws of our land. 

Taking to his X account, Debola said: “Today, I felt less than human, like a guard dog not allowed into the house. Lonely and isolated. Never has this been more true than it has ever been today when I faced the worst sort of public humiliation that I have ever experienced. To think that this happened at an international brand @kfc @kfcnigeria at an international airport – MurtalaMuhammed Airport, Lagos – is unthinkable,”

The tweet pierced my heart because it reminded me of my own ordeal when I was quarantined in hospital because I was coughing badly. One day, I stood at the door of the room.From afar, one nurse started shouting from across the ward to the hearing of other patients that I was not supposed to leave my room because I was in isolation. I was incensed, but kept my cool. Her action was motivated by racism (discrimination) and nothing else. That is the same nonsense this KFC manager did: Shouting from across to tell the whole world about the challenges of your client, instead of walking up to him. No regards for the feelings of your customer who came to spend his money from which you will be paid your salary.

Yes, KFC has apologized, but what is that useless and discriminatory policy doing there in the first place? KFC is an international brand. They dare not do that in the US where KFC started from. That policy of “no wheelchair allowed” should not be there in the first place? On January 23, 2019, Nigeria’s former President,MuhammaduBuhari, signed into law “The Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2019.”

Consequently, Nigerians and other nationals in Nigeria with disabilities are “protected against discrimination and harmful and inhuman treatment, including cruelty, inaccessibility to the public building due to lack of suitable paths to mobility.” The provisions of the law is supposed to give people with disability their “stolen” dignity and protect them against all forms of discrimination in employment, work places, placement in schools, other public places, etc. People with disabilities are supposed to be made to live normally like others without disabilities. Their disability is not supposed to be a barrier. 

The law is wonderful, but what about the reality. I am not on a wheelchair, but I am very competent to write on this matter. I was in coma for six weeks and four days after five brain surgeries. The lack of physical activities while I was in coma compromised my knees. I had knee surgeries, thereafter, but so far have only I managed to salvage only one knee. I still have challenges with the second knee. On even surfaces, I am just fine, but I struggle while walking on uneven surfaces and staircases. I also do not go to climb beyond two floors. 

While in Europe, I had no problems moving around. Every public building was accessible because there was a lift (elevator). At bus stations, the drivers waited for me to settle down before moving. The train stations were also fine and people rushed to assist me twice when I needed help. In public parking lots, reservations were made for the disabled and other vulnerable people. Seats were designated for the disabled and other vulnerable groups in buses and trains, although Asians and Africans are messing up the tradition. Everywhere, mobility and access were easy. On my way back to Nigeria, I had no issues at the airport in Europe.

My challenges started at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, once I arrived two years ago. The wheelchair at the airport was old, rickety and the tires did not align properly. In 2012, when I came back to Nigeria and needed a wheelchair to take me to the ground floor, the lift was non-functional. I was lifted by staff of the airport. In 2022, 10 years later, when I came back and was in a wheelchair the lift was still not functional. I was manually lifted again. Now Debola Daniel said he could not access his usual lounge because of a non-functional lift. That was why he went to KFC and faced that denigration. The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Barr. Festus Keyamo and the Managing Director of FAAN, Mrs. Olubunmi Kuku, are comparatively new in their positions. They inherited these embarrassing situations, but it is something they must look into and solve. 

For a country that cares very little about the disabled, physically challenged and other vulnerable groups, “The Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2019 is an elaborate and wonderful piece of legislation.  But there are some ironies. The national assembly, where the bill was passed, is not easily accessible to the physically challenged unless special arrangements are made for the person. I was at the national assembly in 2021, a week before I fell ill.

The Uber that took me there was directed to park at a dusty parking space and I walked a long distance, climbing a flight of staircase to get to the national assembly. As I was going, I was saying to myself that this place is not user-friendly to the physically challenged people unless, special arrangement was made for the person. Ironically, I did not know I was going to be victim soon. Entry into the national assembly goes against the bill they made that Buhari signed into law.

As for Debola, do not feel “less than human.” I am trying to imagine the thoughts going on in your mind. I first heard of your father as the owner a company that installs and maintain lifts. The challenges your father’s company solves is what led to your subhuman treatment. The issue at hand is the discrimination against you and I want the discussion to stay that way. But for the sake of all of us who are physically challenged, I urge Sen. Gbenga Daniel and his colleagues to use their influence to ensure that this wonderful piece of legislation is implemented to the letter.

Nigeria is reported to have over 31 million citizens with one form of disability or the other. That is massive, but the number will increase due accidents, illnesses, aging, etc. Now that the law is there, we must develop the culture of taking the disabled, aged people, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups in all into consideration in all that we do. EVERYONE is a potential victim. But it looks like “they don’t care about us.” The big question is who are the “they?”