In Karonmajiji, a settlement along Abuja Airport road, there exist two camps of the disabled; one for the blind and the other for the lepers. Whenever a programme is to be held in the village, it is customary to have a talk with the head of both camps. Failing to do so brings squabble between them. That was the scenario LEADERSHIP correspondent was confronted with as she walked down to the small field in the centre of the community where a youth corps member had organised a free medical checkup for the community.
Members of the blind camp were annoyed that they were not informed about the programme and threatened that the programme would not hold not minding that the programme was of benefit to the community. There was chaos everywhere but it later subsided as both camps went aside to settle their differences and the programme began.
As the programme continued, the disabled decided to use the opportunity to tell the LEADERSHIP correspondent their challenges and agonies and what they would want the government to do for them.
“In a community like this, there ought to be a vehicle that will take us around, especially for those who are sick and need to be taken to the hospital,” Abdul Ibrahim, a cripple said.
“But this is not the case. If any of us is sick, we contribute money and pay the bill. We can take them to Life Camp, Gwarimpa, Wuse or even Gwagwalada Hospital but without a vehicle, it has been hard. We had a bus provided by former first lady, Turai Yar Adua but the bus has broken down and transportation has become a problem for us,” he added.
For Mohammed, the challenges of the community transcends beyond buses and transportation. He also stressed the need for government to empower the youths among them so that the issue of begging on the street would be a thing of the past.
“Some of us are vendors in Wuse, Garki and Utako market. We need government to help. We need money that we can put in our business so that it will grow. Yes, those of us in school need fund for our school fees too.”
Ibrahim Haruna (the boy) says he is a sports man. He relived his days as a sport man in the para-soccer games and also announced importantly that in 2006, he was the vice chairman of the Para-soccer team in Abuja. Apart from being a sportsman, Haruna said he was also a vendor at the Wuse Market but enforcement activities of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) had made him and his colleagues stop the business to stay at home.
“We do sell things in Wuse Market but the environmental people won’t let us be. For about four months now, I have moved my wares because I can’t run when they start their raids. I sell wallets, biros and other items but thank God I can drive so I got a cab which I am driving now. When our bus was good, I was one of the people that used to drive it but it is now bad. We need government to help us with the engine. It used to be of great help to us especially when our pregnant women were rushed to the hospital during labour but now it is difficult to go outside to get a bus,’’ he said.
Sarkin Gurugu, Alhaji Suleiman Katsina, is the chief of the village. For him, three things bother the people and if those three things are taken care of, lives of the people in the community would be elevated.
“Our challenges here are education, health and transport. When we are sick or even when we need to take our women to the hospital in Asokoro, Gwagwalada and Wuse especially in the night, we encounter lots of problem.
“We want our children to go to school but without a school, we can’t do it. We want our children to learn because it is said that knowledge is power. You see them, they are eager to learn,” he said.
Katsina also identified the inability of the community to move to a permanent site as a major problem. For him, all the problems the people were facing could be solved easily when the colony is moved to a permanent site they can call their own.
“Almost all the houses in the settlement are constructed with old rusty roofing sheets as the people patiently wait to be moved to a permanent site. The roofing sheets can easily be uprooted unlike bricks and that is why we used it to build our houses,’’ Kastina explained to LEADERSHIP.
Another resident of the colony, Shaibu Ahmed said when he When came to the colony in 2010, he noticed that there was no school for the children of the community.
He decided to start a school there and single handedly, he teaches the children who number about 500. For him, the colony needs a good school and teachers that will impart knowledge to the children who are eager to learn.
“In September 2010, when I came here, I saw that the children had nowhere to be educated so I decided to start something. The children pay me N20 but it is not even all of them that pay. I just want them to learn even if it is writing their names. I don’t have any help; I teach them the entire subject. We have two blocks but since I am alone I had to move them together. I can compare my students with students from other schools now; they are doing well now,” he said.
Ahmed is sad that many promises have been made to the people by government, private organisations and individuals but those promises are hardly redeemed leaving the people helpless.
“Some people come here, make promises and yet nothing comes out of it. We were studying in a shack and one woman we call Omo Tunde built the school and donated it to us. I use the little money they pay me to buy exercise books, text books, pencils and biros to encourage them,” he added.
The Kogi State born teacher advised the government to send a delegation to talk to the people of the colony one-on-one to know their problems and how to help them.
“Government should invest their money in important things. Parents of some of the children here are handicap. There is no education for them and no shelter and you will still expect them not to go and beg,” he noted.
For Abdulaziz Danjuma a student in the primary school, Ahmed (the teacher) has named Sunshine Primary School; receiving education has been a thing of joy. “I was happy when we started a school here. I want to be a doctor one day. I want government to deploy teachers for us and give us more classrooms.’’
This encompasses the challenges the people in the leper and blind colony in Karonmajiji encounter. It was really an enlightening but sorrowful day for this reporter as she left with a strong conviction that the disabled in the colony have pride and strength that has made them unique and ready to conquer all, just as a disable woman, Hajiya Amina had observed that “if you look around, it is those who are not disabled that stand on the street to beg now.’’