Twenty-Seven-year-old Salisu Suleiman hails from Dawka Local Government Area of Kaduna State and was born with poliomyelitis. He is self-reliant as he sells stationery, wallets and handkerchiefs at Ikeja Underbridge Lagos as a source of livelihood. OMOLOLA AFOLABI, who had a chat with him reports that Suleiman and others like him should be encouraged by the government and corporate organisations.
He did not choose to be born with infirmities, neither did he decide on the mode of movement he would be identified with as a man. Rather, fate played a huge role in his life.
He is Salisu Suleiman, a 27-year-old man from Dawka Local Government Area of Kaduna State. He was born with poliomyelitis. As a result of this, he has mobility challenges.
Despite his near-state of immobility, he left his Dawka home 15 years ago for Lagos to eke out a living. For a decade and five years now, Suleiman has been untiring in his commitment to eke out a legitimate living in the ever-bustling metropolis of Lagos. He, even with his situation, refused to be identified as a pathetically wretched man who lives only through charity.
To aid his movements, Suleiman uses a handmade mini-stroller to navigate the city of Lagos. From his home around Lagos State Government Abattoir, Orile-Agege area, he goes to his stand at Awolowo Way, Computer Village, Ikeja. It’s usually taxing for him to amble from place to place, especially through the open drainage and uneven and faulty culverts of the city.
Against all odds, Suleiman is undeterred because, according to him, his self-esteem would never make him resort to begging, a trade many people living with such disability would, without restrictions engage in.
As a matter of fact, some form a clique and move in droves on the streets to persuade passerby to part with money for them. This is what Suleiman hated with a passion. However, fate and current global health and economic situations have forced him to have a rethink.
His mind was in flux. Should he maintain his stand as a man of integrity and honour and stay without food? Should he adjust his stance on dignity and strive to live? Do dignity and integrity recognise themselves when they meet in the dark? Is there any honorary award for the dead? All these raced through Suleiman’s mind.
Having sworn to live a dignified life bereft of any form of slapdash, Suleiman, emboldened by the Coronavirus pandemic, opted to open a business with the small money he had saved to enable him to survive.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant problems gave Suleiman reasons to be resourceful. Suleiman sells stationery, wallets and handkerchiefs, a business he said he began with N8, 000 in 2005.
Even as he has chosen to open a petty business, he noted that life has not been easy.
He said: “Many of my benefactors are students and workers. They provide me with some support on their way to their various destinations in the morning. But with the pandemic, many of them were forced to stay at home. Some even lost their jobs or closed their businesses. It hasn’t been business as usual.”
Suleiman usually leaves his home at 7:00 a.m. every day, flip-flops with hand coverings cut to fit the size of his palms. He propels himself with so much gusto and a strong sense of direction. He crosses so many obstacles to get to his destination.
Our correspondent was, however, fascinated when she visited his stand. At the close of sales at Ikeja Underbridge, Suleiman packs his wares in a wooden platform which serves as a showcase for his items of trade. He wraps it up in a polythene bag and was set to move.
Suleiman carries his weighty wares on his feeble legs and flip-flops along as almost effortlessly.
“I would have used wheelchair or crutches, but they are not compatible with the roads of Lagos, especially taking the ongoing Agege Bridge construction into cognizance. So, the stroller still works best for me,” he explained to our correspondent in his deep Hausa-pidgin accent.
When it rains, Suleiman is stuck between packing his wares first and limping to take refuge under the bridge. The umbrella he uses is too fragile to give him the respite he would need in such stormy weather.
Obalende Market is a two-hour-30-minutes journey from Agege. Suleiman, however, doesn’t see distance; he only sees the goods he goes to purchase in the market at the Island.
“Things are cheap there and they sell at good wholesale prices, although it is not comfortable jumping buses in my condition. The conductors on that route are not as patient as the ones who already know me. So, most of the time, I end up waiting for hours before I would finally get a bus that will be patient enough to allow me to lift my body, pack my stroller and finally settle in,” Suleiman lamented.
While Suleiman was trying to cross the ever-busy Agege intersection, a vendor who doubles as traffic control officer directed all vehicles to stop to enable him to cross seamlessly.
Similarly, at the Agege-Pen Cinema Motor Park, Suleiman was allowed to stay in front of the long and winding queue to give him the advantage of boarding the bus first.
Both instances point to the fact that as he said, he has been navigating the city of Lagos for a very long time. People also respect and make way for him because they appreciate his efforts to be self-reliant.
Explaining why he hasn’t chosen to own a store around his home in order to reduce moving around which is largely uncomfortable, he said: “I have made such a large customer base in Ikeja Underbridge and it will, therefore, be difficult to relocate this business.”
Recounting his experience as a special needs person, especially one of the northern extraction Suleiman said: “I know a lot of my fellow northern brothers do not feel motivated enough to eke out a living for themselves. That is not good enough, because we all know there is dignity in labour and everybody should struggle to improve their lives.”
Although the daily income he makes isn’t quite enough to give him a decent living, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic which informed the government’s decision to alternate market opening days in Lagos, he refused to be dissuaded as he believes he has made some considerable progress since he ventured into business.
Suleiman is engaged and he intends to get married next year.
He said gleefully: “I would like to get comfortably settled than I am currently before I finally get married. I do not want to get more saddled with more responsibilities than I am at the moment.”
Although he didn’t acquire any formal education, Suleiman’s lines of thought are quite informed.
Suleiman said with more financial support, he would have preferred a provision store, given the comfort, this would give him.
“If I own a grocery shop, I wouldn’t have to be moving around, crossing the ever- busy Lagos roads and therefore exposing myself to risks from roads,” he said.
Suleiman’s situation is one out of many Nigerian children that were born with poliomyelitis and have grown into adults. Some of them are self-reliant while some depend on others for the source of their livelihood. They should be encouraged by the government at all levels.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that poliomyelitis mainly affects children under five years of age. It, however, noted that more than 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented through the systemic administration of vitamin during polio immunisation activities.
Poliomyelitis is estimated to have affected about two out of 220 children and it is predominant among people in the north due to a number of reasons.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Nigeria a polio-free country last year as she achieved a three-year status of no Wild Polio Virus (WPV). This prompted the organisation to delist Nigeria from the polio-endemic list for the first time, after interrupting transmission for 12 months.
The World Report on Disability has estimated that the number of people living with disabilities is about 25 million; three million of the 22 million Lagosians live with special needs while a number of them resort to begging as a means of survival.
However, there are a number of adults who still live with such permanent paralysis when the epidemic was still at its peak such as Suleiman.