Solomon Akoji, who is a visually-impaired graduate assistant at the Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, tells COLLINS SUNDAY he hasn’t allowed his physical disability to relegate him.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Solomon Akoji. I am the fourth child of my parents. We are nine children in all – seven males and two females.
I am Igala by tribe; from the Ibaji Local Government Area of Kogi State but I reside in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital.
Growing up, life was not easy for us but my parents did their best to cater for the needs of my siblings and me, and they ensured that we all went to school because they believe that one has to be educated to excel in life.
How did you lose your sight?
Actually, I was born with my two eyes intact. But I first lost my left eye in Awka, Anambra State in 1987. We were living there at the time. I was a little boy when it happened. I remember that I was playing with other children in our neighborhood but unfortunately, one of us threw a sharp object towards me, I tried dodging it but the object unfortunately entered my left eye and caused a serious damage to it and I couldn’t see with the eye again.
In an effort to remedy the damage, my parents took me to different hospitals but their efforts proved abortive. So, I resigned to fate and continued living with the remaining eye. However, unfortunately, I lost the remaining eye too in 1990 in Lafia, Nasarawa State.
At the time, we were living in the police barracks because my father was a police officer. The incident was a very sad one. It happened that a boy and a girl were fighting in our neighborhood, so I was told by my friends to go appeal to them to stop fighting. But unfortunately, when I got to the place, the boy, who had a stone in his hand, injured me in my right eye. I had gone there to make peace but sadly sustained a serious injury, which claimed my remaining eye, rendering me completely blind.
Was anything done to save the second eye following that injury?
My father took me to the Jos University Teaching Hospital in Plateau State. We were regular faces at the hospital for about four years, going and coming. We stopped going to the hospital in 1994 when it became obvious that all hope was lost.
But the treatment seemed to have helped at some point because I remember that I started seeing a bit with my right eye. The problem, however, was that I was having constant, terrible headache. The doctor told my father it was due to the eye injury; he said my retina was affected. After some time, I completely stopped seeing with the eye. At that time, the headache also stopped.
What was it like adjusting to the new reality of being completely sightless?
The reality of living without my two eyes was difficult for me to accept. It was like I was in a new world. It was not easy. Imagine somebody who was seeing before and suddenly became blind. But I had to accept the situation for life to move on because if I kept thinking about the situation, I would not be where I am today. I am grateful that my family stood by me. Where we had issues was the money for treatment but every member of my family adjusted to the situation. Their concern was for me to regain my sight. Although our efforts were not successful, I will always remain grateful to them.
What kind of childhood did you have?
Actually, my childhood was fun because my peers never treated me as a blind person. I played with them and partook in almost everything they did. Even till today, I still enjoy their company.
Which schools did you attend?
After I lost my sight, I first attended a school for the blind in the Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State where I did Primary One to Three. But looking at my performance and behavior in class, my teacher had to recommend my transfer to a normal school in the same area where I continued from Primary Four to Six.
After my primary school education, I proceeded for my secondary school education in another normal school in the same Mangu LGA. I was the only visually-impaired person in my class but my classmates were very nice to me. They were really caring and they supported me and that was what gave me the courage to continue with my studies in the school.
But studying was not all that easy for me because I had to do four things to achieve one thing – I would buy the books, look for someone to read the books to my hearing, then I would Braille the book before studying to understand. But in all of these challenges, I could not give up on my dreams because my classmates were like family to me. They never stopped encouraging me.
After my secondary school education in 2007, I went for a diploma programme in Social Work in the Sociology Department of the University of Jos. I was there till 2010 when I sat the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, seeking admission to study Sociology at the Federal University, Lafia. I was lucky to be among those who were given admission. The university then was very new. In fact, we were the pioneer students and that was the school I graduated from.
What was your experience like as an undergraduate?
My experience was a very good one. Although, as a visually-impaired student, it was not easy for me to read my books and there were so many assignments to attend to, I was determined to do well. Since 2011 when I got admission into the school to study till now that I am a member of staff, I have never had any reason to regret. The students and staff of the university are friendly to me.
While I was a student, the university purchased so many devices for me just to ensure that I did not have any issues with my studies. Even till now, I use those devices to carry out my job in the school. The staff and students of the university have really been nice to me. They are my family members while I am away from home. I am grateful to God to have schooled and now working in the university.
