I got to know about the creativity, resilience and positive attitude of this remarkable young man, Mr. Richard Ezekiel, when he approached my Management Team, Olive Media Network, for permission to perform a choreographed dance piece titled; ‘DEFIANCE’, (an adaptation based on one of my poems), at #BAIDDF – the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival in California. His production company -Magic Finger Entertainment was the only Nigerian/African group invited to perform at the event.
Unfortunately, he was not able to attend the event due to sponsorship constraints. His plight brought to light to me, the glaring gaps we have in society for the creative arts, especially for creatives living with disability. There is a need for Government to create grants and other enabling factors for creative artists to thrive. I will speak more about this in an upcoming blog post.
In the course of our interactions, Richard also shared his harrowing experience of brutality, unleashed on him by Nigerian security agencies. He had made several attempts to reach the presidency and other media/advocacy groups, to no avail. I decided that his story was important to share. Not just for the Government, but for all of us; fellow citizens. His experience and suggestions apply to every single one of us.
How we treat and/or advocate for persons with disability needs a seismic paradigm shift. We currently do not build most of our private and public infrastructures to have accessibility for those living with disability.
Neither are we educated on how to properly interact and help those with disabilities. A lot of mainstreaming required, to remove stigma, ignorance and segregation/having citizens on the fringes of society. I hope we begin the process of un-learning previous missteps/prejudices, and re-learning the better way(s).
And there is an urgent need for Government to create more specific and sustainable programs for all children living with disability. Our educational system needs to be reformed to reflect more special education integration.
#ALLNigerianLivesMatter #DignityInDisability #WeAreALLAble #Ubuntu
Please read and share Richard Ezekiel’s thought-provoking letter to the President. See the letter below.
Truth, Light & Love,
President Muhammadu Buhari,
Office of the President,
Federal Republic of Nigeria,
State House. Aso Rock,
Dear Mr. President:
Like millions of Nigerians, I am thankful to God that you are recuperating well, with the help of the best medical care in the United Kingdom, where you have been for the past several months. And as your media aides pointed out, your sense of humour is in full display. Sadly sir, the matters I write to you about, are very far from funny.
I am a Deaf Nigerian citizen. I am writing to you to bring to light a fundamental breach of my rights which is symptomatic of the experience of not only Deaf people in Nigeria, but to many living with various forms of disabilities, and I am also writing to make suggestions on how your administration may address these core issues, in order to improve the experience of all Nigerians living with disabilities.
I had initially sent this letter to you last year, while you were still in Nigeria, via a registered mail service. I did not receive any acknowledgement from you or from your office or any of your media aides, and so I surmised that perhaps you never read my letter. Now that you are at Abuja House, London UK, I am sending it again, with the hopes that it will be delivered to you or to your media aides, especially since all of them had recently visited you.
Thank you for your time in attending to my message below:
On Friday August 12th 2016, I had an encounter with members of the Joint Task Force in Jabi area of Abuja which I later documented in the public space through my Facebook post of Saturday the 13th of August. That post has gotten more likes, comments and shares than all my postings on that platform put together. I have been inundated with inbox messages from people, both deaf and hearing, who have experienced the same thing – brutality and the trampling of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights by Nigerian Security Operatives.
Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 covers fundamental human rights. My issue arises specifically from abridgements of rights enumerated in sections 34 (1) (a):
- (1) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly –
(a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment;
- 35. (1) Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law –
TRAUMATIC IMPACT AND CONSEQUENCES
My experiences (which mirrors that of many other Deaf Nigerian citizens), with security operatives’ brutality highlight the woeful lack of professional training about – and awareness of – Deaf culture and communication within security formations across the nation.
They illustrate the urgent need for systemic change. As a matter of urgency, please reform the police and other security agencies. All abuse of power is corruption. It is even worse when the abuse is done by those who are constitutionally mandated to protect all lives and properties! And I encouraged by your clear stance on fighting all forms of corruption, as evidenced from your words. To paraphrase you; If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us. Very apt!
