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» » BUHARI'S BLIND SPECIAL ADVISER SPEAKS ON HIS DASBILITY
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Dr. Samuel Ankeli is Senior Special Assistant on Disability Matters to President Muhammadu Buhari, and he headed the Directorate of Persons with Disability of the Buhari/Osinbajo APC Presidential Campaign in 2015. He speaks on how he was diagnosed with blindness while lecturing in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. He also speaks on his relationship as well as role as the liaison between the President and persons with disabilities. Excerpts:

Daily Trust: As Senior Special Assistant to the President on Disability Matters, what specifically is your mandate?

My mandate is to assist the President on all issues of disability in Nigeria and beyond and secondly to take care of the welfare and wellbeing of people with disabilities, to mobilize them for national development and finally to protect and promote their rights and privileges in governance and the society. The summary of these is to see good governance translate into the larger society.

DT: What plans have you put in place to actualize this mandate?

Actually, the assignment is not mine; I am only assisting the person with the vision and his vision is to have a society where disability is not a barrier or stigma but an opportunity for development. He is leading a country now whereby disability is a challenge and a serious stigma but the president wants to make a more disability-friendly nation. To be able to do that in governance I have to look at areas that are key to us and I am placing myself as a person with disability because I am visually-impaired person.

I serve as a bridge between the government and persons with disabilities and other Nigerians. In this privileged position I intend to do certain things. With approval of the president already we want to embark on data collection. Currently we don’t have correct figures of people living with disabilities in the country. Second, is to change the attitude of the public to PWDs and also change the attitude of PWDs towards society.

That is a balance I want to get as quickly as I can. Change of attitude is therefore very important to us. The next is to increase the level of educational enrolment and performance in schools, because education is key.

There is going to be a presidential initiative on that, to see how people with disabilities whether children or adults, can access quality schools. The next point is economic empowerment, which is broader than all. You must realize with me that no man is a waste.

Finally, to make sure that their dignity is in line with what we want to do. There is also the point of resources; do they have the resources and access to loans or grants? Can you give them money even at the level of village saving schemes such as micro-finance? There is also the area of sports which is a big employer for PWDs. If you check your records you will see that the best performance in international sports in this country was achieved by persons with disabilities and we intend to keep the tempo.

DT: When and how did you become visually-impaired?

I was lecturing in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, when I was diagnosed as being blind, and that I would not be able to see again. I travelled to the United Kingdom for medical attention but I was told that a surgery would disfigure my face. However recent research findings indicate that there is hope for me to recover my sight.

I am not discouraged by my predicament and I have accepted my fate. I am still useful to society and I am not encumbered by my condition since I can still carry out my official functions. I am a veterinary doctor by training and when I had this challenge I had to develop myself and I can tell you without mincing words that I am an authority in disability. I studied, worked hard and everywhere I go now people identify with me.

DT: Having been involved in the 2015 presidential campaign, how do you intend to address challenges affecting persons living with disabilities in politics, especially in the area of voting?

As a politician, I ran for election before and I know the pains we went through having voted severally. The challenges are enormous; whether you are a blind person, physically handicapped, or a deaf person. The space has to be opened in the electoral process for the physically-challenged. It is working in other countries and I believe it can work here too.

 INEC is key, the umbrella body of people with disabilities is also key and then the government.
We need to be part of the electoral process and there are three ways to approach it; one is institutional change involving INEC and the other relevant bodies such as the National Orientation Agency. Public attitude must change and the electoral laws must be reviewed. But the process of change is ongoing.

DT: Are you satisfied with the level of involvement of your members in governance?

Not at all! I have two things that are challenging me now. Those who are qualified to show interest are not and those who are active don’t have the requisite qualification and like I said at the beginning: I want and inclusive governance that would translate into an inclusive society.

I challenge our members to wake up to the responsibility and take their destiny in their hands. They must come out to showcase their potentials because nobody celebrates you when you sit down in your house. Then of course, the space has to be open for our qualified members to showcase themselves.

The APC gave me such an opportunity which is why I am here; I went on campaigns with them and participated in the electoral process. So I am asking the PWDs to activate their roles.

DT: What sort of relationship do you have with President Buhari?

He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a man who is compassionate toward persons with disabilities, a friend and a father. I am his aide now and he is to me what Nigerians call ‘Oga’. So, I am proud that he has given me the opportunity to serve. 

My appointment is historic because this is the first time we are participating at this level of governance in Nigeria. The president has, indeed, given us the courage that one day one of us can become the president of this country.
 
Source: Daily Trust

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