PM 23rd January 2014, an interview with Abbey Paseda.
Abbey could you tell us where you are from and your early life?
AP: My name is Abbey Paseda, I am from Nigeria. I was born in the 1970s in Lagos. I had my secondary education at a military school at Basaria and went to university in Nigeria.
PM: What made you become interested in the lives of disabled people in Nigeria?
AP: I have a passion for supporting disabled people as I am not really happy with the situation in Nigeria because disability is the most neglected area of human rights in our country. We blame the government for this because they are not really doing much to support disabled people in Nigeria. But the question is also what are we all doing as individuals to support disabled people? Because some of us are more privileged than others and we therefore need to show disabled people that they are loved and not neglected by society.
These people that we call ‘disabled people’, personally I believe that they can contribute to society so why can’t we just give them support to live their potential lives?
PM: Can you tell us more about what the lives are like of people in Nigeria?
AP: Like I said, disability is the most neglected dimension of equal rights in Nigeria. It is very common in Africa to see disabled people begging by the roadside, they are begging for money but the government is not doing much, so I and other disability activists have been working to raise awareness of how the government can go about supporting disabled people because the situation is very, very bad compared to the UK and other countries.
PM: Is there a benefit system? Do people get disability pensions or benefits?
AP: There is no programme for disabled people in Nigeria. The Nigerian government ratified the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people since 24th September 2010 but since then nothing has been done to put a smile on the faces of disabled people, like in Ghana and some other African countries there has been an introduction of a weekly grant, like the UK government are doing, supporting disabled people with some grant every week.
So if African countries like Ghana have been doing that, what have the Nigerian government been doing? There has been a Bill passing around for about 4 years now at the National Assembly and they haven’t yet reached any agreement on the Bill. So what are they doing? So for me the Nigerian government need to do a lot.
PM: You mentioned Abbey about the fact that disabled people are having to beg on the streets of Nigeria, is there any form of health service? Do people get wheelchairs from the health service or other mobility aids?
AP: There is nothing like mobility aids from any government agency or from any group. The only thing for disabled people to rely on in Nigeria are the charity organisations, so that is why I founded the Focus on Disability Foundation. It started three years ago and during this time we have distributed over 100 wheelchairs to disabled people.
But in Nigeria we have about 22 million disabled people. We are only trying our best but we have been helped by the generosity of people like the Disability Resource Centre in Birmingham who have supported me in many ways. I want to encourage more people in the UK to support us so that we can work together to put smiles on the faces of disabled people in Nigeria. I can say openly that there are no statutory services, such as providing people with wheelchairs in Nigeria, but we are trying our best. There a lot of schools for children with special needs and children who are blind, which we have been supporting for years and we hope to still keep supporting them.
Recently we held our International Day of Disabled People on the 3rd of December and I found out that is only in the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja, that the International Day is being celebrated. Why? Is it just in Abuja that they have disabled people? So this is what my good friends and I wanted to do, we wanted to bring disabled people together to put a smile on their faces.
We took about 80 wheelchairs, 20 white canes for blind people and lots of other disability aids and gave them to people on the 3rd December 2013, International Day of Disabled People.
PM: Now you are based here Abbey in the West Midlands, UK, and you collect the wheelchairs and equipment, some of it is second hand, and all of this you do with your volunteers. It must be a massive challenge to collect so many wheelchairs and so many white canes and books of Braille and sign language, how long did take to collect all of that equipment and how did you go about getting it from the West Midlands to Nigeria?
AP: I can’t thank our supporters enough and people who use wheelchairs and mobility aids for making donations. It wasn’t easy transporting the equipment to Nigeria. My good wife and I have been using our money to send those things to Nigeria. We are very glad of some good people in Nigeria who have been supporting the organisation and we really appreciate them all.
PM: How do you go about selecting the people in Nigeria who will benefit most from the support? That must be a challenge to do that from England?
AP: We have a lot of demand from disabled people. We ask them to call our office in Nigeria or even go there to register their names and contact numbers. We send out one of our members to visit them to see their situation, what they need and when they need it. So we selected the beneficiaries on the basis of their needs. As I said previously, the demand is very high with 22 million disabled people in Nigeria. On the day we couldn’t give mobility aids to everyone but we promised people that they may benefit from our next programme.
