News The African Way

Unfriendly Buildings Keep Children With Disability From Attending School In Northern Nigeria

This story is the result of research and investigation by a Team of four Development Journalists of which this writer is one.

By Iliya Kure

A primary school in Kaduna
A primary school in Kaduna

Acquiring education for most children with disability in Northern Nigeria has over the years remained a mirage. This is happening because majority of schools in the Region, both public and private, are virtually unfriendly to them – they lack ramps to support the cripples and key facilities to assist the blind.

A visit to sampled public schools in the region has shown clearly that proprietors and designers have not considered the needs of these set of people who also live in the society.

A large number of people with disability have used many fora to voice out the need for institutions of learning and health facilities to consider their plights when constructing buildings, but it appears their cry is yet to be heard.

Twelve year old Auwal Surajo, a cripple, wished being a Nigerian Soldier when he grows up, in order to defend the territorial integrity of his country, from both internal and external aggression. But his wishes will never come to reality.

When the Team visited his family house in Rigasa Community of Kaduna, the teenager crawled out of his mother’s room, looking sad as he quietly sat on a mat close to his mother.

Surajo became crippled when he was one year old – Doctors diagnosed him with polio, since then, he hardly join his peers to play, because of the weak limbs.

“I don’t go out to play with my peers, because I can’t walk or run. My legs get peeled each time I crawl and I don’t have tricycle to move around – my father is poor,” he told the Team.

His parents had enrolled him in a school, but he had to stop going because of distance. “The primary school is far from my house and there is nobody to take me there. I really love to go to school, but my parents can’t afford to get me a tricycle,” he explained.

Surajo is not the only one with a physical challenge in his family – his elder sister, Firdausi, is blind. She also became incapacitated when she was one year old – in her case its meningitis.

Soft spoken Firdausi wished she could be placed in a school. “My dream is to become a Doctor, but I know that will be difficult to accomplish due to my condition.

“Me and my brother love school, but we have to let it go, because there is no school close to our house and we don’t have anybody to enrol us in any special school.

“Our parents are poor and they don’t have enough to feed us, not to talk of paying our school fees. I’m always sad when I listen to people on radio communicating in English language. I can still achieve my dream with support from government or wealthy individuals in the society,” she told the Team while smiling.

Auwal and Firdausi, who are real people who represent the plight of millions of people with disability, especially children who wanted school but could not.

 
School Drop Out
The other story is that of Rilwan Abdullahi, a grown up cripple, who had to quit school in the 1980s. He was in year three, studying Accountancy in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Today Abdullahi is the Chairman, Polio Survivors of Nigeria. A volunteer group actively involved in helping Nigeria eradicate polio.

In his narration to the Team Abdullahi said, “I managed to complete my primary and secondary schools despite the hurdles I encountered as a cripple, but when I got to university, there was nobody to assist me to class and I was given a room in fouth floor. Getting to class on time for lectures became a problem and my parents were so poor to provide support to me, so I quit.”

“It was a difficult and painful decision of my life, but I had no choice than to leave school, – I couldn’t manage the lack of mobility, accessibility and economic status of my parents. These three challenges forced me out of school.

“It is really sad that Nigeria as a country is yet to realise the need to make our primary, secondary and tertiary institutions friendly to children with disability so as to safeguard their future. As it is now, children with disability be they polio victims, or children born with deformity, have no future educationally, except those whose parents are well to do,” he told the Team.

He said, a survey carried out by his group discovered that majority of children with disabilities quit school at primary school level, while others don’t even attend, pointing out that the future of this children is bleak, unless Nigerian government and other international partners intervene.

 

Scope Of The Issue
A World Report on Disability published by World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2011 says, about 25 million Nigerians had at least one disability, while 3.6 million of these had very significant difficulties in functioning, among them children of school age.

Kaduna, one of the states studied, has more than 4000 primary schools – but a check at few of them within the metropolis showed that none of the public schools have provisions for pupils with disability, like ramps, hearing aids, or braille machines.

Although, some states like Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, and Zamfara, have special schools for people with disabilities, such schools have no capacity to accommodate one quarter of such children.

Commenting on why government pay little, or no attention to needs of people with disability, Coordinator of an NGO, Advocacy Nigeria Kaduna, Hauwa Saulawa said, “may be it doesn’t occur to them that there are people with special needs, who also want to use the same facilities.

“May be because they [people with disability] are few. May be because they [government] are ignorant of their [people with disability] predicament. May be because, even those in the architectural industry don’t take into cognisance the presence of these people – believing that they can always be helped, due to the nature of our society, where we believe, we are our brothers keeper,” she said

In the cause of the investigation, the team discovered that a large proportion of children with disability who were at a point fortunate to get enrolled in primary school, or are lucky to move up to secondary schools hardly complete their education due to lack of facilities and equipment to ease learning.

Checks have shown that majority of states in the region do not have data of people with disabilities in their domains, especially children of school age, which the governments need for planning purposes.

Reacting, Kaduna State Ministry for Women Affairs and Social Development said it has given out at least 50 tricycles to people with disability between July and October.

Director Social Welfare in the Ministry, Ibrahim Dabo, told a team member, “We are currently working on a law that will ensure protection and welfare for children in Kaduna State. This will also ensure that every child is placed in a school,” he said.

 
What The Laws Say
Article 26, section one of the Universal Declaration of Rights provides that “Everyone has the right to education,”

In the past, the country was guided by ‘Nigerian with Disability Decree of 1993’ which says it is the responsibility of the government to make Improvement of facilities and equipment in educational institutions to facilitate the education of the disabled.

“The Establishment of a National Institute of special Education to cope with the increasing research and development in the education of the disabled.

“The strengthening of cooperation and collaboration among relevant authorities, organs, institutions to ensure early and coordinated education of the disabled.

“Interaction and exchange between disabled children in special schools and children in ordinary schools.

“Improvement of university education facilities to ensure maximum benefit of university education for the disabled.

“Government shall ensure that not less than 10% of all educational expenditures are committed to the education needs of the disabled at all levels.”

Majority of the provisions of this decree was not implemented up to the time of return to democratic rule in 1999.

 
Story Of Courage
Salisu Ibrahim, a blind journalist, despite challenges as a blind child, still went through the school system to the level of acquiring a master degree at University of Manchester in the UK.

Ibrahim became blind at the age of 7 years. The condition led his parents to delay his enrolment in school until he turned 10.

“My dad really wanted me to acquire education despite my sight challenge because he believed it was the only legacy for my future. So, I was enrolled at Tudun Maliki special school from there moved to Gwale Government Secondary school where I met another blind boy, who later dropped out because he couldn’t cope.

“While in secondary school, I found it difficult to get lecture notes, which means I had to put more effort to catch up with the rest of the students. I was lucky to have friends who understood my challenge and helped me a lot, and I thank God I overcame those challenges.

“After acquiring a Higher National Diploma from Kaduna Polytechnic Salisu was fortunate to get scholarship from Ford Foundation for an opportunity to study in Manchester, UK.

“During my studies in the UK, I did not face so much challenge because everything was made easy for both the abled and students with disability. We were using computers, audio CDs and the likes to study, and that really made studies easy for people like me,” he said.

According, to him, there is the need for government in developing countries like Nigeria to make schools easy and friendly for people with disabilities as being done in western countries.

According to UNESCO, 98 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries, like Nigeria are deprived access to formal education (Imrie 1996).

This make such children dependent on others for monetary assistance.

 

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