A 31-year-old Law graduate from Ebonyi State, Chukwu Chikwado, tells ABDULLATEEF FOWEWE how education has empowered him after losing his sight at the age of 14
Your social media profile shows that you are a disability rights advocate. What else do you do?
My name is Chukwu Chikwado, I’m 31 years old. I come from the Oshiri community, which is located in the Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. I was born into a polygamous family and I am the third child of my late mother. I studied Law at the University of Lagos. Currently, I serve as the co-founder and Executive Director of Disability Rights Protection Initiative, a legal and human rights organisation dedicated to safeguarding the rights of individuals with disabilities in Nigeria, particularly those who have experienced or face the threat of violating their civil and fundamental human rights. Hence, I am prominently recognised as a disability rights advocate in Nigeria.
How did you lose your sight?
There wasn’t much involved, to be honest. However, it was rather mysterious how I unexpectedly lost my vision and became blind when I was 14 years old. About 16 years ago, like any other child, I went to bed at night. However, when I woke up the next day, October 1, 2007, I discovered that I had lost my sight. Initially, I believed it to be a dream but soon realised that my blindness was indeed a harsh reality that I had to embrace and live with daily. Although many assume that my sight was lost due to an accident or a specific illness, that is not the case. There was no specific sequence of events that resulted in my loss of vision. During that period, I was simply a vulnerable and underprivileged child.
Did your parents take any steps to find a solution?
Yes, however, due to our financial difficulties, I did not receive immediate medical attention after I lost my sight. Instead, we relied on prayers and hoped for miracles. Eventually, in 2008, I started receiving treatment at the Abak General Hospital in Akwa Ibom State. Unfortunately, the doctors struggled to identify the exact cause of my visual impairment. With help from generous Nigerians, I sought treatment in various hospitals both in Nigeria and abroad. It was during that time that an Indian doctor informed me that the chances of regaining my vision were very slim and I might remain blind for the rest of my life. Even my personal eye doctors in Nigeria also told me that only divine intervention and miracles could restore my sight.
Were you advised to seek spiritual solutions from different religious centres?
I spent many years attending churches and prayer ministries in search of miracles. Despite going to the mountains, ingesting various materials given to me by religious leaders, fasting and praying, my efforts were in vain. However, during one visit to a specific church in Abuja, I pleaded with God and expressed exhaustion from searching and waiting for miracles; I proposed that instead of seeking miracles for myself, I could be used as a source of miracles for others. Following this heartfelt prayer, I decided to detach myself from any form of organised prayers and instead focused on my education and personal development.
Since you completed your studies at UNILAG, what have you been doing?
I graduated from UNILAG in June 2023 and I am presently preparing to attend the Nigerian Law School in January 2024. Before graduating from UNILAG, I was engaged in advocating for the legal rights and equal opportunities of individuals with disabilities, particularly those who have suffered human rights violations throughout Nigeria. In a different domain, I am presently the chief executive officer of a company that specialises in access technologies. Our company is involved in importing and distributing a wide range of assistive products for individuals with disabilities.
Can you recall the difficulties you have encountered as a visually impaired person?
I faced great difficulties when I lost my vision as a child. Just as I was completing my primary education and preparing for high (secondary) school, I lost my sight, forcing me to discontinue my education. I was feeling very lonely and my life was becoming unbearable. I was neglected and didn’t receive the attention I needed, which made me feel ashamed and unable to go out or do anything. I spent most of my time indoors and felt like I was slowly dying. During that time, my main desire was to go back to school. I asked my uncle if it was still possible for me to attend school, but he discouraged me by saying that a blind person would not have access to education. It was a difficult situation for me to accept, and I even tried to commit suicide twice. But I am grateful to God that I am still here today, even though I have not yet reached where I am supposed to be. It was within my own family and community that I first experienced discrimination, although I wasn’t aware of it until I became more enlightened.
Do you mean that your family did not support you well?
To be honest, I didn’t receive much support from my immediate family. Due to their economic imbalance, I never expected them to invest much in providing tangible support for me. Growing up as a blind child, I didn’t experience much love and affection directly from my family. However, they say that one can only give what they have. The majority of the support I received came from strangers and well-wishers outside of my immediate family. I was able to afford my medical trips, as well as my secondary and higher education through various scholarships and the individual assistance of people within and outside of Nigeria.
You made a post on Facebook expressing affection for a blind lady and your interest in getting married to her. Were you serious about it?
No. If you carefully read the post, you will see that there was no intention of entering into any kind of romantic relationship with her. I had never met Marian before the day I made the post on my Facebook page and our first meeting was filled with excitement. However, I was particularly intentional about sharing it on social media and did not anticipate the overwhelming reactions it received. Marian and I currently serve as co-pioneers in an organisation. So, for now, she is just a colleague. The future is uncertain and I cannot say whether she will potentially become my wife tomorrow.
Are you currently in a romantic relationship?
Yes, I have been in a few relationships. I am currently in a very serious relationship.
What are the things that have helped you gain confidence in society?
The number one thing that helped to build my confidence in society was the blind community itself. Growing up as a blind child, I never had the opportunity to interact with other blind children. I spent my first three years of blindness crying, complaining and suffering indoors. It never occurred to me that other blind people were doing well in different endeavours. So, it was when I started interacting and associating with them that I realised that blindness is just a mere disability that does not even exist in the person, but in society. However, education also played a vital role in building my confidence in society.