Professor Akinjide Osuntokun At 80: The Tour De Force Life
By Toyin Falola
As I see it, the Nigerian dream is to rise (through hard work) against the backdrop of harsh social, economic, and financial circumstances and reach the pinnacle of whatever height we set our sights on. Across cultures, ages, and fields, history is replete with stories of many great men who started from humble backgrounds. However, in the case of Akinjide Osuntokun, the indigeneity – the recency, the similarity of background, challenges, and the stories – confers a sentimental value on his story for me and, I believe, many other Nigerians. It gives off a sense of relatability, belonging, and hope.
Osuntokun’s life is the ideal metaphor for what Nigeria and Nigerians dream of daily. It is a realisation of hope: a proof that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel that Nigerians and Nigeria are in. It is also a testimony to the existence of a few sane intellectuals, individuals who still care about the nation and are hopeful for the restoration of its polity. To put it into the context of Osuntokun’s origin, his life exemplifies Joyce Meyer’s quote about small beginnings being launching pads for remarkable things. This piece tells the story of a true son of Oduduwa, a compatriot and a leader, a man who has indelibly engraved his name on the sands of time through his dedication and commitment to excellence.
Unlike most elites who have influenced history, Osuntokun’s background alone may not mirror his current achievements or his illustrious siblings. Of course, I do not mean this in condescension to his community of origin. Rather, I mean it as another factor to consider in appreciation of the trajectory of his career and consequential contributions to the state of Nigeria. Like he is always proud to say, Osuntokun was born in an Ekiti town in 1942 – a period when western education was trying to gain ground in the country, and many thought it did not amount to much. He did not come from a family especially endowed with generational wealth and fancy inheritances, but his lineage had a reputation for their determination, willpower, and physical prowess. A sixth child in a polygamous home, he was privileged to have formal education. This, however, did not spare him the rigours of work after he started schooling. He worked the ground, did domestic chores, and contributed in his little way to the family economy – as customary for male children of his age group in those days.
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As a young boy, his formal education gave him cosmopolitan and political exposure, the bedrock for what later developed to be nationalism and an unwavering sense of patriotism. From Holy Trinity School, Ilawe, he switched to Emmanuel Primary School in Ado-Ekiti, where his socialisation evolved. Ado-Ekiti was bigger and more cosmopolitan, and this transition began his exposure to the real world of people and their differences. He left primary school for his secondary school education at Christ’s School, where what evolved to be his diligent academic career started. As a promising young man under the eagle eyes of his teachers and his brother, he completed this phase of his education with a record of the highest number of distinctions in the West African School Certificate Examination.
In the absence of the right facilities and structures to guide their decision, Osuntokun, like most of his other colleagues, proceeded to study History at the University of Ibadan, leaving the offer to study Law in Lagos hanging. The primary reason for this choice, according to him, was his mother’s sentiments towards the legal profession and the advice of an older colleague. Quite a lot happened during his studentship at the university. For instance, he and his friends founded what evolved into the Eiye Confraternity today. The group, which was formed just for lively conversations, parties, and sometimes philosophical discussions, was hijacked and made into a secret society that mirrored Ogboni tradition. During his days at the University of Ibadan, Osuntokun also met his wife, whom he revers and openly talks about whenever he gets the chance.
Success, sometimes, they say, can feel like a curse. Even for someone like Osuntokun, life was not always fair despite the knowledge he wields and the reputation that precedes him. By predisposition, the Osuntokuns are present across different spheres of public service, politics, and academics. For instance, Professor Kayode Osuntokun (of blessed memory) was a pioneer in neuro-medical research in Nigeria and throughout the globe. His eldest brother, Akin Osuntokun, was one of the pioneer legislators in the Western Region of post-independence Nigeria. Abiodun Osuntokun was another of Akinjide’s siblings who lived and died as a military officer in service to the national course.
