By Kayode Ketefe
She carried a heavy load of assorted junks on her unshaven head. Her attire was a dazzling spectacle of colour riot. She donned a buba top of Ankara over an old woolen skirt that was held in place by an improvised “belt” of rope procured from the ancient forest. The entire medley combination were not only torn in many places but also overlaid with dirty smelly rags. A red bow tie on her neck was facing backward!
With a white canvass shoe in one leg and a brown rubber slipper in another, Folake (not real name) quickened her zig zag pace on the tarmac of the major expressway as she hummed some incoherent songs to herself with unfathomable happiness.
She was in a hurry in a desperate bid to arrive at her destination on time – A destination that is, of course, nowhere! for Folake is a mentally-challenged person. She is one of those persons our callous societies have abandoned to their fate; those that have been sentenced, through no fault of theirs, to a boring, stressful, and terrible existence of eternal aimless street roaming till death calls.
A proverb in local parlance summarises the attitude of our people to this category of humanity. “Were dun wo, ko see bi l’omo!” meaning “It is a fairly entertaining pastime to watch a madman and his antics on the street but to have such being as a child is a depressing calamity!” what an insensitive attitude! These are human beings like us suffering from vicissitudes that no one is really immune to, but to majority of the people, they are just objects of laughter, taunts and amusement.
Sadistic callousness apart, we need to combat a lot of ignorance on this subject too. Many people still believe that mental diseases are afflictions of gods through demons possessions rather than just a neurological disorder. Thus, some people think helping mad people would constitute an affront to the incensed deity who is meting out just punishment to erring mortals.
Well, it diminishes our common humanity to have mad men and women prowling our roads naked or in subhuman conditions in 21st century. It speaks volume of the kind of leaders we have in Nigeria. Most of our leaders see these people and shrug with callous indifference.
It has been rightly said that the best way to determine the level of civilisation of any group of persons is to look at the conditions of their under-privileged class. What is the population of the economically deprived? Are there many beggars on the country’s streets? What about the physically and mentally-challenged? These are some of the pertinent questions in assessing the level of civilisation of a nation.
Folake is a human being like you and me and there is no reason why her condition should be permanent if given adequate medical treatment. She can still contribute her quota to national development. But cured or not, can’t these people, for goodness sake, be taken into asylums to be tended and treated like human beings? An infinitesimal fraction of the public money stolen by our politicians could build hundreds of befitting asylums and equip them too.
Any nation that allows fellow compatriots, nay any human being, to be roaming naked on its streets on account of mental illness, is not civilised.
Let us shift the attention to other category of people – the physically-challenged. There are some parts of the world where those without hands or legs, paraplegic, the dwarfs the visually impaired, etc still live life to maximum, almost to the same degree with their more fortunate counterparts. But in Nigeria if you are unfortunate to be afflicted with any such handicap, it is like your entire life has collapsed!
In this part of the world, the moment a person becomes physically disabled in whatever form, he/she is assumed to have landed another profession, for the next expectation from the society is for the person to become a beggar! Thus all our major cities collectively boast of thousand of beggars prowling all over like confused armies of ants. Many of these so-called beggars are very mentally sound and intelligent people who only need minimum intervention in form of empowerment to become productive members of the society.
But in a country where even non-challenged educated young people are seen as a burden and neglected by the government, what do you expect the plight of the challenged people to be?
On the institutional level, how many companies and establishments have facilities that are conducive and adapted for physically-challenged persons? In some other countries there are structures all over the place that recognise the special needs of the challenged peoples.
This has little to do with a country being developed or otherwise, it is just a question of recognition of the needs to cater for others and its concomitant strategic adequate planning and policy mainstreaming.
Unfortunately, currently there are no incorporations of programmes for persons with disabilities in virtually all the Federal Government’s planning and projections like Transformation agenda, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or Vision 20:20:20.
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