Are you a lecturer in the university?
I currently work in the university; I work in the Department of Sociology. I was employed to work as a graduate assistant in the department but recently, the university graciously approved that I should further my studies. So, I am presently pursuing a master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Jos.
Was it difficult for you getting a job at the Federal University, Lafia?
I was employed as a result of my performance in the school. I gathered that it was a recommendation from the former Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof Ekanem Braide, and the school Senate approved that I should be employed.
I was the only visually-impaired student among the 243 pioneer students who were given admission in 2011. Out of the 243 aqqastudents, only 119 graduated in the year 2015 and I was among them. So, during our convocation ceremony, the university announced that automatic employment would be given to the six students who graduated from various departments, with first class. The school also announced that I should be given automatic employment for my performance despite the fact that I am visually-impaired. I graduated with Second Class Upper but was given a job alongside the first class graduates.
Was it always your dream to study Sociology or how did you choose the course?
It has always been my dream to study Sociology because I found myself in the Sociology Department while doing my diploma in Jos, and I discovered that the course is good for me, especially because it is about the study of society. And coupled with my condition, I felt it is good to understand how to interact with human beings and understand society.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married. I got married in September 2019.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife when I was still a 200 Level student at the Federal University, Lafia. I travelled to the area where I had my secondary school education in Mangu LGA of Plateau State for a visit and coincidentally, I met her there. We became friends and now we are husband and wife.
Is your wife also visually-impaired?
No, my wife is not visually-impaired.
Did you have some relationships that did not work before you met your wife?
Yes, I was in a relationship before I met my wife but it did not lead to marriage. I also have female friends. In fact, I have more female friends than male friends. The reason is because females are naturally compassionate. They understand the challenges that I am passing through and they always do their best to help out. But this is not to say I do not have male friends that have been good to me as well. It’s just that I have more female friends.
I believe that God has created a wife for every man. I also believe that He has a husband for every woman; it may only take time for them to meet but they will eventually meet. When I met my wife, I knew she was the one for me. No marriage is completely perfect as people say. It is the ability to compromise that keeps a marriage going. So, my wife and I understand each other and we are living happily.
Do you have children?
I do not have children at the moment. I am hoping to have them soon.
Do you have any fears that you might have a visually-impaired child?
No, I do not have such fears. I believe and trust in God that all my children will be physically and mentally fit. The fact that I am blind does not mean I will give birth to a blind child. Moreover, I wasn’t born blind, so I don’t have such fears.
I was not rejected by my parents and siblings, so I will not reject my child if it happens that way. The same way I was supported and encouraged to get to this point in life, I will also support and encourage my child but I pray they all come very healthy and strong.
What do you consider as your most important achievement so far?
I have actually achieved a lot. Being alive and being able to get sound education and impart knowledge to students is enough achievement for me as a visually- impaired person and I am still hoping to attain greater heights in life.
Are you into any advocacy group for people living with disability?
Yes, I belong to some groups advocating for people who are disabled. I belong to the Joint National Association of Persons Living With Disabilities; the Nigerian Association of the Blind; among others.
What advice do you have for young people with disabilities?
My advice to them is to be resilient, determined and focused. They should not give up because of the challenges that they are passing through. Discrimination is one of the challenges because someone who is not even as knowledgeable or educated as they are will see them as nothing meaningful but they have to keep pushing and keeping faith alive. And the disabled people who have not gone to school should do so now in order to have a brighter future.
Do you have any advice for parents who have children living with disabilities?
Yes, I have a piece of advice for them. Some parents who have children with disabilities usually think that they are useless and because of that, they neglect the children or fail to support them to pursue their dreams. But that should not be. Parents of children with disabilities should give them as much support as they give to their other children. Imagine if my family had abandoned me, I may not have got to this point in life. So, it is necessary to give the physically-challenged children the needed support.
Do you have any demand from the government?
Mine is an appeal. I want to appeal to the federal and state governments to come to the aid of persons living with disabilities. The government has been trying but we are asking for more. We are facing a lot of challenges because the devices and equipment we use are very expensive. We can’t afford them and that is why so many physically-challenged people are suffering. So, the government should help us in every way possible.
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