Professor Akinjide Osuntokun experienced first-hand what it means to be a victim of a great name. His exposure to politics came quite early due to his brother’s affiliation with the political elites in the Western region at the time. Through his brother, he was indirectly involved in the consequences of complicated political schisms that heralded the 1960s when the country was trying to find its feet in the republic. Some deep-seated intra-ethnic schisms rocked the political atmosphere of the Western region during this period. In fact, in his accounts of his life, he described how he was exposed to taunting, verbal abuse, fear, and hatred due to his brother’s involvement in the Akintola and Awolowo saga.
Essentially, Akinjide Osuntokun is not just a professor of history; he has lived through some of the historical moments in western and national politics. Despite this rather rough introduction to politics and public service, he still took on the mantle of service to the country later in his career – a feat considered quite impressive. For instance, aside from its historical relevance, his academic work sometimes incorporates an objective critique of the Nigerian polity and nationally relevant past and present decisions. He has also served as a public commentator, addressing administrative flaws and policy deficiencies in the country while in service and after his formal exit from the national diplomatic service. His appointment was terminated because he was a threat to the indiscriminate governance and ruthless dictatorship perpetrated by the late General Sani Abacha. It did not stop there. He was arrested, detained, and treated like a criminal for speaking the truth to power and standing up for the commoner.
I particularly consider this phase of his life to hold significant lessons for Nigerians and posterity. For one, despite his appointment as a stakeholder in the diplomatic affairs of the Nigerian state, he did not allow himself to be leashed by the benefits attached to it. In his exact words, his story is that of “a boy whom through hard work and humble beginnings made it to Olympian heights, dined with Queens and Kings, Presidents and Prime ministers without getting carried away by all the glitter.” Also, the threshold of challenges he has pushed through is surprisingly high, considering the trajectory of his personal life and his life in public service.
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It would not have been surprising if, due to his initial experience with national politics and his detainment, he stopped contributing openly to policy and administration in Nigeria. However, he has persistently and continually contributed to matters of national importance with the subjectivity of a compatriot using the different tools available to him. This includes his investment in the fourth estate and the numerous columns he writes for media houses across the country. At different points in Professor Osuntokun’s life, he has shown exemplary willpower and persistence. This attribute to persevere despite all challenges and to always stick to the fair side of the moral spectrum inspires me, and I hope it inspires posterity in Nigeria and Africa collectively.
Before any serious nationalistic involvements, Osuntokun has been involved in political activism (for racial equality) and an organised demand for administrative accountability. As a transfer student during his undergraduate days, he experienced ridiculous acts of condescension by white people. Later during his post-graduate studies in Canada, he discovered the effect of propaganda, policies, and education on identity, racial ideology, and self-awareness. In his observation in his autobiography, the education of the Black community, coupled with the situation of policies, governance, and economics, restricted the Black Canadians at that time within the mental prison of inferiority. They were not overly ambitious about education, career, or even a structured life in their psychology. Bound by duty, Osuntokun – like other African intellectuals at that time – developed an interest in racial liberation politics and dedicated a substantial portion of his time to it. This is yet another lesson for the intelligentsia today that change does not come through armchair criticism and self-pity. It only does this through knowledge and applying it correctly to challenge the status quo and create a new and more convenient reality.
My favourite part of Osuntokun’s life is his body of academic work and, by extension, his lecturing. This is not because of a compulsive inclination as his student, fellow academic, and historian, but due to three major things. First is his publications’ sheer depth and relevance, especially as sources for historical research. Two, the brilliance of these academic compendia even though he started when relevant resources were not abundant. Three, the expanse of his experience is mirrored in his teaching resume, his writings (academic and otherwise), and how he articulates his words (in speech). The bulk of his works (even his autobiography) served as objective primary and secondary sources for vital pre-and post-independence historical research in Nigeria and, by extension, Africa. Quite impressively, he has dedicated an ample chunk of his life’s work to researching and documenting Yoruba history and the evolution of its preservation over time.