I have suffered and continue to suffer from the stress occasioned by the traumatic experience. Now, wherever I see uniformed and armed security personnel, fear is my first response. I have flashbacks to my ordeal and have to suppress the potentially dangerous urge to take flight.
Why should a law-abiding citizen of Nigeria like me be afraid to live in his own domain, in his own country; afraid of the self-same people who are paid to protect and serve him as a Deaf citizen; afraid of being approached and questioned by them lest he gets another unjustified and illegal beating, knowing he cannot engage in any form of self-defence, lest it leads to his death?
Why should I be afraid to enjoy the rights guaranteed to me by Chapter 4 of the Constitution? Afraid to venture outside under this big sky above my country to go about my day-to-day work to make an honest and decent living?
But, psychologically and emotionally, this is where I am at today.
Section 35 of the aforementioned Constitution provides:
(6) Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person; and in this subsection, “the appropriate authority or person” means an authority or person specified by law.
This is my simple demand: compensatory and exemplary monetary compensation and a public apology for:
- my unlawful arrest and detention;
- the physical assault to my person which followed the unlawful arrest and detention; and;
- being forced to roll in the mud.
Given that the officers who perpetrated the assault were members of the Nigeria Army, the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the NDLEA and the EFCC, the apology and compensation should properly emanate from the offices of:
- Chief of Army Staff (Lt.-General T.Y. Buratai)
- Inspector-General of Police (Ibrahim Kpotun Idris)
- Commandant-General, NSCDC (Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu)
- Chairman/Chief Executive, NDLEA (Colonel Muhammad Abdallah)
- Executive Chairman, EFCC (Ibrahim Magu)
[Being the security chiefs whose officers were involved in the brutal assault].
SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
I see a problem as an opportunity for me to do my best in terms of providing solutions.
I believe that all man-made problems, including those created by police unfamiliarity with the demographics they serve and their contempt for constitutional rights, are susceptible to man-made solutions.
Therefore below, I proffer some solutions for improving the interaction and experience between Deaf Nigerians and members of the various Nigerian security forces.
Nigeria is my home. I really want my country to be a better place for ALL, including people of my ilk and future generations of Deaf Nigerians yet to arrive in this world. Accordingly, it is time to create the change I can, to change attitudes and beliefs; and explode myths, misconceptions and shibboleths.
No country can advance when her citizens, especially citizens with disabilities, live in fear. I didn’t ask for a disability. It happens and when something happens we deal with it and manage it as best as we can. Life must go on.
Brutality towards citizens on the part of security operatives is not news in Nigeria. All police and security agents’ brutality should be condemned and curbed. What happens when these poorly-trained security agencies interact with a Deaf person, and the Deaf person, for lack of ability to communicate with them in the manner they expect, falls unfortunate victim?
Without further ado, I offer the following suggestions to help improve the interface between Deaf Nigerians and security officers.
- Revision of the Police College, NSCDC and Armed Forces school curricula to include a 2-part course on Deaf Culture and another 2-part course on Nigerian Sign Language. Dr. Odutola Odusanya of the Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, can be consulted on the development of a curriculum on Deaf Culture and one on Nigerian Sign Language. Understanding the culture and the language is the essential first step to exploding beliefs and attitudes borne of unfamiliarity.
- Mandatory retraining of all officers with the new curriculum in mind.
- The creation of Deaf Liaison Units within all Nigerian security formations throughout the federation. These Units will be composed of select officers and men who have passed the Deaf Culture and Nigerian Sign Language curricula with a grade of not less than B+.And their function will include liaising between members and institutions of the Deaf community such as schools, NGOs, churches and individual Deaf Nigerians to ensure better relations, better security-Deaf citizen communication, and better policing of Nigeria’s various Deaf communities.One must wonder how many occasions the scenario has repeated itself throughout the federation: communication barriers between a Deaf citizen and a policeman resulting in an assault or failure to report a crime, which the deaf person witnessed.
