Mr. and Mrs. Adesoye, a Visually Impaired couple with four children in Modakeke-Ife narrated the affliction that befell their family during the lockdown with barely anything to survive on.
The wife, Mrs. Comfort Adesoye who wasn’t working before the lockdown explained how she was filled with suicidal thoughts as a result of her failure to provide for the needs of her family.
“There were days we slept on empty stomachs with no hope of what to eat when we woke up. There were times I wished I could take my life but my husband would encourage me not to do so as our children would be subjected to more hardship.
“There was a particular day my last born came to me that he was hungry, after he had not eaten anything since morning. I asked him to go and sleep, that before he wakes up, food would be ready. He started crying and after getting filled with tears, he went to sleep.
“I was saddened because there was no food to prepare for him, I only told him that because there was nothing to say and I imagined that if I was sighted, I would have been able to go for any menial job at that time to fend for my family.
“My child woke up around 2am and asked for food, I told him it’s almost morning and that he should go back to sleep. In the morning, someone gave me gaari, then we bought groundnut, that was what we had for breakfast after sleeping with an empty stomach.”
Mrs. Adesoye explained that Modakeke Progressive Union gave food to residents of the town and about ten ‘congos’ of rice, which is equivalent to one third of a 50kg bag of rice, was allotted to PWDs.
“From that, my family got about 4 cups of rice and apart from that, there is no support from anywhere. Because my husband and I are blind, no-one wants to give us any support because they would ask how we would pay back.
“The woman that used to sell food on credit for me didn’t open shop because of the lockdown and I don’t know her house. We were just begging our children to bear with us.
“We had to resolve to ask people for help but we met with a dead end that time, as people also needed support. So, tell me, why won’t I be suicidal with all of these?” she asked.
Kehinde Onitiju disclosed that the chairman of JONAPWD in Boripe LGA died after an illness and said “if he had gotten food or special attention, he might not have died.”
Lateef Adetiba also shared experiences of members of NAPWPD saying, “there are so many people who thought life had finished and wanted to take their lives, all we had to do was to raise support for them.
“A lot of anxiety, hopelessness, no way to continue to work, nobody to encourage you and people were really stressed out.
“Our members, especially the women, went through a whole lot of challenges during the lockdown, those who involve in petty trade couldn’t sell, the little money they had were spent and it was complaints from one place to the other.
“One of our members called Bro Tunbosun almost committed suicide. Just imagine, if he had received adequate help, he wouldn’t have imagined committing suicide,” he added.
During the lockdown, life was extremely miserable for Babalola Yemisi, a single mother of 4, who was abandoned by the husband after she lost her sight a few years ago.
“I have four children with no work to cater for them, I used to sell ‘Ogi’ (raw pap) but I couldn’t do that again since I became blind and I am barely surviving with support from friends, neighbours, family and church members.
“In May, things were extremely difficult and those who used to support me couldn’t help because they had their challenges too, as a result of that, I couldn’t afford to pay utility bills and I was forced to leave my apartment, so my children and I moved in with my grandfather.
“While I was thinking of what to eat, I started having accommodation problems, so it was really tough for me to cope with. There was no one to talk to for support.
“There were times all I could do was to cry and cry, when I was tired of crying, I would go to sleep, but my situation never changed. I heard on radio that the government was distributing palliatives, I really wished I could get but didn’t get anything
“When I was still at my former apartment, I heard that PDP party officials gave food items to people, it was shared among people on the street but it was small. So, the one allotted to my compound was given to an orphan who stayed in my compound. It’s not as if others had food to eat, but we realized we had different degrees of challenges,” she narrated.
On her part, Atoyebi Bukola, 29 year old mother of five said she did not receive any palliative from the government and had to depend on support from family and friends.
Atoyebi, who is deaf, explained that, “I don’t feel comfortable begging people around for support but I had no choice and my husband had to go around to beg for support. If our government had catered for us, we wouldn’t have been begging around.”
Ayoola Asaolu, a visually impaired man in Osogbo explained that the family depended on his wife for survival as he didn’t get any palliative during the lockdown.
“As a family man that I am, when I saw my children in need and I was unable to provide for them, it got me worried and unhappy but could I do, who will I fight?
“We know what is happening in developed countries where palliatives are distributed to doorsteps and accounts of people being credited but nothing like that was applicable here.”
COVID-19 Palliatives Distributed As Christmas Package
On Dec 24th, in the wake of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Youths, Sports and Special Needs distributed COVID-19 palliatives to PWDs in the state.
This time, Onitiju confirmed that a total of two hundred (200) bags were handed over to JONAPWD, out of which fifty (50) bags were given to the elderly and the remaining one hundred and fifty (150) bags were shared to different disability clusters and Disabled People’s Organizations, DPOs.
“If we talk about the number of PWDs in the state and those that got the package, it is extremely small.”
