Ending the isolation of People with disabilities: speech delivered at the Focus on Disability Foundation event on 5 December 2015

December 5, 2016

Last year, I was honoured to be asked to speak at this event in London to mark the International Day of Persons With Disabilities which is celebrated on 3rd December.  After giving my address, I had to race back to Lancaster, because reports were coming out that the city was flooded.  I managed to kame it with great difficulty, to find out that the city was plunged into darkness.  It took about three or four days for Lancaster to get back to normal and by then, there was just so much to catch up on.  Now, one year on, I present an account of what I said on that day.

 

First, let me thank this isolated group for inviting me to share thoughts on how to end the isolation of disabled people.  I say we are an isolated group, because the small number of us gathered here could have joined the large crowds at one of the many football matches taking place today.  The great thing is that we all live in the UK, even if a sizeable proportion of us were not born here.  Which means that we have a broad perspective on the issues under discussion.

 

Which is also why the first question is actually to what extent are disabled people isolated.  After all, there are international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Conventions on Human Rights.  There is also the Marakesh treaty on international copyright which means that books produced in an accessible format in one country can be used by those in other signatory states.  In the United Kingdom, there is the Equality Act, and in the US the Americans with Disabilities act.  Many in these countries would point to these legislations and say how much disabled people are being brought into the mainstream.  We have computers that have been adapted, as well as other digital and electronic aides for people with all manner of disabilities.  In fact, accessibility is so mainstream that roads, buildings, parking spaces, … even medicine packages which have Braille instructions are routinely adapted for disabled people.  People would point to Stevie Wonder, David Blunket and even the disgraced Oscar Pistorius as evidence that disabled people are taking advantage of these and entering mainstream society.

 

But consider this. In most countries, about 15% of citizens are registered disabled; yet, in the UK, recent figures suggest that about 60% of disabled people of working age are not in employment.  How does this compare to the national employment statistics?  Despite all these laws, only about 5% of all books produced in the United Kingdom are in a format that is accessible to people with a print disability.  Why have we stopped at enacting our good intentions?

 

First, people don’t realise that disability affects them.  If we did an unofficial poll, we’d probably find that most people here have relatives who are disabled; or a sizeable number of us are ourselves disabled.  Others who should be here do not admit to or see themselves as disabled.

 

Growing up as a Nigerian teenager, there were some books that were all the rage; they were called pace setters.  I recall a friend reading a pace setter to me.  It told the story of a village chief who was being accused of something, I can’t remember what.  By all accounts, he was such a kind and noble man.  One of the character witnesses at his trial made the point that as an important chief, he had many wives.  It was generally assumed that he had 31 wives, but he actually had 32.  The reason why nobody knew of the 32nd wife was that she was blind and nobody would marry her, so this noble chief married the girl and shut her away in his big house.  Even as a teenager, I felt uncomfortable about the imagery here, and it was not only the polygamy portrayed that worried me.  First, why should this disabled lady be so hidden that nobody even knew her as one of the wives of this great chief?  And why was it considered a kindness to her to do this?

 

In Nigeria (and perhaps in the UK as well) other disabled people have been recategorised as elderly and therefore their needs are different.  Age is a major cause of disability, but also the most unrecognised one.  Many elderly people walk about with hearing aids but do not consider themselves disabled.  They believe they have lived a full life and their hearing aids are a sign of their age.  Others cannot even face the fact that they now need hearing aids.  Some use walking aids, others can no longer read; but they are not disabled, just elderly.  Even as they play less part in society, they are revered for their age.  But society is doing nothing about their real need to still be relevant.

 

Why?  Because in our culture, nobody is permitted to be less able than others.  If I admit that I cannot see you, something is missing … incomplete.  But it was ever thus.  As a Christian, I’m familiar with the story of the paralyzed man who was healed by Jesus after staying by a pool with other disabled people for several years.  The reason he did not get his healing earlier? No one was available to take him to the pool when the angel stirred the waters.  What isolation! People crowded into a place only because they’re disabled; All waiting for their healing.

 

I believed Jesus healed that man as a commentary on the society which did not accept him or provide a means for his acceess to other forms of healing.  I’m not so sure it was because he was disabled, because there were many others by the pool and we only have the record of one healing.  The Bible also says that when God had made everything, He looked at His creation and it was very good.  According to the Bible, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.  It is humans who see imperfections, not God.  He picked the most isolated one to demonstrate that God does not isolate us, we isolate each other.

 

So, for the 4th time, it is hoped that the disability bill will pass the legislative stage and be presented to the president of Nigeria; and that after three such presentations before past presidents, this one will receive assent and become law in Nigeria.  But is it really about the law?  Laws, technology, … all these things are the logical products, the progression of a liberal mind.  They’re there because we say that we cannot be advanced and still lack these laws or facilities.  But it is time to progress from logical concepts of equality to emotional compassion.  It is time to look at disabled people as humans, not consider the theoretical framework of disability and practical implementation of objectives.