PM: Abbey, can you tell us more about the event you held in Nigeria on International Day of Disabled People 2013? How many people turned up to receive the aids and equipment that you were distributing? Can you tell us about any of the people who received aids and the impact it had in their lives?
AP: On International Day of Disabled People, it’s about promoting and understanding the lives of disabled people and encouraging support, dignity, rights and well-being. So in our organisation Focus on Disability Foundation we try our best to put smiles on the faces of disabled people. We were surprised at the turn-out on the day, we expected about 200 people but to our surprise about 400 disabled people turned up. People we were not even expecting turned up and we were so glad, we danced together, we sang songs and later we distributed the disability aids to them.
I think people really appreciated what we did for them and for those that could not benefit that day we promised them that very soon we will try to support them. This is 2014 and it’s just the beginning of the year, we have a lot to do. For those who could not benefit last time we have a programme starting in the next few months where we can give out more wheelchairs, white canes, elbow crutches, any kinds of disability aids.
PM: Tell us more about Nigerian society Abbey. Do you see many disabled people in employment? Are disabled people able to climb the ladder to become managers or can they access university? Are there many prospects or opportunities?
AP: Well I can’t say that there are many prospects or opportunities for disabled people in Nigeria. Things have not been easy for disabled people in Nigeria. As I said earlier, disability is the most neglected dimension of equal rights in Nigeria. Many people see disabled people as a burden. So when a disabled person approaches you to ask you a question, the answer is “don’t talk to me! I can’t talk to you!”
Why is it like that? It shouldn’t be like that. It is not a person’s own wish to be like that. I know this from my observations of Nigerian society, disability is not given any respect, but it can happen to anybody at any time or in any financial situation.
So we at Disability Foundation will be trying to advocate more on behalf of disabled people in Nigeria. Very few disabled people are in employment, but as I said, we have about 22 million disabled people, so let’s say there be about 1000 people in employment out of 22 million, that’s a big difference. I think that the government has a lot to do.
The Nigerian government have failed disabled people in Nigeria. I can say it, they have really failed them and something needs to be done.
PM: What about public transport? Getting on buses or trains, is that easy? Are there low floor vehicles so that disabled people can travel?
AP: That’s so funny. On my next trip to Nigeria I’d like you to come with me because you cannot compare the experience of disabled people in the UK with the experience of Africa. I can’t blame you because you haven’t been there but I am sure you will have seen a lot of things on television. I can’t lie to you, there is not a lot of support or access for disabled people in Nigeria.
It’s very hard, there is no access. Even at the entrance of banks there is a security check so someone in a wheelchair cannot even get in. There are metal detectors at the front door which prevent someone in a metal wheelchair getting into the bank. Most offices in Nigeria are inaccessible to disabled people, all of these things need to be done.
If a disabled person wanted to go out of their house or wanted to go on public transport, the driver has to come down from a bus, help them to fold the wheelchair and put it to the back of the bus or car. That is very hard and I think we have a long way to go in Africa.
PM: I know that it isn’t just the distribution of wheelchairs and white canes that you do in Nigeria Abbey and some people received things like materials to do basket work and make things that they can sell. Is this part of a philosophy of empowering people to earn a living? Rather like the phrase “give a man a fish and he can eat for one day, but give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself for life”?
AP: Yes and we have been back to visit the people that we have empowered in this way so far and were happy to find that many people are doing well with their jobs. We still have a lot of people on our list that we want to empower.
So we try as much as possible to empower people, for instance we have some students there who were doing well in their education, so we decided to support them with scholarships and also giving support where there are children at school whose parents can’t afford to pay school fees. We have also been buying school books, giving children meals in the school.
PM: You are in the process at the moment of trying to get your charity registered with the Charity Commission in the UK, can you tell us what you want the charity to do in the UK? What support would you like from the public here?
AP: The reason we want to register the charity in the UK is that there a lot of opportunities here for disabled people. Unlike in Nigeria where there is nothing like ‘fund raising’ as you know it here. If you try to do ‘fund raising’ in Nigeria, it’s hard because people don’t believe in it. But apart from money, in the UK we hope to get donations of materials. So registering it in the UK could be a great way to get more support from the public.
PM: It’s going to be called Focus on Disability Foundation UK. Do you have an email address?
AB: Yes the email address is email@example.com and we also have a website which is www.fodfoundation.org and we would appreciate it if people could visit it and see the services that we are providing to disabled people in Nigeria.
PM: Abbey thank you very much and good luck with your future plans.