Lateef Adetiba confirmed that “NAPWPD got 25 bags from the Christmas package that was distributed by the Ministry but we have over 15,000 members, excluding those who are on the street.
“So, when we got it, we had to share with our executives, since it couldn’t go round all the members. We have 16 executives across all the LGAs,” he added.
Akinsola Akeem, Chairman, Nigeria Association of the Blind, NAB confirmed that 20 bags were given to NAB from the share JONAPWD got. He disclosed that the 20 bags were shared among few members.
Ayoola Asaolu, a visually impaired man in Osogbo who received the COVID-19 relief Christmas package said, “I didn’t get any palliative throughout the lockdown and this is the first and only palliative I would ever receive.
“The commissioner for information said that people got palliatives during the lockdown but there is no data to show those who got it. Even if PWDs got, it must have been very minute.
“Like now, I heard that it was 20 bags that got to my association, and that’s why I’m able to get a 5kg bag of rice for myself. Imagine several others that would not get” adding that, “I wouldn’t have been able to get if I’m not a known member within the association and you can’t blame the excos because how would they share 20 bags among hundreds of persons.”
How Other States, Countries Fared In COVID-19 Interventions to PWDs
Some states that were reviewed didn’t perform excellently well in the distribution of COVID-19 palliatives to PWDs, but there were established platforms, processes and procedures which provided for orderly distribution of palliatives.
In Lagos State, the Ministry of Agriculture engaged the state chapter of JONAPWD to distribute food palliatives to 3000 households and the association through its chairman, Dr. Adebukola Adebayo commended the Lagos State Government in its effort to reach out to vulnerable groups in the state, but pleaded more support to be able to reach its teeming members.
Dr. Adebayo confirmed that “food and other relief materials from Lagos state government and other private donors reached over 5000 PWDs in the state but noted that the population of PWDs reached was too insignificant compared to the nearly 2 million population of PWDs in the state.”
However, the Lagos State governor on September 23rd handed over food palliatives from the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) to Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs, LASODA, where the food was later distributed to disability cluster heads
Also in Kano State, The JONAPWD Chairman in Kano State, Engr. Musa Mohammed Shaga, disclosed that, “the palliatives were shared through the Ministry of Information and JONAPWD was called.
“We were informed about the distribution and cluster heads were involved.”
Engr. Shaga however noted that, “of the over 2.5 million PWDs in Kano State, it is just a very few persons that got palliatives. But we still appreciate the State government for what they did.”
In response to COVID-19, Bulgaria, Malta and Lithuania have increased funding to their social protection systems to expand social support services and cover more beneficiaries, including persons with disabilities. In Argentina and Peru, persons receiving disability benefits will receive an additional amount in light of the COVID19 crisis.
France announced a similar measure favouring beneficiaries of the disability allowance and Tunisia’s emergency plan includes cash transfers for low income households, persons with disabilities and homeless people.
The United States of America has established tax relief programs that may contribute to alleviate the financial situation of persons with disabilities in this context.
PWDs’ Expectations From the Government (Recommendations)
Onitiju explained that the State government should establish a robust relationship with the disability community in the state.
“We have an established body, and it is important that the government go through the associations to engage with PWDs.
“If this is done, we won’t be lamenting that we are being excluded or that the government is not reaching us. The government should not lump us with others, we should be considered directly.
Adetiba Lateef believes that, “there is need for increased inclusion of persons with disabilities in governance. If we were involved in the committee that handled the palliatives distribution in the state, we would have been able to provide adequately for our members.”
Adebolu Eluwade also noted that, “in cases of humanitarian crisis like COVID-19, the government needs to design specific strategy to be able to reach us. If the government wants to distribute items and wants us to benefit, we can’t be packed together with able bodied persons, we can’t struggle or stand in line like them. That’s the reason there should be specific arrangements that would targe us directly.”
Ayoola Asaolu, a visually impaired person, wants the government to learn international best practices and apply that in its relations with PWDs.
To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on work and livelihood of PWDs, the United Nations on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNRPD, and the International Labour Organization, ILO, recommended that States must provide financial compensation for self-employed persons with disabilities who find their income reduced; Implement financial assistance programmes for persons who stop working to support or to prevent contamination of their family member(s) with disabilities and who are not covered by unemployment or sickness benefits.
“Provide financial support, including through tax credits, to employers of persons with disabilities to provide equipment required for teleworking.
“Ensure that food provision schemes include persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs, including logistical measures to deliver food at their houses.”
It is also imperative that States and relevant stakeholders provide financial aid for persons with disabilities without any income such as; lump sum payments; tax relief measures, subsidisation of goods, and increase existing disability benefits, including through advancing payments to cover extra costs.
The Nigerian Government, at National and Subnational levels, must also adopt the Social and Right-Based Disability models which seek to reduce the barriers faced by PWDs and also position disability as an important dimension of human culture, and affirm that all human beings, irrespective of their disabilities, have certain rights that are inalienable.
This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Free to share project.