The Danger of Living With SCI in a Rural Area – Onwubariri Emmanuel Chidube

Two years after my injury, my family and I were forced to relocate to a small village. My parents had spent all they had on my many hospital admissions in the hopes of me getting my health back.

In the village, I was mostly bedridden. I was told to remain still on the floor for my spine to heal. My family and I were afraid that if I didn’t, my back would never not heal. After much time passed by, I finally realized that I had to snap out of it. I learned how to transfer. I began to help myself in every possible way that I could.

Most people who live in the village are peasant farmers. They depend upon the fact that someday their children will support them. The buildings in the village are few. There are mostly mud houses and few well built ones. There are few roads in the village. The roads that do exist are in poor condition. The only source of drinking water is from the stream which is far from the village below a very high hill. Some people are now owners of the water hole. They have commercialized the area for people to buy water. People live in several family compounds in the village.

My life as a person with SCI in the village was not an easy one. It went into a deep dive. I faced many kinds of difficult challenges. Villagers saw my condition as some kind of curse. I could tell that 95% of the villagers had not even seen a wheelchair user before. Most wheelchair users are hidden away in their homes under the belief that they are a disgrace to their families.

My parents struggled with not having enough money for food, medicine, and my hospital visits. I had to discontinue physiotherapy due to lack of funds. Things became rough for my parents. They couldn’t afford two square meals a day, I began to starve. I would be hungry from morning till night without being sure of when I would eat. I was isolated from the world because I had no phone. I lost almost all of my friends.

My relatives began to stigmatize me. They became angry at my parents because of my condition and existence. My parent’s couldn’t find anyone to depend on. As time passed by, their hatred for me grew. On one occasion. I was in the backyard of my house when one of my relatives ran madly towards me with a stick and machete. He attacked me with the stick. As I struggled and yelled, my mother, who was in a nearby farm uprooting cassava, heard me and ran out and screamed. The attacker fled, but was still making threats.

During our investigation of the incident, we found out that this was a premeditated plan from the man and his parents. We called the Police to interview them. They claimed it was a “land problem”. They were arrested. But other relatives advised my family to let it go and forgive them. We did so, and they were never charged with a crime. On many other occasions, I have been physically threatened for no reason except for being in a wheelchair.

On another day, the same relative and his parents, stole into my house and took my generator. They attempted to steal my TV from inside my room as I was sleeping. I got into my wheelchair and resisted the man as he tried to take my TV away. When I wheeled outside, I found a group of hoodlums chanting with my generator in their arms. What baffled me was that the entire group were all my relatives. It was a traumatic experience, as they were all rendering abuse on me. A distant cousin had given me the generator since the local electricity barely functioned.

Within two days, a good friend of mine replaced the generator. He bought a new one for me. My relatives were all surprised. The next day, they made an open threat in the compound that they would break in and take my new generator. I thought it was an empty threat. I was brushing my teeth outside, beside my father’s house when one of them attacked me with a machete. He kicked me out of my wheelchair. I fell hard. My father and my siblings were inside not knowing what was going on. My little niece saw it all. She called on my father and siblings who ran out to save my life. I was rushed to the hospital.

The Association for People with Disabilities in Nigeria wrote a letter to the commissioner of the police and the young man was apprehended. The family went back to the same old ploy. They pleaded through another relative, their fear that the young man would end up in prison. They went through the king of my community and other prominent people to plead with us to forgive. At some point, we had to dismiss the charges out of respect to the king. An agreement was made that such a thing would never happen again. The agreement was in writing and signed at the police station. They also had to pay to fix my wheelchair. To this date, I still believe that my life is in danger. I barely go out to visit with friends. I don’t gather with many people. The fear of what had happened to me stays with me. For many years, I made sure to stay mostly in my room.

Regardless of all I have been through, I’m able to find joy in many ways. I will not let the negative stigma against disability get deep into me. I decided to fight back and recover my self-esteem. I took on the courage to go out more. My sad days, and all that I have been through as a person with SCI gave birth to the Dubel Disability Foundation (DDF). I know there are a lot more people with SCI who share the same fate as me or even much worse. As of today, DDF has visited many individuals with SCI to provide assistance to help them to survive the negative perceptions of society and the hardships of life in Nigeria.