Make the cripple walk

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[First published in The Nation newspaper of Nigeria on 4th of August, 2007.]

Olugbenga Kuye became deformed – handicapped, crippled, whatever you choose to call it – at the age of two. He lived in that state until the Lagos State Limb Deformity Correction Programme recently restored him to normal walking state. Now he is out there preaching the limitlessness of handicap of any form as Group Editor (Arts and Culture) Solomon Tai Adetoye reports

  Scorn. Rejection. That is the worst pain of disability.Hear the words of Olugbenga Kuye: “Keeping the disabled man-child in a room out of bond [sic] to all visitors and extended family members is worse than outright extermination.”Yet time was when they were literally exterminated. Arrangement was made to quietly eliminate a child whose crippled existence was perceived as a potential source of shame to the family. Communities in Africa and elsewhere used to have a special evil forest where such kids were killed and buried. Otherwise, “knowledgeable ones” within the family arranged quiet death which was announced as a result of “natural causes.”Fate would not allow Kuye to be born into such an era. But his pain was severe enough. At two years of age, he suffered a bad polio that crippled his legs. For years as he grew up, he lived with all sorts of pains. Today, things are different. But instead of dwelling on his pains or forgetting them, he has chosen to turn them into healing balm for all that ache both physically and emotionally.Who played what role to turn me into what I am today? That is a natural question people who suffered deformation early in life often ask. No doubt this has played out on the mind of Olugbenga Kuye for decades. In the home, especially a polygamous home, the mother is charged with bringing up the child. Whatever happens to the child, she is held responsible.One of many children from his mother in a polygamous home, Olugbenga’s misfortune would in no way be unconnected with his mother. After all he was just a toddler when the affliction that brought the misfortune occurred. Yet in his biographical motivational book entitled The Man In You, Kuye states that he hold nothing against his mother who died while he was still a young lad.She was there only for a while as she died while he was still young. But the memory the young man has chosen to preserve is that of a caring mother. She did within her limited knowledge and understanding tried to make life comfortable for the disabled son. One cannot of course rule out the fact that such “extra care” could at times make the handicapped man-child feel abused as such is not extended to other children.Nevertheless, the atmosphere was not particularly conducive for proper development. Imagine this, there is an incident next door and a – naturally – curious child goes out to see what is going on. Then an elder brother comes over to send him back home. The older one’s excuse? The people expected at such scenes were “normal human beings” not cripples.The rejection followed him to school. Recalling his school days, Kuye said, “Only a few played football. These boys seldom admit [sic] me into their midst even if the game involved did not require physical ability. ‘Gbenga go and sit down there.’ I have heard that near command a thousand times. It is a painful thing. It is humiliating, especially if the person giving the command is your age mate or ranked below you in age.”Countering this negative treatment, Gbenga Kuye committed himself to academic excellence. While he could not go out to play with his mates, he studied. Excel he did and by the time of his operation last year, he was a student of Lagos State Polytechnic.Apart from the emotional battle, Kuye had physical pains to cope with. “I lived on analgesic because of the frequent pains from both legs,” he recalled. “These severe pains often affected my respiratory system, which became irregular when the pain came. So I was not only disabled but also sickly. No one wanted me. No one was ready to be identified with me. I was always lonely. I was always sad. When I was tired of loneliness at the backyard I decided to come to the frontage of the house.”Like the ancestors say in Africa, it never gets so bad that no caring heart is left for the forsaken. While recalling the pains of isolation and rejection, Olugbenga Kuye recalls members of the family and others who not only showered him with affection but also rendered assistance.Faced with the challenges of physical handicap, Kuye forged ahead. He made his way through primary school and secondary school. Clearing his result, he proceeded to higher institution. It was while he was in the higher institution, Lagos State Polytechnic, that his miracle came.Polio victims often resign to fate. Many revert to begging while others try to eke out a living for themselves with whatever ability their disabilities left behind. A tiny fraction stick it out choosing to reach the utmost in life. Kuye belongs to the last group. Yet, fortune had something better in stock for him.The last administration in Lagos State led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had a policy of “health is wealth.” It reached out to malaria patients as well as those whose sight was impaired. But the one that got across to Kuye was the special programme for free limb deformity correctional surgery for victims.Olugbenga Kuye wobbled into the hospital ward. He was used to it. After all he had been in the disabled state for over thirty years. But this was destined to be his last wobbling walk. After hours of corrective surgery, it was time to wheel him out. Although essential staff had closed for the day, Programme Coordinator Dr. (Mrs.) Dolapo Fasawe was around to assist. In fact, Kuye sees former Governor Tinubu as the “presiding doctor” while words failed him to describe the then Health Commissioner Dr. Leke Pitan.Weeks later, he took the first steps with the assistance of crutches. In his words, “a ray of hope that signalled better days ahead fount itself ruling my once despondent heart.”Check out Olugbenga Kuye today decked in dark suit and white shirt minus necktie the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad style or with his friends in long sleeve shirt and trousers complete with tie and you would hardly recognise him as the once disabled fellow.

What saw Kuye through the dark valleys of his life? It was hope and faith. He believes there is a deposit of God in every human being that is the seed of greatness. Handicap and disability, terms he took time to differentiate, are not enough to hinder a determined person from manifesting what he was born to manifest.

Who better qualifies to lift up than the man who has been to the very valley of the shadow of death? That is the story of Olugbenga Kuye who has now devoted his life to helping people get out of despondent situations. Apart from his academic pursuit and hopes of career in future, he has become a motivational writer and speaker. The first fruit of his effort is the book entitled The Man In You which he had the honour of presenting to former Governor Tinubu when it was released not too long ago.

The nine-chapter work is in 152 pages spiced with photographs of his experience. In the work, he is not just talking at the subject. What Kuye has done is to related his personal life experience with practical counsel. Chapter one is entitled The Legs Are Bad in which he relates his personal experience. Another form of deformity, this time blindness, is the focus of the second chapter entitled Can He See. The third is The Man Cannot Live Alone and the fourth What About Politics? The next two chapters are subtitled Personal Experience. They are We Don’t Want Him and We Cannot Work With Him. The seventh chapter is entitled Disabled Indeed, the eight The Man In You and the final one, also a personal experience, But It Can Get Better.

With the surgery successfully performed, things definitely are going to get better for Olugbenga Kuye a man whose return journey has been as romantic as it is sweet to the hear.

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