At this point, I will like to reference some of his works and their contents that I consider exceptional. First are the different biographies he authored – The Merchant Prince and the Monarch, J. F Ajayi: His Life and Career (co-edited with Michael Omolewa), Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh: In Time and Space, and Abidakun, his autobiography. These were not just accounts of the lives of these individuals; they were written in the context of their historical relevance. For instance, The Merchant Prince and the Monarch is a biography of a Soun of Ogbomoso. However, the account references an objectively accurate background history of Ogbomoso, the kingship, and the families of prominent figures mentioned. This professional compulsion (I presume) and scholarly elegance are particularly evident even in his autobiography, Abidakun: An Autobiography of Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, which starts with a summary of the history of the Ekiti people, particularly the Ajapo Ise, and their evolution. There are very few well-articulated summaries of indigenous Yoruba history like that.
The last on this list is his extensive research and publication on Chief S. L. Akintola, the controversial political stakeholder of the Western Region in the 1960s. This particular work has a sentimental value for Osuntokun; after all, he was a victim of the Akintola/Awolowo political controversy in which he had no hand. However, the most important thing is the courage it must have taken to publish the work and the amount of effort that must have gone into it. During the time in question, historical research was not just limited by the unavailability of resources but also by a conspicuous lack of documentation and records. The few available records in the academic repositories were lost due to the nonchalance of custodians or irrelevant political pettiness. Despite these challenges, Osuntokun did an impressively thorough job of research and documentation. This publication has been helpful to me and other people in our evolution as academics in the field of political and historical research.
Additionally, Osuntokun’s intelligence covers a considerable expanse of spheres. Some of his books and scholarly publications were written in deference to specific national and international issues. He has done remarkable work in politics, diplomacy, foreign policy analysis, psychology, and even sustainable global development goals in Nigeria. His depth of knowledge, willingness to apply it and consistent demonstration of correct application are some of his most endearing attributes. It would be incomplete to reference Osuntokun’s academic achievements without properly recognising his contributions to consolidating African history as an academic interest in Nigeria and other parts of the world, especially the West Indies.
During his days outside the country’s shores, the icon pioneered structured teachings of African history at the University of West Indies. This act particularly kept the embers of the African cultural heritage burning among the Black community in the Caribbean. The foundation he laid through his peculiar style of imparting knowledge contributed immensely to the sustenance of a culturally conscious and self-appreciative diaspora. Outside of the classroom, Osuntokun was also instrumental in explaining the origins of some cultural practices of African origin widely practised in the West Indies. From that time in the 1970s till now, his influence on the African academic community is still recognised, especially in discourses spanning African history and cultural uniqueness. He was offered a long-term appointment because of his resourcefulness, teaching expertise, and overall warm disposition. However, he declined and returned home to contribute to the development of his own country, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. I consider this very thoughtful, especially since the country was just trying to recover from the civil war and evolve into a proper federation.
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Osuntokun’s experience in teaching, administration, and international relations later got him an appointment as a director of the National University Commission on an academic mission to Canada. Through diplomacy and diligence, he contributed to paving the path for academics, many of whom I know. Despite the non-substantial benefits attached to his portfolio, he worked hard to secure the future of foreign scholarships for Nigerian students – something a host of people benefitted from. Portfolios like his drew bureaucratic complications and similar disturbances; however, given his previous knowledge of navigating workplace issues, he again set a stellar record of excellent performance, which I believe was instrumental in his subsequent appointment as a diplomat to Germany. He was helpful in locating institutions in Canada and liaising productive partnerships between them and Nigerian institutions. From his observations and research in Canada, he also contributed to some of the progressive policy recommendations for university administration.
