Abdulrahman Awal wears many caps as the Chairman Nigerian Association of the Blind, Niger state chapter, National PRO of NAB, SSA to the Niger State Government on Physically Challenged Persons, a teacher and the C.E.O of Mashura Investment Company. He talks about living with blindness, how he has forged ahead and all the wonderful things he is doing inspite of his disability.
It seems that Abdurrahman’s destiny was to create awareness that being disabled was not an excuse to become destitute, nor did it mean the end of the world for him or many others with the same challenge. Since he entered the world, his future had already been set – to make something of himself even though he was blind.
Born on 29th July, 1983 to the family of Barrister Muhammad Awal Bida and Hajiya Larai Awal, Abdulrahman Awal, the fourth out of fifteen children, was the only one in the family who is blind.
“My biography cannot be told without the history of my blindness. Going by what my parents told me, when I was four weeks old, my dad observed a sandy-creamy coloured discharge around my left eyeball and asked my mother if she had also noticed it. She had but thought that, since I wasn’t crying from discomfort, I must be all right. My dad wanted to be sure so they took me to the hospital for confirmation and that they can have peace of mind. We were residing in Bida, my home town then.”
The Head of the Eye Clinic at the time, Doctor Rasheed, who was an Indian, suspected something but was reluctant to tell Abdullahi’s parents. He prescribed an ointment to be applied for a week and to bring the baby back after a week.
However, within three days of using the ointment, the left eye had protruded to an almost mango-sized growth which eventually ruptured on their way back to the hospital. At the hospital, we were referred to the National Eye Centre in Kaduna.
There, the Doctors confirmed that the left eye was already damaged by cancer and the eye was immediately removed. The doctors revealed from their findings that the remaining eye was also affected so they advised that the baby be rushed to Lagos for a radiotherapist’s attention.
“We had hopes that my remaining eye could be restored, so we left for Lagos for salvation which, unknown to us, would turn my life and world around entirely. In Lagos, after reading the report from National eye Centre Kaduna, the Doctor told us the equipment to be used to
kill the cancer will kill my eyesight too, and “this handsome boy is not supposed to lose both eyes”, he added. So he quickly wrote a report and referred me to a hospital in London. The Doctor stressed that “between now and two weeks if this boy is not attended to, he will die.”
Abdurahman continues, “My parents who didn’t have money nor any idea of what it takes to go to London, were confused. That was the first challenge and predicament we faced. My dad approached his uncle, Major Alhaji Bello Ndayako, the late Makun Nupe, and informed him about the Doctor’s statement. Major Ndayako said “I actually have no such money but let me consult a friend in person of Chief Michael Ibru.”
Chief Ibru was a blessing as he said he will try his best to rescue the remaining eye because, in his words, “he is too handsome to live without sight”. This great personality immediately called his wife in London, Dr Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank, to get ready to receive visitors and do anything possible to assist them. He took the responsibility of all finances and logistics to get the baby and his parents to London.
“I owe them my humble gratitude till the end of my life,” Abdul said.
In London, after following all due processes, he was taken to More-field Hospital, London, which was the best eye hospital in the world then. Chemotherapy treatment was commenced and after the treatment he was discharged from the hospital.
“However, after a few days, it was observed that the cancer cells still existed in my body which was directly affecting my eyesight. After series of diagnosis and chemotherapy for a month in London, we came back to Nigeria again till the next appointment. Unfortunately, the next appointment with the London hospital fell into the period of 1983 Nigeria coup d’être. This led to all airports being closed and there was no access to foreign exchange. But immediately the airports resumed, my parents flew with me back to London, but they had already lost their appointment at More-field hospital so we had to go to another hospital in London where another chemotherapy was done on my right eye also so as to save the remaining eye.”
By this time, the family’s economic situation became strained as a result of financial implications, challenges in travelling out to London, and probably the missed appointment in London. So when further symptoms were observed again, he was taken back to the National Eye Centre in Kaduna where it was discovered that the cancer cells were already showing potentials of affecting his brain. Unfortunately, the remaining eye had to be detached from its socket in order to save the brain.
“My Aunt, popularly known as Hajiya Gogo Mairiga (late) went to Kano and successfully got traditional medicine that pushed the cancer to its grave. After a year of using the traditional medicine, I was taken back to National Eye Centre for a recheck and the result was fascinating as the cancer cells were found dead and disappeared for long. We were grateful to all that assisted and to Almighty Allah.
