UN Charter and Delta State-Born Physically Challenged ‘Keke’ Operator In Lagos


By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

Acting on recent emotional words and compassionate description by a professional colleague of one resourceful 32-year-old Mr Gift Captain Tonmene, a Delta State-born but Lagos-based physically challenged tricycle (Keke) operator in Mile 12 area of the state, I took a trip in the evening of Monday, July 2023 to Mile 12 Motor Park, Lagos, to ascertain my friend’s narrative.

Aside from coming face-to-face with the man in question, which of course, satisfied my journalist instinct for social justice as well as nourished my curiosity for bringing to the surface societal ills to where they could be seen and addressed, my conversation with him on the other hand, was more revealing than expected.

First, separate from consolidating the belief by Nigerians with critical minds that neglect of physically challenged and other vulnerable Nigerians by those in the position of authority has finally become a reality all Nigerians of goodwill must worry about, the ‘meeting’ gave further fillip to how poverty and deprivation have undeniably scarred our nation, dirtied our honour and diminished our pride as a nation.

Speaking on that day, at a time and in that place, the 32 years old Tonmene, who was seated in his tricycle, explained that he is married and blessed with a child. He is of Ijaw ethnic nationality and hails precisely from Tuomo in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State.

Tragically unique was his revelation that he got crippled at the age of two under a mysterious circumstance.

According to him, he started walking like every other normal child of his age when he was a year old but got crippled to the consternation of his relations at age two while in his sleep one fateful night. He lamented that the mystery surrounding that unusual and unnatural occurrence is yet to be unmasked 30 years after.

Asked if he is fulfilled as a Keke operator, the Ijaw-born Tonmene stressed that operating a tricycle as a means of livelihood, to him, could be likened to taking a fish out of the water, insisting that if given needed support, he would switch to a more structured business-like sales of tricycle parts which he had earlier underwent apprenticeship for three years.

Tonmene further stated that he detests the act of begging for survival and that informed his decision to become Keke operator. He, however, lamented that operating a tricycle in his current physical state is laced with a lot of stress, frustration and hazards.

“Each time the tricycle suddenly breaks down, I live at the mercy of passers-by as I can neither push nor single-handedly rectify the challenge,” he said.

While he argued that he took to riding a tricycle because ‘preferable was not available’, the Ijaw-born Captain submitted that if given the needed financial support, he would abandon Keke for his first ‘love’, which is the sales of tricycle parts as that will avail him more profit while providing needed comfort to his young family.

In his words, “I believe in the dignity of labour, and that is why I cannot be a beggar. I don’t have the capacity to beg and that is more reason why I want to work and feed my family. If I am given the necessary financial support needed to establish the business that I learnt about (sales of tricycle parts), I will definitely leave Keke and invest in that business. I am sure that I will excel, and most importantly, doing business will provide me and my family the needed comfort and take effective care of our financial demands.

“I lived in Bayelsa state for some years before I decided to come to Lagos to seek my daily bread. I like Lagos, and if I am assisted, I will establish my business here in Lagos. Sanwo-Olu is a good man. Delta state Governor, my governor is equally a good man. I know they will assist me.”

Continuing, Captain pointed out that he never considered his condition a disability or allowed it to stop him from achieving his set objectives in life. This fact, according to him, explains why he crawled without clutches to the school all through his primary and secondary school days until he was given clutches in 2010 by good-spirited individuals.

While he observes that the harsh economic situation was made worse by the fact that his wife is presently unemployed, Tonmene decried a situation where he has to pay one thousand three hundred naira (N1300) on a daily basis as levies to different authorities and task forces in the state before he could be allowed to operate his tricycle in Lagos state. He, however, appreciated the Chairman, Tricycle Operators Association in the locality, whom he said gave him a waiver to be paying only N1300, while other operators pay far more.

He, therefore, called on Lagos, Delta and Bayelsa State governments, as well as well-meaning Ijaw brothers and sisters, religious bodies, corporate organisations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) within and outside Nigeria to urgently come to his rescue in his present time of need.

For me, while Tonmene call is understandable and appreciated, it is my view that it is our collective responsibility to look out for one another and perform the responsibility of care at the most fundamental levels.

And, if both state and federal governments do nothing to save and serve Tonmene and other disabled Nigerians, it will again confirm as true the age-long argument that the most stubborn refusal to admit the need for change in Nigeria is always coming from the very people who are running the country and it will be pretty tough to any form of positive progress in the country if such ‘culture’ is left unaddressed.

Again, what troubles me in addition to the above concern is that Nigeria is a long-standing member of various organs of the United Nations and on the issue of human rights of persons with disabilities at the international level, the United Nations Charter affirms the essentiality of “a universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction”.

According to reports, the rights of individuals with disabilities are grounded in a human rights framework based on the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international covenants on human rights and related human rights instruments.

Persons with disabilities, the report added, are entitled to exercise their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights on an equal basis with others under all the international treaties. The full participation of persons with disabilities benefits society as their individual contributions enrich all spheres of life, and this is an integral part of individuals and society’s well-being and progress for a society for all – with or without disabilities.

In a similar vein, the rights of individuals with disabilities have, in another report, been addressed more generally throughout the development of international human rights law. The principle of the right to equality, addressed throughout the normative standards set out by the international human rights instruments, is the foundation of the rights of individuals with disabilities. In order that the rights of persons with disabilities may be further realized, contemporary international law has increasingly recognized the need for all states to incorporate human rights standards into their national legislation.

To win, this piece calls on Federal Government and affected states to choose the best means to promote the full realization of the economic, social and cultural rights of Mr Gift Captain Tonmene and other persons with disabilities in Nigeria, particularly as there is no country exempted from the need for improved policies and laws for individuals with disabilities.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) of Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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