- Finally, include a Toll Free line at the presidency or vice-president’s office, for people living with disabilities to report directly to so that these security agencies know that you, as Commander-in-Chief, prioritize and take the plight of vulnerable citizens seriously and that you are committed to changing the status quo.After all, we elected you on the promise of change. You seemed to identify with the poor and vulnerable during your campaign. Sir, what changed? [Sir, all my appeals are extended to you on behalf of everyone living with disabilities, not only deaf people].
No Nigerian should have to endure unjust suffering or even untimely death at the hands of security officers and men just because the person is deaf.
Deafness can happen to anybody and at any time. There are different types of deafness. Just to mention a few, there are people who are:
- Deaf from birth and often not capable of voicing (these are pejoratively and wrongly described by uninformed hearing people as “deaf and dumb”, which is responsible for the misconception that all deaf people are the same. We aren’t).
- Adventitiously deaf (those who were deafened after acquiring spoken language). In this category, there are two:
- Early deafened –deafened before the age of 13
- Late deafened –deafened after age 13
- Oral deaf people –deaf people who communicate only with voice and do not use sign language.
- Hard of Hearing, who exist between the deaf world and the hearing world in that they have residual hearing but not enough to function optimally within a hearing-oriented environment.
- Sight-challenged Deaf people — those with poor vision
- Deafblind people, that is, people who are both deaf and blind.
- Culturally Deaf people –this is broad and encompasses people who identify with Deaf culture, including the hearing Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs).
In my journey through life, I have had the pleasure of interacting with all these people in the broad spectrum of Deafness, in person, at home and abroad. This is considerably more than our security people know.
There is a clamant need for change. It must begin with minds – educating through a mandatory deafness/disability awareness training curriculum. This will ensure that officers don’t go into the field with misguided and uninformed notions of deafness and Deaf people.
Thank you for your attention to my concerns. I look forward to them being addressed properly and expeditiously; and stand ready to provide assistance in implementing the suggestions I have made.
Richard’s Facebook Page
- His Excellency Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Acting-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria
- His Excellency Abubakar Bukola Saraki, President, Senate
- Honorable Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives
- Honorable Ike Ekweremandu, Deputy President, Senate
- Honorable Yusuf Lasun, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives
- Honorable George Sekibo, Chair, Senate Committee of the Interior
- Honorable Adams Jagaba, Chair, House Committee on the Interior
- Honorable David Umaru, Chair, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters
- Honorable Razak Atunwa Chair, House Committee on Justice
- Honorable Pwajok Gyang Chair, Senate Committee on Human Rights
- Honorable Jika Haliru, Chair, House Committee on Human Rights
- Honorable Sani Aminu, Chair, House Committee on Public Safety and Intelligence
- Honorable Stella Ngwu, Chair, House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development
- Honorable Dino Melaye, Chair, Senate Committee on FCT
- Honorable Herman Hembe, Chair, House Committee on FCT
- Major-General Babagana Mongunu (Rtd.), National Security Adviser
- Honorable Abu Ibrahim Chair, Senate Committee on Police Affairs
- Attorney-General and Minister of Justice
- Absulrahman Bello Dambazau, Honorable Minister of the Interior
- Major-General Abayomi Olonisakin, Chief of Defense Staff
- -General T.Y. Buratai, Chief of Army Staff
- Ibrahim Kpotun Idris Inspector-General of Police
- Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu Commandant-General, NDSC
- Colonel Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (Rtd.), Chairman/Chief Executive, NDLEA
- Ibrahim Mustafa Magu, Executive Chairman, EFCC
- AIG Patrick D. Dokumor, Area Commander for Zone 7
- DIG Habila Joshak, Head of Police Operations
- Chris Ayo Omotunde, Special Assistant to the Deputy Speaker, International Affairs
- Inalegwu Ankeli, Special Assistant to the President, Disability Affairs
- Major-General (Rtd.) Babagana Mongunu, National Security Adviser
- Major-General Abayomi Olonisakin, Chief of Defense Staff
- Lieutenant-General T.Y. Buratai, Chief of Army Staff
- Colonel Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (Rtd), Chairman/Chief Executive, NDLEA
- Ibrahim Mustafa Magu, Executive Chairman, EFCC