It would be thoroughly exhaustive to discuss Professor Jide Osuntokun’s service and achievements. His several decades of service include lecturing positions, editorial portfolios, directorship, diplomatic positions, administrative roles (especially in universities in Nigeria), and many more. His personal life and career have spanned continents like Africa, Europe, and South and North America. He has a list of awards and symbols of recognition to commemorate his un-paralleled efforts in public service, administration, and academia. Some of these include being an Emeritus Professorship, Redeemer’s University; an Emeritus Professorship, University of Lagos; a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters; an Officer, Order of the Niger; a Fellow, Historical Society of Nigeria; a faculty role of honours awardee at the University of Ibadan; a Presidential Honour, Republic of Equatorial Guinea; an Irving and Bonar Graduate Prize awardee, and so on.
Nevertheless, this account would be grossly incomplete without reference to the professor’s family life, which he is especially proud of. Professor Osuntokun, despite the different demands of his occupation and travels, is a dedicated family man. In my little understanding of his personality, family is and will always be a core of Professor Osuntokun’s life. His family has been with him through the thick and thin of public and administrative life and after. Perhaps this was due to his upbringing; after all, people who grew up in stable families tend to value the sacredness of the institution. However, I believe the overall success of his family was also due to his late wife’s persona and the love they have for each other. Indeed, he who finds a wife finds a good life. After a series of not-so-successful attempts at dating, Akinjide met the bone of his bone, Dr. Abiodun Osuntokun, when she was a secondary school student in Saint Anne’s, Ibadan. Abiodun Osuntokun would later attend Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria and another school in Canada.
Abiodun and Akinjide got married in Canada in 1969, and they had a mutually beneficial relationship that produced children – Fola, Seyi, Yewande, and Tosin Osuntokun – who are excelling in their respective careers. Fola Osuntokun is a finance professional in the United Kingdom; Seyi is a successful engineer in Canada; Tosin is a renowned physician and cardiology expert in Dublin; Yewande champions diversity and inclusion as a strategy director at Novartis in Toronto.
Finally, I would like to remark that Osuntokun’s life and the inherent lessons are materials for books and extensive studies; hence, I cannot capture everything. However, let me put things into perspective with a little summary. He stands as a house set upon a hill; he has built a legacy of hope and uprightness and has created many opportunities for others to take up the mantle. He stands resolute by the circumstances of his birth, the family name, and the big shadow of his sibling’s greatness. He carves a path for himself and posterity and leaves lessons for us on how to navigate life. Professor Akinjide Osuntokun’s name is material in the halls of fame. I am certain that history will continue to remember the intellect whose hands carved it even in the coming decades.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Death At Dawn, Rebirth At Dusk
By Toyin Falola
Twilight-zone, Afterlife, What-Mays, and Whatnots;
Questions that transcend mortal thoughts.
Uncertainties plucked by the hands of certainty
pondering life beyond the galaxy.
Philosophies, religions, and sciences;
Ancient lenses to dissect and ponder.
Beliefs, opinions, and standpoints in their multiplicities;
Scalpels that open the heart of certain death
Blazing free the skins of uncertainty.
Science, a nobility I revere,
But it stammers answering to the afterlife.
For science is knowledge and knowledge from experience
But the dead neither speak, nor take records.
Their journeys, ordeals, triumphs or woes?
No one bears witness.
But as dead, we must all be witnesses;
witnesses that testify not.
So, for now, we survive the knowledge of death.
On my Agbàlàgbà head lies my Ọ́kpụ́ Ágwụ́
With eagle feathers, rare and honorable
Adorning it for three scores, a decade, and some more days.
I had flipped my Kente given by the Gaa
And danced to crescendos from Gàngàn drums
I have been celebrated and celebrating
For the miracles, I have worked with pen, paper, keyboard, and brain
I have taken the tales we tell in my village square beyond the Atlantic
Changed the songs that disdain us into appraisals
I have called my brothers not to point to our fathers’ house with their left hands
I have honed Africa and beyond
To answer the calls of the people’s need
I have reached the thinkable and done the unthinkable
So, I danced and keep dancing.
