The Message from The Paralympics

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The performance of the country’s contingent in the Rio Paralympics is further proof that there is ability in disability

The outstanding performance of Team Nigeria at the recent Paralympics in Rio, Brazil, has reinforced the old maxim that there is ability in disability. The contingent won eight gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals to place 17th on the global medal table and the best African team at the multi-sport event for athletes with disability.

Indeed, two of the athletes, Paul Kehinde and Josephine Orji, shone very brightly. Kehinde won two gold medals and twice broke the men’s 65 kg world record in the powerlifting event while Orji shattered the world record with a lift of 154kg in the +86kg powerlifting event. Instructively, the display of guts, determination and patriotism by the paralympians was in sharp contrast to the pedestrian and dismal show by Nigeria at the Olympic Games, also in Rio last month, where national expectations were not matched by podium presence. The team came home with a solitary bronze medal won in football. But the paralympics was different.

Despite reports of poor preparations by the team before they left for Rio, in addition to allegation of criminal neglect by the Ministry of Sports, which failed to remit the athletes’ camping allowance for 23 days, they still performed well. At the end, it was a triumph against adversity and a thing of pride to see the athletes excel, in spite of limited funding and lack of access to modern training facilities.

Instructively, the paraplegics have historically emerged as the country’s unsung sporting heroes and heroines with a reputation for inspiring Nigeria with face saving performances in major international sporting competitions. For instance, they lifted Nigeria to 8th position on the medal table at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, when the country won 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze medals. In addition, their gallantry at the All Africa Games is well documented as they have traditionally provided a pool of medals in their events, ensuring that Nigeria’s status as the continent’s sporting powerhouse is assured.

It is in the light of this that the gesture of the House of Representatives to reward the contingent to the tune of N18 million is noteworthy and should be acknowledged. Each lawmaker in the lower chamber is contributing N50,000 towards the bumper gift package for the athletes. It is a commendable gesture even as we consider it a huge shame that the presidency has not deemed it fit to honour these Nigerians who, despite all odds, have made us proud.

However, beyond the tokenism of materials gifts, the authorities should use this to look at the issue of how we treat people with disabilities in our country. From transportation which allows movement and interactions, through health, recreations and even educational services which can make them compete effectively, people with one disability or another are most often discriminated against and deprived of their rights. Everywhere and every day, obstacles are thrown on their paths. Cosmos Okoli, an enterprising man who has proved that there is ability in disability once said: “We have had cases where some principals and head teachers refused disabled candidates admission not on the basis of incompetence but for their disabilities.”

To worsen the situation, many are regarded by their families as a source of shame and treated as objects of charity. Many end up in the streets as beggars while others turn to drugs and other socially unacceptable behaviour to generate income. Yet, Nigeria is a signatory to many international conventions that support equal opportunities for all their citizens. The United Nations defines equalisation of opportunities as “the process through which the general system of society, such as the physical and cultural environment, housing and transportation, social and health services, educational and work opportunities, cultural and social life, including sports and recreational facilities are made accessible to all.”

The government, as a matter of policy, must create the right environment for social, economic and political integration of the physically challenged in our society. Attempts must also be made to open up educational and employment opportunities so that they can compete and embrace life with more confidence. The physically challenged in our midst must be empowered to help themselves and their families and contribute their bits to the growth and development of the society. Just as the Paralympics team has done.

QUOTE: The paraplegics have historically emerged as the country’s unsung sporting heroes and heroines with a reputation for inspiring Nigeria with face saving performances in major international sporting competitions