I am beginning to ask myself whether the perception of change by the Executive governor of Lagos State is the same with what I and majority of Lagosians voted for in 2015!
The Bethesda Home is a non-profit organization established to cater for the well-being of blind persons who do not have support from the government or even their families. The home feeds, clothes and shelters them while paying for their vocational and academic education. The home even extends its humanitarian services to indigent blind persons who are not resident on their premises to obtain financial support for pursuing their educational ambitions as well. In 2013, the immediate past Chairman of the Surulere Local Government Council allocated the council’s property on 31 Moshalasi Road, Mushin, for the use of the home to encourage their work. The property was then in a dilapidated state and the home had to raise funds worth millions of Naira to build a fence, fumigate it and renovate the buildings to make them habitable. I recall that a current national leader of the All Peoples’ Congress, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, enjoyed media accolades for donating an eighteen-sitter bus to the home on his sixtieth birthday anniversary.
However, despite the fact that the incumbent second citizen of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a patron of the home and the residents turned out en mass to vote for APC, the new administration of the Surulere Local government Council with the backing of the Lagos State government is now resolved to forcefully eject them from the property (only the refusal of the Nigerian Police to be an accomplice has delayed this).
Although it is worrying that a government should attack the weak and vulnerable rather than protect them, it is more unsettling to consider what the social implications of this action will be. While monitoring a radio interview of Governor-to-be Akinwunmi Ambode by Jimmy Disu barely weeks to the 2015 gubernatorial elections I recall that Mr. Ambode was asked whether his coming to office would continue the trend of selling property of the state to private business concerns. His answer then was noticeably inconclusive. I will not be surprised if, after expelling the blind occupants of 31 Mushin Road, the site suddenly became the property of a corporate body. But even if, for shame, this course is not followed, I wonder how committed the Lagos State government is to their policy of eliminating begging on the streets of Lagos when they force vulnerable persons out of their shelter right onto the streets.
The government owns the land in Nigeria and it is no secret that they can wield so much brutal force at will. However, I know it is the government’s constitutional duty and moral obligation to protect all citizens especially the vulnerable. The Lagos State Government has much under-utilized land all over the state which they can allocate to the home. That line of action would have helped them hide some of the hypocrisy in their relations with persons living with disabilities.
In case you are unaware, the Lagos State Government instituted an “inclusive” education programme in which they are supposed to modify existing regular schools to accommodate children with disabilities. The scheme was started before Ex-Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola’s two tenures , more than eight years ago, but none of the disabled children that were enrolled in the primary schools ever successfully graduated into secondary schools from those inclusive units. At best, they are children whose parents had to withdraw them and take them to the privately-owned special schools to complete their primary education. The enactment of the Lagos State Special People’s Law in 2011 was a noble gesture to mark the birthday of BRF and it came with the setting up of the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA), ostensibly a platform for interfacing between the state government and persons with disability. It is disheartening to note that this office has divorced itself from the plight of the Bethesda Home, this being only one of its ineptitudes. But that is another story for another day.
If we, as residents of Lagos State, allow this instance of insensitivity and negligence of duty to the populace to go unchallenged, we are being unwise. Bethesda Home for the blind is the victim today, nobody knows where the pendulum of oppression will swing next!
– Opeolu Akinola, a visually impaired citizen and people living with disabilities rights advocate, writes from Lagos.