Suddenly, I felt a touch on my host?
Electrifying my hand, leg, brain, and my whole
Telling me that my jur from the Dinka people awaits me.
That my hourglass tells of crossing the bar.
I thought I knew what it was like,
But my grasping convictions of approaching jur were perceptions
Just surviving the death of the knowledge of death
So, arms wide open ready to abound
What was there to fear?
No catacomb of secrets
No palm oil-drenched white garments
I have taken many to my gourmet
To feast and to see.
What was there not to fear?
With medicine men and women,
Syringes, lights, water, ECG, Oximeters, voices, and touches
Hovering around me like a sacred etutu
Making conversations with me and beyond
I was thrown into a pool of reminiscence
one leg and a part of me were already in the boat
It beckoned but I heard another.
A loud voice like my mother’s.
Who takes a journey without locking his home?
Who takes the jur with unpatched palm fronds on his hut?
While the thunder rages up the sky?
The walls are broken and Balogun journeys?
So, I left the sea to clear the cobwebs and light up the night lamb.
The past few weeks have opened new lights of understanding to me. I now see the world from different hills and have helped to reach new resolutions. I know I have written about “transitioning to nothingness,” but my emphasis was on the “nothingness” with lesser attention on “transitioning.” I think we need to continue to ask questions. Philosophies, religion, sociology, psychology, science, and other ramifications are mere perceptions and we are uncertain. The transitioning occurs when death becomes an angel to hug not a beast to fear. We do not know what it entails but one must always endeavor to go with clean hands.
My recovery from an illness may have offered me a fresh opportunity to shout some more, point to societal needs, and settle unfinished businesses. No, not those caused by my personal undoing, but rather those of the people who would be left unguided, and for matters untold about life, society, and individuals. I can say I have passed through the lessons of tantra transfiguration, to use an elegant phrase that I recently came across, to move from secular to sacred activism. No one survives death because of its finality, but when it seems that you did, it is a renewed quest, offering a new purpose.
Professors On INEC’s Will (3)
By Tony Afejuku
The debate has progressed well so far. Our professors, whose strokes have centred on their fellow professor’s manned INEC have tried as best as they could not to confine their impressions solely to the prism of subjectivity. Even when their impressions seem to be subjective, they still make allowance for contrary views, for opposing views. This obviously gives clarity, objectivity and logic to the subject at hand. Is the will of INEC of a professor minder and mincer of words’ control the will of the people or of the masses? On whose side are the Professors who are as concerned as almost everybody is with what is going – or with what has gone on – primarily about our Presidential 2023 elections? Our Professors who are debating the subject constitute the courageous and prophetic Nigerian voices of our day. Their authentic and responsible thoughts are not restricted to the local or regional. They are also not confined to electoral duties and responsibilities expected of the umpire and the will that belongs elsewhere. The truth about the quality of leadership about our country and elsewhere is also told in the debate of the literati.
Professor (Mrs.) Razinatu Mohamed in her submission, in her salvo-cum-explosion actually, drew attention to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s explosive explosion in the presidency. If Professor Osinbajo had provided the right vice-presidential leadership there would not have been the need for him to explode as he did as per a viral video Professor Razinatu Mohamed referred her fellow debaters to. “What has he been doing in the eight years of their administration? Irritated my foot; he is complicit.” Not done, Professor Razinatu drew attention to the kind of leaders that Nigeria and Africa need: “Leaders that understand the rudiments of modern socio-economic development and systems; Leaders that understand the crux of requirements for economic growth. Leaders that could demonstrate to the rest of the world that just as the world needs Africa, African countries need the world in a symbiotic relationship and partnership context where assistance becomes a dual role…..”
Razinata’s concern is clear. Nothing in Nigeria will climb out of its hollow hole. In fact, the will of the people will remain hollow so long as a hollow mincer and minder is in charge of its electoral affairs.
