He is a corps member, a recent communications graduate. He was 16 when he lost his sight. Demola Adeleke’s disposition towards life and his career remains a puzzle to many.
But, for the 26-year-old, life hadn’t always been rosy. After Adeleke was thrown in the dark as a teenager, it had seemed as if he as well lost touch with reality. For a precocious chap that he was, life couldn’t have been more ruthless.
From nearly losing his grasp on first-class at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), in Enugu, to representing Nigeria in global youth summits, Adeleke has shown that the fetters of disability exist only as a mindset.
Sparing no chance at inspiring physically challenged individuals to see strength in their disabilities, the Oyo-born writer fights the mind-bending stigma associated with living as a disabled Nigerian.
With Blind Chronicles, a Facebook advocacy group initiated by him, Adeleke has gained the attention of many Nigerians by championing the cause for an inclusive society of physically challenged.
He joins TheCable Lifestyle in an interview to talk about his vision to create a community where the physically challenged are given equal opportunities alongside their able-bodied counterparts.
He also discusses his foray to Europe and how the exposure would help him achieve his dream.
Years ago, you were struggling to overcome the depression that accompanies the loss of sight; today you’re like some celebrity. What’s the feeling like?
Laughs. Well, I’m flattered by being referred to as a celebrity. Yes, things were rough for me a few years ago, and that was because I newly lost my sight and was sinking in depression. I guess anyone would.
You know, having lived with your eye-sight from childhood, and all of a sudden, you lost it. But by accepting my blind self and determining to be relevant in life regardless, I think my life has experienced drastic progress.
I’ve been to Lagos island, and someone who has been a fan online ran to me to greet me. I was at an eatery in Ekiti too, and someone recognized me instantly as Demola Adeleke. Even in London, a Nigerian walked up to me to ask if I was the writer of ‘Blind Chronicles.’ All these things make me feel happy and fulfilled.
I think I’m beginning to reap the fruit of my decision to return to school and become relevant. Sometimes, I blame myself for wasting years indoors when the unfortunate incident befell me. I should’ve just dealt with my fate and trudged forth immediately. It’s really a nice feeling, a huge transformation.
So far, you’ve defied the odds. What would you say has kept you going?
My determination for a comfortable future has been my motivation. I’ve seen blind persons on the street, begging to feed their stomach. No, I’ll rather die than be at the mercy of pedestrians to eat. I’ve also seen some employed blind persons whose salary cannot suffice their monthly expenses.
I feel really horrified whenever I come across them on the road, fighting to get their own share of the money given by philanthropists. I don’t ever want to live like that. I’ve lost my sight. I don’t want to also lose my dignity. So, I’ll keep striving until I’m able to get the kind of life I desire. Live in a comfortable apartment, earn what will enable me to cater to my wife and children.
What are you really passionate about as a Nigerian youth?
I’m passionate about building an inclusive Nigeria for the disabled in the country. I also want a better co-habitation and co-existence between the able-bodied and the disabled persons in Nigeria. Being a blind Nigerian myself, I have been a victim of some undesirable perceptions from society.
For instance, during my quest for a place of primary assignment (PPA) as a Corp member, I frequented many broadcast stations in my own state. Since I studied mass communication, I wanted a PPA that would help groom my broadcasting skills.
But, because I am blind, many radio stations didn’t even give me the chance to prove my worth before dismissing me. So, it’s often like that for disabled persons in the country.
In university, I encountered cruel treatments from a few of my lecturers who thought my time in the university was nothing but waste. But I’m thankful today as I’ve somehow been able to prove them wrong. The disabled citizens in the country don’t have to experience these things.
They don’t have to live their entire life struggling to change people’s perception of them by explaining themselves and proving their worth to people. That’s why I decided to sacrifice my writing skills as a communications graduate to give an insight into the world of disability. This is one thing I do with great passion.
Tell us more about your recent trips to Europe?
I was in London for the One Young World Summit 2019 in October. I was selected as a Peace Ambassador by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the summit. Out of over 10,000 applicants, only 50 persons were selected around the world and only 5 persons from Nigeria.
I was one of those 5 persons. The One Young World Summit is a UK-based not-for-profit that gathers together the brightest young people annually from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections and create positive change. I was selected on the basis of my advocacy for the disabled persons in Nigeria.
Also, in November, I was selected by Restless Developments, a UK charity, as a youth delegate to participate in the Wilton Park conference on making ‘Tertiary Education Safe to Learn,’ which took place in Sussex, United Kingdom. The conference gathered stakeholders in tertiary education from many countries of the world, charging them to debate on how to safeguard students in tertiary institutions.
Out of over 4,000 applicants, 11 persons were selected, and I was the only delegate selected from Nigeria. The two events launched me into international collaboration with like-minded change-makers from around the world, as it afforded me the opportunity to network and interact with fellow youth leaders.
Attending these two events in the United Kingdom exposed me to what young people are doing all over the world to help in the realization of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, and how the United Kingdom is throwing all their support behind these youths’ initiatives.
How do you think your recent trips would help facilitate your passion?
My trips to the United Kingdom have connected me with like minds with a similar passion. I’ve met with change agents who are also making efforts to adjust the world to the convenience of the disabled, and who are keen on contributing to making my project more effective in Nigeria.
As a result of the trips, I was able to secure prompt legal support for any vulnerable disabled Nigerians who get robbed of their constitutional rights, by simply reaching out to one of my fellow youth delegates who has pledged to make his legal outlet accessible for this minority group in Nigeria.
On the issue of inclusive and equitable education, I am working with delegates from countries where ‘Science’ is not an impossible field for their blind citizens, so as to achieve the same in Nigeria where Science is a ‘no go area’ for the blind.
I’m also collaborating with tech-savvy programmers on developing artificial intelligence through which the blind can see. I’m in contact with a private establishment in the UK to see if they could assist in drawing a transportation architecture in Nigerian tertiary institutions to help blind students and physically challenged ones to overcome the mobility challenges they often experience on campus. All these projects and initiatives came to be as a result of my two trips to the UK.
What change do you want to see taking place in Nigeria and how are you contributing to making this a reality?
I want an inclusive Nigeria for disabled persons. I want employers to dismiss disabled job-seekers because of their incompetence, and not their disability. I want the government to pay more attention to the disabled citizens in the country, just like the European countries are doing.
I crave a Nigeria where the able-bodied will give their hand to assist the disabled, and not watch them with scorn and disdain as they struggle to get things done. I hope instructors and teachers who have disabled students under their tutelage will learn to teach them with love and tolerance, and not bully them like a lecturer once did to me.
I have channeled my expertise as a writer into achieving these things by publishing articles that would incite their realization, as well as lobbying influential and relevant individuals that could make all these things happen, and I can only wish to live to witness the realization.
I’m also urging Seyi Makinde, Oyo state governor, to further extend his kind-heartedness to the disabled persons in the state by including them in his administration and employing them into offices where they have displayed some competence.
What do you have to tell other disabled and Nigerian youths?
They should always look past their present condition. Everyone has a challenge, but not everyone is patient enough to overcome it. Many persons were just like me; acquired disability at some point in their life.
But, instead of forging ahead with life and making sure they don’t end up as a liability to the nation, they gave up on their dreams and settle for what comes their way. No! That’s not the way to go. We all should try to live an impactful life, regardless of whatever challenge we are facing.
Just as the saying goes; tough times don’t last, tough people, do. I’ve encountered a lot in my 26 years on earth, but here I am today, attending conferences overseas.
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