Friday, 11 May 2012

Plans on the way to rid Nigeria of beggars

There’s an organisation in Lagos that’s trying its utmost best to better the lot of handicapped Nigerians. Aptly named Competent Handicapped Industry and Vocational Training Centre(CHIVTC), it is not solely a business as its name suggests but also an advocacy organ for the empowerment of the handicapped.
Having been founded in 1987, it is safe to say that CHIVTC has come to stay. It is also safe to say that it has been successful and remains on that course basically because of the efforts and passion of its founder, Dr Oluwatele Olaide Moruf.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, Moruf is handicapped. He is blind and has been so since 1979. “I was seventeen years old when I lost my sight. I was living then with my uncle who was a battery charger. I was also learning the trade and one morning, I discovered that I just couldn’t see anything again.

“We were at the shop and they told me to bring out a battery but when I told them I couldn’t see, they didn’t believe me and beat me instead because they thought I was pretending and wanted to run away back to my parents. So I struggled to bring out the battery but I was stumbling all the way.”
That loss of his sight is what set Moruf on the path to CHIVTC. “One woman who saw me stumbling realised that I was truly not seeing. She gave me money to return to my parents in Ijebu Ode. They took me to a juju man who restored my sight. But six months later, it disappeared again. So I returned to Lagos to attend the Blind Centre, Oshodi (BCO) where I learnt cane craft.”
It was during his two-year course at BCO that the idea of CHIVTC initially occurred to him. “It was just in my subconscious then. It wasn’t a fully-formed idea that I should establish an organisation to help handicapped people. But it nevertheless germinated in me then when I was at BCO because it was while I was there that I heard of the American Printing House for the Blind and the Kentucky Industries for the Blind.”
To the boy who was just eighteen years old and wasn’t sure of his path in life anymore due to his sight’s loss, hearing of these two organisations for the blind in the faraway country, America, made such an indelible impression on him that he wrote them seeking to know more about them. And when they replied him, he was delirious with happiness and it gave him hope, especially as they even invited him to visit them.
Due to a lot of factors, financial especially, it was on the third invitation extended to him that he finally made it down to America several years afterwards. Nevertheless, the information they sent him made him realise that there was truly ability in disability.
“These two American blind organisations really had a profound effect on me. Interacting with them made me know how they were really touching the lives of blind Americans. Gradually, it dawned on me that we needed organisations like them in Nigeria. But it wasn’t until I really found out the sorry state of Nigeria’s handicapped that I decided to take action.
“It was on the pedestrian bridge at Oshodi that I made up my mind. Whenever I was going to work at Modupe Cole, I would always collide against blind and other disabled people sleeping on the bridge. Many times even, I would have stepped on them before I knew it. One day in January 1987, on that bridge, after colliding again with several disabled people, I decided to establish an industry for the disabled.”
Thus, CHIVTC was birthed. “I’ll have to thank God and all the people that helped CHIVTC become a reality. It wasn’t as if I had money to do it. But once I decided to do it, I went to one of my church members, Pastor Anthony Salako. I told him my vision and he promised to think about it. A week later, he jokingly asked if I had N1m to pursue my dream and of course I didn’t.
“But he took me to his house at Shasha and asked if I would prefer upstairs or downstairs. I said upstairs would be inconvenient for the disabled. So he measured a portion of his land and said I should use it. Since I didn’t have money, I rushed to a certain Mrs Mojisola Abdul who gave me N2,500 with which we bought wood planks and paint and Nigerite supported the project with laterite.”
On March 27, 1987, CHIVTC’s first centre, a workshop with a showroom fronting it, commenced operation with the production of cane goods and foot mats. While disabled people were the bulk of its staff and trainees, many able people also benefitted from its existence.
“Many able people came to us to train them and we trained them free as we also needed them to assist us in many areas we couldn’t help ourselves. For instance, they were the ones who helped us when it came to difficult chores like going to the market.”
In 1997, Pastor Salako said he wanted to use his land for its original intended purpose of having a church on it. CHIVTC therefore had to move away, but with no regrets as they didn’t pay any rent for the decade they used there.
“We didn’t have a really good experience rent-wise where we moved to at Abaranje. It was my in-law that helped us locate the place. It was a half plot of land and we leased it from the landlord. We were able to build on the land according to our needs. We built a workshop, students’ hostel, public toilet, showroom and office.
“We also added making of soap and petroleum jelly to our production. We were taught how to make both products with the sum of N2,500 over a two-day training by an Igbo pastor. Even after the comprehensive training, we made mistakes in their production on our own but we finally got it right.
“Since we built our Abaranje centre o our taste, we were hopeful that the landlord would renew our lease as agreed but he refused flatly. We tried to make him come around to our way of thinking but he was adamant and started making trouble. He would lock our entrance with his own padlock to prevent us from entering. Being that he was an old man, other landlords adviced us to move away and we did so in 2004.”
