Adenike Grace Adejumobi is a retired Director of Special Education, Oyo State Ministry of Education. In this interview with Funke Olaode, she demonstrates the aphorism of ability in disability
You retired last year May as the pioneer director of Special Education Department in the Oyo State Ministry of Education. How do you feel?
Well, I feel fulfilled having moved through the ladder to become a pioneer director of Special Education, which I agitated for three years to the end of my tenure in the ministry. Special Education was a Unit in the Ministry of Education. Even at a time I started to agitate, they wanted to scrap the Unit which means if they had succeeded in phasing it out, there would be no scheme to cater for people with disability. My proposal went as far as Gov’s office, Civil Service Commission and Ministry of Budget and Planning. It was just going everywhere thinking that I was asking for a huge sum of money for a department to be created. My husband and I would go everywhere to defend the proposal verbally why the creation of Special Education Department was necessary. After about two years of painstaking struggle, the department was eventually created. I was the first director to head the department for about three years before I retired.
At what stage did you discover your visual disability?
I was actually born with partial blindness. And that time, there was no school for people with low vision. After attending some regular primary schools among regular sighted children, I found out that I couldn’t cope. Occasionally, the teachers would write on the black board and asked me to read it out but I couldn’t. I get caned most of the time because they thought I was being lazy. As I was growing, mobility became difficult as I was always bumping into things. My parents took me to an ophthalmologist but my problem persisted. It now dawn on my parents that I would need special skill to survive.
How did you pull through your ordeal?
At the age of 12 in 1969, I went to Parcelli School for the Blind in Surulere, Lagos where I picked the skills of reading (Braille) and typing. I later moved to Notre dame (meaning Our Lady) Girls’ Secondary School, Oro, Kwara State in 1974 as a boarder. Notre dame is a regular school where they had a unit for the blind. While I was in that school, I enjoyed the Kwara State government. At a stage, I was fed up and thought I was going to drop out of school. And during one of the breaks in Form Two, I just picked up my type-writer and wrote directly to the office of the then Military Governor of Kwara State, David Jemibewon. This was in 1975. I even perceived the letter may end up in the trash can. Surprisingly, the following week Gov. Jemibewon sent somebody from his office to the principal. They took the list of everything that I needed such as type-writer, Braille, special allowance for travelling and pocket money and pay my school fees from form two in 1975 till I finished from that school in 1979.
How did you manage to study in the United States of America?
One of the reverend sisters who had always shown concern visited Boston in America. While in the US, she spoke to the dean of Continuing Education Centre (CEC) at Massachusetts. That move changed my destiny. I was in my 20s then and couldn’t start regular degree class. In America 18-22 is the right age for College. I was above 22 and the Rev. Sister obtained the CEC form for me at Emmanuel College, Boston Massachusetts where I did my degree in Rehabilitation Counselling in Psychology from 1982 to 1985. After I had secured the admission, this sister went to Rome and discussed my matter with the authority that I was financially handicapped and I had disability. The sisters of Notre dame in Rome sent two thousand dollars ($2,000) to Emmanuel College on my behalf ahead of me. I also sought for financial assistance from the government of Oyo State and federal. As providence would have it, I secured a scholarship from the federal government during the International Year of the Disabled in 1981. I remember federal government declared 10 years of financial and scholarship for those who wanted to go for special education then either within or outside Nigeria. I was one of the beneficiaries. I got the scholarship in 1981 but didn’t travel until January 1982 because I was looking for my basic travelling allowance and Visa. I travelled to America in 1982 where I had my first degree. I came back to Nigeria in 1985 and did my National Youth Service Corps at the University College Hospital, Ibadan.
When did you kick off your career as a civil servant?
I was at home for 21 months looking for job, sending my curriculum to different organisations. I even wrote letters of appeal to both state and federal governments. There was no solution. I tried the Oyo State Ministry of Education there was no positive response. In fact, people I knew warned me not to come to their offices again that people with sights had not been employed and me that was being led around was looking for employment. My breakthrough came when the late Gov. Oresanya Sasaeyan took over from Governor Olurin. My husband and I took the letter to the governor’s office that day but the people around said he was busy. Luckily for me, the ADC saw us, took the letter and included it among the mails he was going to take home for the governor. And that was on Thursday and there was going to be a Sallah break. On Monday we went back to the governor’s office and an officer came out and asked me to go to the Ministry of Education that my letter had been forwarded there. This was November 1988. And when I got there I was told Mr. Governor had given me a ‘governor’s appointment’ as Education Officer at the Ministry Education. I have served in the ministry since 1988 rose through the ranks from level Eight (8) as education officer, senior education officer, principal education officer, assistant director, deputy director and director of Special Education Department championed by me.
What lesson has life taught you?
That one shouldn’t give up unnecessarily. And even as a civil servant, discrimination, persecutions, stereotype was too much. There was virtually no encouragement but at the end, I came out successfully. The old cliché says behind every successful man there is a woman. Reverse is the case in my case behind my own success, there was always my husband, Rev. Jonathan Adegoke Adejumobi to whom I have been married for 32 years. I thank God and I am eternally grateful to this God sent man who stood by me through thick and thin. He looked after me, our four children and today we are grandparents. My children too are wonderful. There were times I would be down and my children would tell me, ‘Mum, we don’t see any disability in you. You can do it and that or what can we do for you.’
If you had one wish what would it?
I would have loved to drive myself around in my car, get to places where I desire to visit; particularly, I love to evangelise. I love to do things for people. I would have loved to drive a car to carry out those missions.
How is life after retirement?
It has been cool. I don’t have to rush out to the office. I am relaxed now, although I missed interacting with my colleagues. I am a private consultant to people with that want to start their own school that will cater for persons with disability or special needs. I still make myself available, counsel them and do things within my power for them.