Professor Da Sylva perhaps responds better to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s algebraic stroke. “Unfortunately, Nigeria’s democracy is trapped in its primordial self-made ethnic and religious sentiments and so, standards, merit, competence and pedigrees are measured by their curious divides of religion and ethnic inclinations. Until we all come to realize that heavens help those who help themselves, Nigeria ain’t going no-where – meeen!”
But below is Professor Da Sylva’s sledge hammer response to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s Osinbajo hammer blow:
“Prof Osinbajo’s office demands he does what he did. Besides, it shows maturity and spirit of sportsmanship on his part. Every loser in a game “healthily” contested, is naturally expected to do the same. The only difference which again shows Osinbajo’s magnanimity is that in this context, the contest under reference was neither healthy nor just. The umpire seemed compromised and merely worked to a prepared answer. Yet the gentleman did the needful. I guess, brothers and sisters, that we should put all that behind us, and work for our common good, and the wellbeing of the country, provided the mythical Aso cabal will let the President-elect be, and let the masses be, and as such, they should not create any cause for us to think otherwise, lest they provoke our sense of patriotism to take appropriate action! I guess that those were the reading or feelings of the dirty-minded Aso Villa cabal. People that kill with sword never wish that any folk should pass a sword over their heads, a wise saying goes in Yoruba. The human principalities simply suspected that should they allow PMB to give the VP the intended latitude, they might not be able to control him. I remember on his return from London, he commended the efforts of his VP while he was away. He said he would still continue acting while he would still have some more rest at home. The following day everything changed, PMB decided to take charge as the President. I suspected some back door politics was playing out. My co-debaters, quite naturally, you’ll agree with me that, it is not over-ambition or sheer opportunism as you might insinuate for any deputy in an office to aspire to the next higher office, in a legitimate manner, there is nothing really unusual about it, and it would amount to killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer, should Oshinbajo be crucified for that, if at all. And as for his wishing Buhari’s non-recovery, I think that, again, like my Sister R, is a little unkind and not fair to the gentleman who I know to be a servant of God. He knows as much as I do, by our true Christian orientation and Biblical injunctions that, should he ever wish Buhari’s death or wish him any form of misfortune in those trying periods of the President, God Almighty who we serve would deal mercilessly and ruthlessly with him. That is what Psalm 41:1-13 is all about. So rule that out, because it is not, and could never be in his character. I can vouch for him. Rather, I saw him in those times that he acted for his principal, as someone zealous and appreciative of the trust his principal invested in him, and as such he tried to do his very best to merit the trust and the opportunity! I know and I am also sure that this is what an IBK, or a Razinat, would have done too had they found themselves in a similar situation! It does not amount to wishing one’s principal any evil, not at all. Not everyone can be like Chief Obafemi Awolowo who resigned his position under Gowon when the regime became financially reckless shortly after the civil war. Awolowo also gave very profound argumentation to justify convincingly his actions. He also turned down some other appointments including the “49 Wise Men of the Constitution Drafting Committee.” Oshinbajo couldn’t have resigned, normally, and naturally his principal, PMB should have supported him as a capable successor, but again, the President’s ethnic and religious bigotry took the better part of the President. Besides, PMB’s mind was long poisoned against his VP, a clean job by the Aso Villa cabal. IBK, Lady R, until the faceless cabal is permanently silenced the wheel of Nigeria might continue to go round in a circle, and to nowhere in particular”.