They moved to Ajegunle, which is very close to Sango Ota and they are still there and have even opened still another centre at Ijako, Ogun State.
“We learnt a lot from our Abaranje landlord so now we pay rent every year here at Ajegunle. And just like when we moved to Abaraje and added more products to our range, we added more again when we got to AJegunle. We started making Izal, toilet washer, liquid soap and air freshener. We employed more disabled and able people. We also added motor transport to increase our revenue base.
“However, Ajegunle is not like Abaranje that we built to our specifications. It is a rented quarters that cannot accommodate all our activities. We have been making do as best as we can. But last year, we commissioned another centre at Ijako, Ogun State and we are developing it to our needs.”
Victoria Fasiku, a twenty-two-year-old blind lady from Omuo, Ekiti State, is one of the CHIVTC staff. “I thank God for CHIVTC,” she told Saturday Mirror. “It is a very good initiative that has been helping a lot of handicapped people.”
According to her, she became blind in 2001. “It was my right eye that was initially blind from when I was very little. But I was seeing with my left eye and I wore recommended glasses that made it easier to use only that eye. But in 2001, I lost the sight in my left eye too.”
A little bit shy and laughing at this reporter’s interest in her condition and affiliation with CHIVTC, she found it a bit difficult to respond to the question of how she feels about her blind status. Finally, she said, “I don’t feel okay about it because I used to read before and now I can’t do so again.”
And on how being blind has affected her education, she was emphatic in her reply. “It hasn’t. I went to a school for the blind at Owo.” At CHIVTC, she’s concentrating on learning soap making, saying she just likes it.
Even as he believes that CHIVTC is making progress, Moruf added that it is also facing a lot of challenges. “Our goal is to help all handicapped in Nigeria. But we have not been able to reach out to all those in Lagos alone, so we know we have not reached anywhere. We don’t have enough space and raw materials to train the handicapped.
“When I say raw materials, what I mean is that we don’t have the money to buy the materials necessary for training. And not only that, we are also not encouraged by the general public. I’m sending a letter to banks, ministries, restaurants and prisons to patronise us. If they did, we will be able to employ more handicapped.
“I’ve been to Europe and America so I know what I’m saying. Thousands of disabled people are employed by both the American Printing House for the Blind and the Kentucky Industry for the Blind. When I got to America and didn’t see disabled people begging, I asked them how that came to be. They said there’s a law against them begging but they are employed in industries that government patronises their products mandatorily.
“Likewise in Spain and France where they are employed in laundries and as lottery agents. These are the innovations I’m trying to introduce into Nigeria. Achieving them is not by magic but by government support. And unfortunately, Nigerians don’t encourage, they only discourage.”
Even though he’s defiant that he won’t give up on the struggle, he also doesn’t have a feasible date in mind for when he would have truly actualized his dreams of seeing Nigeria’s disabled all gainfully employed without any of them whatsoever begging on the streets.
“If the government can appoint me to discourage begging and make Nigeria free of disabled beggars, I can do so in six months. It’s not even about them giving us money but support. They will make laws against begging and we will employ them all in industries and the government will also patronise our products on a quota basis. The government also has to realise that it’s not about appointing people who don’t understand us to oversee our affairs.”
Moruf might know what he’s talking about. In his own modest way, he has contributed a lot to aid his fellow handicapped.
“CHIVTC commercial transport buses are made available for handicapped all the time. If they want to go somewhere, our buses take them there and back. We also lobby government on the rights of handicapped.”
Moruf is definitely not the average handicapped. He is a leader amongst them. He also has the title of doctor affixed to his name. Saturday Mirror therefore asked him if he feels that his being educated is what stands him out among the handicapped.
“I can’t claim to have the sort of education you think. I’m a leader because it’s a gift from God. There are those who have Master’s degree and Ph.D and they still bow to me. Education is good but it’s not everything. Some people have SSCE and they can help this country when even professors don’t know their left from their right. And that’s why the Whites are better than us. If you have an idea, they don’t care about your educational status but the implementation of your idea. That’s one thing I learnt from my American and European trips.
“My doctorate is an award from World Bible Institute in America who deemed me fit for it that in addition to my vast Bible knowledge, I’m also what they referred to as a competent blind. They were amazed that I used to wash my own clothes and also iron them so they decided to honour me and that is how I came about the name of my organisation, Competent Handicapped Industry and Vocational Training Centre.”
Glaucoma is what made Moruf blind. He says his parents were very rich yet they didn’t take him to the hospital but a native doctor when his sight problem started. “They were local people, that’s why. That was the way they understood it and I can’t begin to blame them for that,” was his succinct rejoinder.

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