In this interview with DAVID LAWANI, National Leader of People With Disability (PWD) under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Tolu Bankole, describes President Muhammadu Buhari as a hero, saying they want him to make one of them either a woman or a man as a minister before he leaves office next year.
How are the challenges facing people with disabilities being addressed?
We have so many challenges. But I think we have gone past that now. I am no longer interested in discussing our challenges. I am more concerned about finding solutions to them. When you talk of challenges, we are talking of discrimination, stigmatization, and not giving us free access and accessibility. Political non-inclusion for opportunities. But we have gone passed that. What is important now is to move this powerful community forward. We are about 31 million Nigerians and must move forward to greater heights and glory. And doing that is the right step in coming together and changing views on issues affecting us as people. The summit we have had is an opportunity for engagement with one another. If we don’t meet like that we won’t know what the issue with us is. We look at what we are doing right and where we need to amend our ways. With this kind of opportunity, we invite guest speakers who speak on different issues that we might not be aware of. And it has helped us. We have the number. Yet we should not be seen as not making enough impact. That is why we are determined to come strongly to communicate that we are ready to be involved. The future is bright for PWDs.
How do you get support for some of the things you do to carry your members along?
It is not easy. And, that is why I am asking and requesting partnership from the international donors that we have a lot to do through support for our members and their wellbeing. Some of our people need care and support. Some might not find it easy to meet up without adequate care and support. Healthcare and effective monitoring is a good idea for us as a community of people with special needs and attention. Across the states, there is nowhere you won’t find us. At times most of our people are relegated because no one to speak on issues but I can tell you that since our present administration, we have started speaking up and our people are getting to know their rights. They are getting resolute daily on why they must continue to fight to stay strong and focus on the good things that lie ahead. Financial inclusion from everybody is paramount for all our members. Economic empowerment. Once my people are financially empowered and economically too, I want to assure you that close to 60-70 of our challenges would have been sorted out.
How are the state governors relating with you on the management of your needs?
I have been appealing to all the governors that are yet to domesticate the Discrimination against persons living with disabilities. They should please quickly do that. It is a major concern for us. Lots of our people are not aware and there is a need for these governors to domesticate it since the bill has been passed into law by Mr President. It was a major victory for us. And, we will be glad if all the states in Nigeria can enforce the law. This is a situation where people with special needs are involved and carried along the activities and programs within their states. Be it employment, elective positions, appointive, and other sundry benefits that can make a living ad existing worthwhile for a community of people. We want our people to be elected into positions. They have the requisite knowledge and competence. Those who cannot walk but can see and hear are in a better position to offer good ideas on how to move the nation and state forward. That is the only thing e are asking from them now.
What can you say about the present administration under President Muhammad Buhari?
We cannot thank him enough. He has shown so much support for us. He is our hero. He is a progressive man. A wonderful man and he has shown us, true love. He is very passionate about PWDs. That is why we will continue to celebrate him anywhere e go. We will keep praying for him. God is using him to our advantage. From family intervention, and lots of other intervention programs for PWDs. He cares for us. We know too that there is no amount that he can do that we will not keep asking for more like liver twist. Our people are in large numbers all scattered across the states. That is why we are asking that state governors should be more committed to our course. We need them for our survival. All they need is to provide a level playing field for everyone so that our people can also compete in an environment free of discrimination and fear. We are a people living with needs not that we originally requested for it but due to nature. So, we cannot deny our existence by that but ensure we find ways to live with it and make the best we can from it. We want to appreciate him for his quick assent to our bill. It has lightened our burdens. But it is still not enough until the states do their parts. We will continue to appreciate him. We will continue to celebrate him. From his timely intervention. He has demonstrated commitment to our plight. So, to us, he is the best president.
What do you want from him before he leaves office by next year?
Just to put a final nail on this issue of discrimination, we appeal to him before. Please appoint one of us, one PWD as a minister in this cabinet. That will be a passing gift to PWD. It has never been done before but he can use that to register his footprints in our hearts. At least when he does that, you can rest assured that we will now have a better way and means to relate more with our community. That sense of belonging and oneness will be total and sufficient. We want him to further use that appointment to consolidate his many achievements for PWDS. We will live to remember him for good and for making us proud. We are not saying he has not done well but we will want to be appointed as a Minster so that our community will feel that deep sense of value and appreciation as being part of the system. Anyone of us can be appointed. Either a woman or a man. We are satisfied with it He should just go ahead and do that. That is all we are asking him to do for us before he leaves. And, we believe he can do it. He has the capacity and capability to do. He is our father because he has shown special love and care for us. We just need him to complete this part of the appointment. We will be happy and appreciative of it. The community needs him with his presence. And that appointment will serve as a big encouragement to other state governors to go ahead and appoint more PWDS into their state cabinets as commissioners in their states.