And Professor IBK takes the floor: “Prof. DAO, yours is a powerfully convincing submission, at least in a large measure. Now I am willing to hold a slightly different opinion about Osinbajo. Yet, I cannot fathom why he chose to run against Tinubu, days or weeks after the latter had begun his campaign in the party primaries. There’s much we don’t know about why OSBJ decided to run against BAT. Nothing is wrong with that politically but a little problematic from an Ethical or, at least Moral, point of view. Osinbajo did a poor job of it and came out a distant 4th in the primaries. I think he didn’t read the situation correctly and was probably misled by some cabal of sorts. Either way Osinbajo made a politically fatal error in this regard. Perhaps he must have sensed, or was told, that BAT was not the anointed candidate, or that BAT would be crippled by some ill-health or a medical condition. I remember the party’s screening committee publicly recommending that only younger contestants would be recommended to the NWC or such. Clearly there was an attempt to sideline BAT. Whatever the explanation, Osinbajo make the error in his campaign of promising to be more Buhari than Buhari. A man despised by whole sections of the northern population, a man whose reputation for laziness and incompetence was on the ascendant. Anyway, all is now history and Osinbajo has not given a good account of himself in this particular case. Prof DAO, I think your concept of the Trickster should account for Osinbajo’s situation here. FULL DISCLOSURE: a very close family member of mine was drafted to head Osinbajo’s campaign effort in Kano. We discussed extensively about Osinbajo’s pledge to carry on with Buhari’s policies. There was bewilderment and shock within the members. A week later half of the membership resigned on account of Osinbajo’s increasing identification with Buhari’s policies. Many mistakenly thought that Osinbajo was Buhari’s anointed one! I could go on…”
Interestingly interesting and intriguingly intriguing, dear, dearly dear readers: this debate.
To be terminated by the columnist-terminator and terminator-columnist next week after Professor Olu Obafemi’s summation of the debate he presided over.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
With Us, Not For US
By Ijeoma Fynecountry
The 21st of March of every year is international day for the celebration of persons living with down syndrome. The advocacy and push for communal and political recognition of the basic fundamental rights for persons living with various types of disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, just as enjoyed by their peers who do not have any form of challenge – physical or intellectual has recorded a substantial success around the globe, especially in more developed climes.
While the same cannot be said of the situation in Africa and Nigeria in particular, scanty breakthroughs have also been seen over the years, with the consistent and dogged efforts by some specialized organizations such as Down syndrome Foundation, Nigeria (DSFN).
The theme for this year’s celebration is “With us, Not for us”. This theme is apt particularly in the current era where the push for inclusion has taken a center stage in the campaign worldwide. While it is comforting to know that people, government and communities alike are now becoming more empathetic to the plight of persons living with disability, it is also necessary and most important that their rights as human beings deserving of not just empathy but actual concrete benefits accruable to other citizens without disability, is massively taken into consideration and actually provided for.
Therefore, it is not enough for the government to map out and create as in Lagos state and few other states, sections in the public schools to admit children or persons with intellectual disability, it is necessary to adequately equip these special schools with the needed “specialized” manpower, infrastructural and educational aids to attain the targeted educational goals for these persons. Likewise in the provision of better healthcare, economic, social needs of persons with disability etc.
Persons with intellectual disability do not just need to be specifically educated in accordance with his or her type of disability, but MUST also necessarily be able to aspire to or expect to be employed according to his or her learned ability. That way, a full right, befitting of a person, be him a person with disability or not, is assured. For what is the need of going through a learning process, acquiring a specialized knowledge about a craft or handiwork and eventually still not being given the opportunity of gaining employment as supposed, not due to lack of knowledge but for having a disability? No human being should be subjected to such. Our government should do better. The society at large should do better.
The theme for this year is enjoining all stakeholders – the government, communities, corporate organizations, religious bodies/organizations, individuals to open up their hearts, and recognize the very urgent and important need to help in the actualization of these basic human needs, rights of persons living with intellectual disability as we are all human. No human rights or needs should be prioritized over the other no matter the state of their health, mental and physical capacity. Stand with us by taking actual intentional steps towards uplifting and elevating the humanness of persons living with disability. It is not enough to say that you are for persons living with disability, your specific, intentional, targeted actions toward ensuring the practical applicability of these rights matters.
Fynecontryis a Lagos-based legal practitioner and the legal resource person for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria.
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