As the Nupe Muslim’s tradition of sending their children to early Islamic or Quranic school where Quran is learnt by heart, I was enrolled at Madarasatul Hayatul Islam of Okada Road under the supervision of Mallam Gimba Ahmad Evuti. I was introduced to courses like recitation of the glorious Quran, Hadith, Tauheed, Fiqhu and many more. After that, I began my formal western education at the Niger State School for the Handicapped, now known as Niger State School for Special Education in 1989, and graduated in 1996. I proceeded to Government Secondary School Minna (now Fr O’Connell Secondary School) between 1997 and 2002 for my secondary education. Thereafter I proceeded to an Islamic school called Markazus-sakafil Islam for Qur’an memorization between year 2003-2005. I then proceeded for higher education at College of Education Minna where I studied Islamic studies/Social studies between year 2006-2009. Out of my desire and my parents encouragement and other great helpers who collectively gave me very worthy encouragement, I began the degree program at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) where I am presently studying Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.
After the completion of NCE in 2009, as a person with physical disability coupled with a saturated labour market, I searched for a job everywhere unsuccessfully. My friends and I teamed up to create a job by establishing a paint company known as Asgadamas Nigeria Limited. I happened to be the marketing Co-ordinator of the company. But I was later offered appointment as Assistant Education Officer II by the Niger state government in 2011. My potentials as a good speaker and activeness were recognized and I was became the elected PRO Nigeria Association for the Blind, Niger state branch in the same year. As hardwork is part of my character, another company was formed and I was made the CEO of Mahshurah Investment Company, a company that specializes in the production of paint and application; importation of cars and gadgets; interior decorations and in totality, a general Contractor in 2012. In 2015, at the Annual convention of blind people held in Lagos State, I was elected the National PRO of Nigeria Association of the Blind. In the same year, I was elected the
Chairman, Nigeria Association of the Blind Niger State Chapter. Consequently, I was elected the Assistant Secretary General, Joint Association of Persons Living With Disabilities, Niger State Branch in 2013. At an interactive engagement, the Governor of Niger State appointed me as his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on physically challenged persons. Currently, I am a training consultant for people with disabilities.
Contributions to the blind community…
My main aim is to get the society informed about who a blind man is and how to get the best out of him.
I use most of my time enlightening the world of the abilities in our disability and I partner with people and organizations in agitating for rights of people with disability.
I train the blind on various skills in order to attain self-reliance skills such as IT assisting technologies which will give them privacy of information.
1. Government’s attitude towards the blind; government has not taken time to understand the blind man and his needs, that is resulting to lack of adequate funding provision for the blind peoples’ needs.
2. Societal attitude toward the blind- the society is still finding it difficult to believe that a blind man is useful to the society in any other way rather than being a street beggar.
Achievements as the SSA to the Governor…
At least for the first time in Niger State, somebody has been appointed to serve as the voice of the people with disabilities and I have issued a lot of advice to the government on how to get the best out of people with disability in Niger state knowing quite well that the best approach to the eradication of street begging is taking care of the needs of the people with disabilities in the state.
Challenges as the SSA to the governor…
1. I have never received any response for any of the correspondence I have sent to the government, that is to say I have been appointed to be a voice of people with disabilities but I have not been given a microphone.
2. There is no desk allocated to me to carry out my responsibilities not to talk of an office which is essential, going by the sensitivity of the issues of the people I represent.
3. The Commissioner of Women Affairs and Social Development that I am supposed to report to has not granted me an audience despite my several requests.
Special trainings people with disabilities need to be self reliant…
Special people can be trained in virtually all areas but they require special trainers that can effectively impact the trainings on them.
The government should establish a commission for people with disabilities which will ensure the protection of all their rights, sensitize the general public about the needs of people with disabilities, have a comprehensive data of people with disabilities and structure a good education system for them to make them self-reliant and relevant in the society.
How government can encourage people with disabilities not to beg or go into street begging…
Government should give them a sense of belonging and make all nessecary provisions for them and also give them good orientation on the disadvantage of street begging.
Advice for others not to depend on government…
I will encourage them to look beyond their disability and look for something to do. They should not allow disability hinder them from achieving their life goals.
What makes you happy and relaxed…
I like making friends and I’m very happy counseling people about life in general. I like reading books and also like praying in order to relax.