The sun shone from a cloudless sky as they began to make their way into the east side of the government house. Soon, the sun revolved and there was a downpour. They defied it. For two days last week, hundreds of indigent widows and people with disabilities thronged the serene environment where Michael Okpara Auditorium is located inside Abia State Government House. Some took their seats under a large size party canopy just outside the auditorium, while others sat on beautiful oriental pieces of furniture inside the hall. The struggle for space was not a small one as the beautifully decorated hall was filled to capacity. The din both inside and outside the hall was a mixture of different conversations coming from one direction. It was easy to understand their joy.
“The wife of Abia State governor, Lady Odochi Orji is a kind woman,” said Mercy Samuel who has been in a wheelchair for more than five years. “She has been seeking inclusion for the indigents and the disabled since her husband was elected the governor of Abia State. She routinely brings together people with disability of all categories to encourage them to fulfill their dreams.”
True, across the categories of the disabled who were at the government house on a recent Wednesday, the mood was upbeat. The deaf and dump who made signs with their hands, the blind aided by their walking sticks and paraplegic in their wheelchairs and those assisted by crutches had joy written on their faces, the moment they stepped into the government house.
Unarguably, the indigents and disabled are faced with Nigeria’s myriad challenges, ranging from unemployment to lack of social security. And in the face of these heavy odds, Mrs Orji has made it her mission in life to integrate the disabled and indigent widows into the national mainstream to bridge the gap between the disabled and able-bodied.
Her strategy addresses both the individual and society. By providing the disabled with moral support to help restore their self-esteem and sense of dignity, she inspires them to fight for their rights. By campaigning for awareness, she educates the public about the realities and rights of people living with disabilities. She goes to the extent of empowering the skillful ones among them to enable them own their businesses.
So last week, hundreds of empowerment items were distributed to the indigent widows and disabled. Sewing machines, hair dressing equipment, catering equipment, barbing kits, computers, grinding machines and many more were some of the items handed out to the widows and disabled who converged on Umuahia last Wednesday.
According to Mrs. Orji the abuse suffered by the handicapped in Nigeria and promise made by her husband before coming into office is influencing her decision to support indigent widows and disabled in Abia State.
“The maltreatment of widows in our society is inhuman, unbearable and ugly. When a woman loses her husband, a civilised society should rally round to support her and her children. Causing her more pain at the death of her husband is evil,” Orji said.
She added: “This government is widow friendly and caring for the disabled is a huge priority for Governor Orji. We have demonstrated this day after day and the evidence is there. The disabled faced enormous challenge in our country, so their inclusion into the society has been one our priorities since 2007.”
Yes, according to International Labour Organization’s (ILO) statistics, one out of every seven people in the world or some 1 billion people—has a disability. Between 785 and 975 million of them are estimated to be of working age, but most do not work. While many are successfully employed and fully integrated into society, as a group, persons with disabilities often face disproportionate poverty and unemployment.
That statistics, according to the Chief Press Secretary to the Abia State Governor, Charles Ajunwa, is what Mrs. Orji is working to reduce. “The effort of the first lady is focused at giving equal opportunities to everyone. She has been so dedicated to the plights of the poor. She is doing everything to help get them to the mainstream of the society, including canvassing for policies that will support their aspirations.”
One of the beneficiaries, Okezie ThankGod Kelechi from Bende Local Government Area of the state who has been blind for over 10 years was full of praises for Mrs. Orji. He said: “It is encouraging that we have a woman who shows concern about our welfare and our future in a society where we are lonely most times. People who act this way fear God and Mrs. Orji is in that class. Her determination to change the status quo for the disabled and the poor generally is unmatched.”
To be sure, the wife of the Abia state governor has recently built a three-bedroom bungalow for an indigent widow, Mrs. Best Ekoba Alozie from Abayi, Ohanze, ObiNgwa Local Government Area of the state.
During the unveiling of the house, Orji disclosed that her office has so far built and equipped six houses for indigent widows and two blind residents of the state as part of her complimentary role to her husband’s determination to ensure people on the lower rung of the society feel the impact of government.
She restated the commitment of Governor Orji’s administration of enhancing the welfare of not only the indigent widows but also to all vulnerable groups in the society and other Abians to feel the impact of the government and empowered them to contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic development of the state.
She equally appealed to well endowed Abians to assist the government in ameliorating the plight of all indigent widows and other vulnerable groups in our society.
Orji expressed the hope that such support being given to the less privileged will help them integrate into the society. She cautioned against any forms of abuse, molestation and oppression of the indigents in the state, saying they must be shown love.
Indeed, without a social security net for the vulnerable sections of society, those further disadvantaged by a disability of any kind are left to fend for themselves. And in a society with strong family values, the role of providing support to a family member with a disability has fallen to parents, siblings or other relatives.
In the past the governor’s wife has attracted charitable organisations like Ejay Foundation, Health African Cancer Mission, Abia State Medical Mission, Mtn Foundation, Associated Health Resources Centre in the United States, Tolaran Charity Foundation, Lagos, to partner with her charity, Hannah May Foundation to provide support to the less privileged in the state.
Over the years, people have been screened for cancer, groups have tested and advised on handling of non-communicable disease like high blood pressure and diabetes. Others have received eye glasses, crutches, hearing aids. Most HIV positive have not been left out. Through her pet project, widows have moved into newly constructed and furnished houses, childless couples have been assisted in adoption to prevent separation and divorce that would have resulted from barrenness.
Through the Hannah May Foundations, youths and adults alike have acquired skills, received machines and equipment free of charge to offer services like computer analysis, hairdressing, dress making, event, management and catering as to live successfully, become lawful and marriageable members of society. She has raised family values to an enviable height by example as her mode of dressing has become a dress code in Abia and beyond. She has given out her only daughter at the ripe age to a deserving son not waiting and insisting as some would do that it should be a Governor or the president’s son that can have her hand in matrimony.
Strangely enough, Mrs. Orji said her office gets no budgetary appropriation but she has risen assiduously to the challenges of becoming a powerful fund raiser.
She is the first to acknowledge it. “I have taking on the role of a fund raiser in addition to what I do. It is because I want give voice to the voiceless. I am asking people to support what we do so that together we can heal our society. My husband has been so supportive, but I am asking him for more,” she said.
Orji then lazed her words with a verse from the bible to underscore the importance of her professed interest in helping the poor. She said: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Akinremi writes for Thisday Newspaper