Lois Auta is the founder of Cedar Seed Foundation and a person living with disability. She is also a candidate running for the House of Representatives seat to represent AMAC/Bwari federal constituency on the platform of Accord Party. In this interview with RUTH TENE NATSA, she speaks on the need for inclusive opportunities for vulnerable people in the electoral process.
As a person with disability, what challenges do you face?
I pass through discrimination, exclusion and deprivation of my rights as a person with disability when it comes to having access to infracstructuresa like offices, places of worship, social centres and other public buildings. Also culturally, men tend to look at women with disabilities as not being fit for wives or mothers. So we suffer exclusion in relationships and marriages. Hearing impaired women also suffer communication challenges as they cannot discuss their conditions with their doctor’s except they go with their sign language interpreters, Braille materials are also not provided in our schools. But I thank God for the Disability Legal Framework launched by INEC in September which would give voice to people with Disabilities by including them in the 2019 elections, I believe it would be seen at almost all our polling units as I learnt they were deployed during the Osun, Ekiti elections
What inspired you to contest for a legislative seat?
I would say, to make a difference in the lives of young people, persons with disabilities, women and other vulnerable groups, because I am tired and angry with the way these groups of people are treated when it comes to policies, programmes and committees of government.
What specific policies would you like to influence if given the chance?
When I become the first woman with disability in the National Assembly, my colleagues and I in the Green Chamber will make policies that are inclusive. I will advocate for inclusive legislations like having an inclusive education policy, like having an inclusive healthcare delivery, infrastructure for the people of AMAC and Bwari. Not only for them but for the entire country.
What challenges are you facing in the political arena now?
I would say funding, ethni sentiments, gender and inaccessibility to meeting halls when a meeting is set up, it is either I’m carried or the venue is changed. I also do not have the funds to compete with my male counterparts. However, I need people to first of all believe in me and see beyond the disability, because I have the capacity, ability. I’m a woman with 99 abilities and only one disability and that was polio which affected only my legs.I have brain to think and write proposals that would make impacts in the lives of PWDs and also have my hands to do so many things that would affect the lives of my constituents. So indeed the challenge is being a woman with disability, but that does not stop me from being the great leader I want to become.
One of the challenges you listed was ethnic sentiments. How is that a challenge?
I’m an indigene of Kaduna state butI have lived in Abuja since I was 18 now I’m 38. The projects we have implemented at Cedar Seed Foundation, an organisation I set up in 2011, the projects have been done right here in Abuja. I pay my taxes here in Abuja, I am known right here and have also been able to convince people at the grassroots who say they are tired of the rich and able-bodied citizens to give me a chance and see the change I will bring to their communities.
Aside your gender and disability, what would you say have achieve that can be your selling points at the election?
I have received several awards both locally and internationally. In 2014, I was one of the 500 youths selected by the United States Embassy that travelled to Washington DC for a Mandela Washington Programme. I was also one of the few persons with disabilities from Africa and when we got there, I met with the then President Barrack and Michelle Obama, among other world leaders. In 2015, Cedar Seed Foundation was the only organisation among other youth groups and organisations invited to Aso Villa to present a policy document to Mr. President. Same year I was also among the exceptional youths selected by former President Goodluck Jonathan to celebrate the International Youth Day and we were given awards. In 2016 I was among 4,000 enterpreneurs that applied for Aso Villa Demo Day, the top 30 were selected and I was the only disabled person selected among the top 30. In 2016 we were invited to the office of the President where we met with Mark Zuckerberg and other reknowned persons and just recently I was the only woman with disability from Africa named a young global leader of the World Economic Forum. We were inducted in Argentina. So I’m so proud and yet humbled by the global leader recognition because these have opened my eyes and afforded me several opportunities to travel.
Wonderful achievements but what have you done for the communities you want to represent at the National Assembly?
I initiated an idea of inclusive education project where we gave 256 scholarship awards to students with disabilities from basic to tertiary institutions with support from Sahara Foundation and that was achieved in Abuja in 2014. In 2015 we repeated the same project. In 2016 through the support of the US Embassy and the Nigeria National Petroleum Cooporation (NNPC) we were able to train specifically women with disabilities on how they can use ICT and social media to talk about their issues. We were also part of the team that edited the Nigeria Disability Bill for the 8th Senate which was transmitted to the president two weeks ago and it’s currently with the Federal Ministry of Justice for the final editing before it will be taken to the office of the President for Presidential assent. So we have been advocating for the passage of the Nigerian Disability Bill which is going to give rights to over 25 million Nigerians with disabilities when it is finally assented to and a commission that will be able to manage the affairs of PWDs is set up.
If you eventually win, what changes would you advocate for?
When I win I will advocate for inclusive educational system and not the special education we have right now, because if I had attended the special eductation I wouldn’t have the confidence I have right now due to low self-esteem and other social limitations that would not allow me that opportunity. I would also advocate for equal opportunity for all vulnerable groups in terms of sponsoring Bills. I will ensure these groups are included in terms of health, infracstructure development and education. That is why my manifesto has only give points which are equal opportunities, inclusive legislation, inclusive education, inclusive health and inclusive infracstructure.