How can equality be guaranteed for people with disabilities?
That is also very important. I have always advocated for PWD women and children in all our grams. My mission is to ensure everyone’s right is respected and maintained whether a woman or a child. Everybody as far as PWD is concerned is my major constituency. And, I want everybody to be treated with dignity and courtesy in every area of our human endeavours. We are created by God. We didn’t create ourselves. So, in whatever condition we find ourselves, we demand respect and concern. There I hardly a family in every home where you won’t find one or two persons living with PWDs in Nigeria. But, we want to sincerely thank and appreciate all those who don’t see us as an outcast. We are one community of humanity that needs help and survival tactics to exist. We have the energy and capacity to function in every of life. We should be seen as partners in progress. We have integrity and the ability to show what is not known about us. It is just that when you don’t come close you won’t see the ability in us. We have all it takes to be everything once there is no discrimination against us. Our people are strong and competent enough to stand any pressure but we all need the support of all to overcome any challenge that comes our way. We will continue to ask for what we deem right for us in our policies, statements, and actions legitimately. We are a very important segment of society and I want to assure you that we will not let the public down.
What is the take always from your recent national summit?
This National Summit is a platform to amplify the need for fair and equitable inclusion of PWDs in all the 36 states of the federation including the FCT after extensive deliberations resolved as follows. We appreciated the special place our hero, President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR played to ensure that PWDs gain their prominent status as guaranteed in the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 when he signed the law.
The PWDs reckoned that the president’s infrastructural revolution in the country is historic and history will be kind to him. We promise the unalloyed support and solidarity of all clusters of PWDs in Nigeria and the diaspora. Like Oliver Twist, we call on our dearest President to complete his love for PWDs by appointing PWDs as ministers, members of federal boards, and parastatals in his cabinet to finally put a nail in the coffin of discrimination, stigmatisation, and rejection of PWDs in Nigeria. We registered our gratitude to The National Chairman of our great party, APC, His Excellency, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, and the entire NWC members for demonstrable inclusive ideals. Also, we emphasized that Nigerians must understand that disability is never by choice, and nobody is immune. We are PWDs either by birth, negligence by our parents and guardians, accidents, war, age, disease, or epidemic. The Summit passionately appealed to the conscience of state Governors who have not domesticated the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 to bequeath an enduring legacy to the PWDs community. We appeal to our governors, who are the leaders of the party to give PWDs leaders in the zones and states listening ears to fulfil their mandates of political, economic, and social inclusion of PWDs in APC. With 25 million votes from PWDs, we resolved to set up an all-inclusive PWDs campaign structure to the polling units level, to work for the victory of our presidential ticket; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Senator Kashim Shettima; our Governors, and other candidates of our party.
How do you intend to achieve all these feats?
To achieve this, we ask that PWDs must be involved in all the campaign structures of the party at the national and various states by setting up the PWDs directorate to accommodate the peculiarities of the PWD community. We agree to set up PWDs Campaign Council for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu/Shettima 2023 immediately, to ensure victory, knowing that APC is for Nigerians and Nigerians are for APC. Equally, the Summit resolved to write to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to know the correct data of PWDs voters. We ask INEC to extend the continuous voters registration exercise to prevent the disenfranchisement of eligible PWDs voters. On insecurity in Nigeria, we reject the drums of dooms and wars by merchants of instability. Nigeria’s security is the collective responsibility of all Nigerians. Enough is enough, this beat of war must stop, and we in the PWDs community will not dance to it. This National Summit charged all PWDs leaders to carry along women and children as a matter of priority. To achieve this, we shall create a directorate for women-children with disabilities to give them a sense of belonging. Lack of finances to oil the activities of PWDs at the state, zonal, and national levels was identified while urging the party’s hierarchy at the national and states to support PWDs with mobility to achieve the daunting task ahead of campaigns. The Summit noted that the National Disabilities Commission has done so much for the PWDs community and those of us in the APC are willing partners of the Commission to reach more PWDs in Nigeria. We resolved to stand by his leadership and appealed to all leaders to shun anti-party activities