Samuel Ankeli’s appointment as special assistant to the president is a wake-up call

Not a few Nigerians were pleasantly surprised when President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed Dr. Samuel Inalegwu Ode Ankeli, a visually impaired man, as one of his special advisers. Those who applauded the appointment saw it as a positive sign; that by giving the physically challenged community representation in his government, the president has made a strong statement on inclusiveness. We agree with that summation.

For a long as can be remembered, discrimination against physically challenged persons in Nigeria has been widespread. In work places and the larger society, those with disabilities are derisively regarded as sub-human and are most often treated as such. This is notwithstanding the rare feats performed by some physically challenged persons over the years in various areas of human endeavour including sports, the academia, art, music, business and even philanthropy. For instance, some physically challenged persons like Cosmas Okoli have over the years become established businessmen who have risen far above the plain of pity and helplessness to becoming major players in the private sector.

It is in light of appreciating and tapping into the innate potential of handicapped persons that we join in applauding President Buhari’s thoughtfulness in appointing Dr. Ankeli as his special adviser on disability matters, even though it could be seen as a reward for his efforts. For those who may not be aware, Ankeli, despite being visually impaired, was the Director of Mobilisation Forum for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and was thus visibly active in mobilising persons with disability for Candidate Muhammadu Buhari in the run up to last year’s presidential election.

Ankeli’s appointment scores a high mark for the president who, by the gesture, has sent out a positive signal that his is an all-inclusive government for all segments of the country. Again, the profile of Ankeli is a tribute to courage and determination aside the fact that he has become a role model for many young Nigerians who will see in his story the fact there is no excuse for failure.

For a man to have climbed over such fundamental challenge as blindness to undergo the mental and physical strain associated with becoming a veterinary doctor speaks volumes of the discipline and
determination of the president’s adviser to overcome his disability.

Ankeli, a graduate of Veterinary Medicine from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, worked with the Benue State Government before resigning to devote more time to organising and leading persons with disability. We believe that his ability to study various types of animals and knowing how to treat them and eventually qualifying as a veterinary doctor will enable him to perform in his new task. After all, he has the confidence and full knowledge of the issues concerning his fellow physically challenged members, a group he had led before now.

However, the task before Ankeli goes beyond the sentiment of mere constituency representation. Like all others, he has to justify his appointment by not only adding value to the Buhari administration in significant ways, but also in pushing for legislations that can ultimately integrate all persons with physical disability into the mainstream of the Nigerian society and thereby changing their narrative from that of helplessness.

All things considered, the appointment of Ankeli bodes well for both the Buhari administration as well as the community of the physically challenged. It is also a positive development for the country. We urge the authorities in the states to take a cue from this worthy example set by the president which has a clear message: there is ability in disability. We extend our congratulations to Ankeli and wish him all the best in his new assignment.