Since March 28, 2020 when “COVID-19: Wholesale catastrophe” was the title of the piece that appeared in this column, the novel disease which broke out in China in December 2019 and arrived Nigeria February 27, 2020 continued to dominate newspaper headlines, in the same manner, it took over discourses in columns.
Every piece published in this column in the past 11 weeks revolved around COVID-19 pandemic as well as the new way of life it is imposing on every facet of living. The unveiling of new protocols that seek to ease Nigerians out of total and partial lockdown measures on Monday June 1, 2020 was an opportunity for us to heave a sigh of relief by discussing something other than coronavirus. Nonetheless, Nigerians should continue to observe all personal hygiene rules without also relenting in their prayers against this dreadful enemy of mankind.
A social angle matter was billed for discussion on this page before COVID-19 hijacked the page from writing on other sundry issues for nearly three months. It is still not late to bring up the heart-touching story I read on page 12 of the Daily Trust edition of Saturday March 14, 2020; fourteen years after the tragedy occurred.
Umar Muhammad suffered violent attack in the hands of suspected ritualists who plucked out his eyes when he was six years old. The incident happened on a sugar cane farm in Sokoto on October 31, 2006. About two and half decades later, Umar is battling to get himself educated. The visually impaired Umar who lost both parents while in primary school is now twenty years old and in his second year (NCE II) at the Shehu Shagari College of Education (SSCOE) in Sokoto.
Speaking to Daily Trust reporter, Umar said “My initial ambition after graduating from Adisa Raji Special School in 2017 was to get admission into the Federal College of Education Oyo to read Special Education. But my parents died while I was still in primary school, and none of my elder siblings had enough to sponsor my education.”
He said he looked for support everywhere but it wasn’t forthcoming. “No one could help, so the dream had to die”, Umar lamented. He said it was in 2018 that his older siblings, with the help of other concerned relations, were able to pull resources together to pay for his registration fee for NCE I after securing admission at the SSCOE Sokoto.
Umar explained that Honourable Malami Mohammed Galadanchi assisted him with N20, 000 which he said greatly helped him in transportation and in the purchase of writing and reading materials including braille. He said special students require special typing sheets for their assignments. One of Umar’s lecturers at the SSCOE, Muhammadu Sani, described Umar as a gifted-learner when it comes to Braille. “It’s their means of communication and he is really good at it.” What shocked me most in the story was the lack of corresponding support for Umar’s inimitable zeal for education in a state that was once described as “educationally disadvantaged”. “I’ve completed my NCE I and now going to NCE II, but can’t pay my registration fee like my colleagues in the same department”, Umar grieved.
According to Umar, his relations who assisted him in the past are now unable to continue due to their own financial limitations. Malam Nasir, Umar’s elder brother, said they were making efforts to reach out to the Sokoto State Zakkat and Endowment Commission for assistance. Similarly, Malama Shafa’atu under whose custody Umar has been since the death of their parents similarly cried out for public support for his education. Umar’s course mate and friend, Yusuf Mohammed, described Umar as honest, dedicated and not greedy; adding that, “Umar is always ahead of other students when it comes to Braille”; affirming that they all look up to him on matters of Braille.
One of Umar’s teachers at Adisa Raji Special School, Mohammed Mode Aliyu emphasized that special students such as Umar have prospect and need to be assisted for them to actualize their dreams. Aliyu noted that many of such children when left unassisted sometimes end up as beggars on the streets. Without little hope to complete his NCE programme, Umar told reporters that he was seeking divine intervention over his travails by praying fervently to Allah (SWT) to use someone to pay for his registration fee at the SSCOE. Umar’s ambition is to become a lawyer. He could achieve this if he gets the necessary support to complete his NCE programme after which he could apply as Direct Entry candidate for admission into LLB in a university of his choice provided he possesses the entry requirements. However, this dream seems to be hanging in the balance as Umar lacks the necessary financial support to even complete the NCE programme he is currently pursuing at the SSCOE Sokoto.
One wouldn’t know if Umar’s situation is till as reported in the newspaper even though schools have remained shut throughout the country since the federal government ordered their closure in February 2020. It would be most unfortunate if no individual or group, including Sokoto state government, has offered to come to Umar’s aid. If Sokoto were truly a Shari’ah-compliant state as claimed some years back, Umar’s plight should have been taken care of by the strong Islamic institutions of Shari’ah. Allah (SWT) knows how many of Umar’s type of cases go unreported in our part of the country. For reasons of collective abandonment, victims of this nature are sometimes subjected or rather compelled to change their faith; Subhana-llahi! Yes, it happens especially when those who offer to help such victims tie the offer to some theological conditions that, for instance, may call for a change in the religion professed by the victim.
One still wonders why Nigeria lacks an articulated policy, or fails to implement it if one exists, for the education of the physically-challenged children and persons. With their single-digit percentage (I guess) within the country’s 200 million population of citizens, Nigeria should be able to afford free-tuition for the visually-impaired, deaf and dumb. However, irregular it might be, Sokoto state government still pays scholarship allowances to tertiary students. Yet, the sightless Umar is abandoned in his attempt to fulfil his educational ambitions. Sokoto state government has a social responsibility under the Child Rights Act of providing the then 6-year-old Umar with access to quality education to the level his capacity could take him. One wonders how much it would cost even the local government from which Umar hails to give all the financial support he requires to actualize his educational dreams. Ours has become humanity that lacks the least form of ‘humanity’ that is usually symbolized in natural sympathy, predictable kindness or common selflessness. May Allah (SWT) guide everyone with a stake in the future of Nigeria, as individuals in leadership positions and as public institutions, to come to Umar’s aid, amin.