 

The real question isn’t why disabled people are isolated, it’s “how will I feel if I am disabled? How will I want to live? And if I’m not disabled, can I give that kind of lifestyle to those who are “? Remember Jesus healing that paralized man.  It was about enabling, raising him from what we call the medical (or even the rehabilitation) model to the social model of disability.  The experts say that the social model is about looking at the person and providing what can enable him or her.  In the end, it’s not about cold facts, statistics, figures, logical conclusions.  It’s about warm feelings, compassion, neighbourliness and inclusiveness.

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The Bible’s Political Thriller

January 11, 2016

I thought I’d read the book of Esther … again. It’s a relatively short book, not like Isaiah with 66 chapters, or even the psalms. As I started with the first chapter, I remembered again what I’d read somewhere, that God was not mentioned in the book of Esther. And as I’ve done so many times before, I decided to test this out. They’re right you know! Not even in the famous “for a time like this …” passage (Esther 4 v14).

 

If this is the case, why do I like this book so much? First, it tells a story. Books like Genesis, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings and Acts are historical narratives; Joshua, 2 Samuel and the gospels are biographies. There are lots of prophesies, sayings, doctrine and so many other kinds of books in the Bible, but Apart from perhaps Ruth, Ezra and Nehemiah, there are few other books that tell one story.

 

And I love stories! I grew up on bedtime African folktales that dealt with such significant topics as why the shell of a tortoise is rough, and addressed such moral issues as selfishness and greed. Then, when I started to read, I found princes and princesses falling in love and living in castles, fairytales, Enid Blyton and all the other children’s books, just waiting to be devoured. Those I couldn’t find in Braille, friends and family read to me. Even now, I still spend a lot of time telling stories, listening to stories and reading stories.

 

Sometimes, I think my love of stories affects my Bible reading. Ask me anything about a Bible story – what Abraham, Moses, David, even Jesus did – I’d probably be able to tell you. I’m not so hot on epistles, prophets, the laws of Moses, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, or the conversation between Job and his friends.

 

The book of Esther has a clear storyline, with a beginning and an end. Imagine picking up a book and looking in the back cover and reading: “Haman was a top official of Ahasuerus, king of the Medes and Persians. His one aim was the destruction of the Jews. As the lives of the Kingdom’s Jews hang in the balance, only Mordecai and his niece Esther can stop him. But to do so, they have to first persuade king Ahasuerus that Haman’s plans are evil”.

 

It’s also a page turner, a political thriller complete with the good and bad guys, conflict and suspense. Like all good stories, it starts by introducing us to the main characters, describing the end of the Vashti era and how Esther becomes queen. We’re also introduced to King Ahasuerus and Mordecai who had brought Esther up. Then we meet Haman and discover his hatred of Mordecai as a person and the Jews as a whole.

 

But if God is not mentioned once in the book, you see His power everywhere. This is a thriller with a difference. Imagine reading a book where the good guys are discussing strategy. One of them says “The odds are stacked against us, but there’s only one way, we fast for 3 days”.

 

The immediate result of the fast was that Esther was able to step out in faith and walk up to the king. This demonstration of reliance on God is significant; if king Ahasuerus had not held up the sceptre to Esther, the law says she’d have been executed. But there was more; the day Haman had planned for Mordecai to be hanged, the king couldn’t sleep. He just happened to pick up the record of how Mordecai had discovered an assascination plot and he remembered that nothing had been done to honour him. What a transformation!

 

This is where you will find one of my favourite passages of scripture. The king asks Haman what should be done to someone the king desires to honour. Mordecai, thinking that it is he who should be honoured says that such a person should be made to wear the king’s own robes, then placed on the king’s own horse and paraded throughout the city with a herald shouting, “this is what is done to the one the king desires to honour” (Esther 6 verses 9-10). And so, Haman who had planned to hang Mordecai now had to lead him throughout the city and proclaim that the king desires to honour him.

 

One day, as I read this passage, it was like God was telling me that this is what He, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has done for us as Christians. He has put on us His robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61 verse 10). By ourselves, we have no righteousness to speak of, nothing that would lead us to be honoured, or even to approach God. And according to 2 Corinthians 2 14, he leads us in a triumphal procession. In psalm 23 verse 5, we read that He prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies. In that famous passage Matthew 5 verses 13-19, Jesus says we shouldn’t hide, we are a city built on a hill and so should let our light shine to the glory of our heavenly Father. God wants us to be clearly visible as Christians, to the Glory of our Heavenly Father; we are His honoured children.

 

Hold on! If I’m reviewing the book, I shouldn’t give the ending away. All I will say here is that I want to be like Esther and all the other Bible characters who took a step of faith and because they trusted God, great things happened. We read about some of them in Hebrews 11, but there are more. Imagine Peter hearing Jesus saying he should come, and he walks on water! Or even after he’d fished all night and caught nothing, hearing Jesus say go and cast your net and he catches the largest haul imaginable.

 

As I say, I didn’t see God mentioned in the book, but He was everywhere. Oh and by the way, something else which always catches me out in Esther, how short the very last chapter is. Now what should I read next? Another story, a prophesy, an epistle, …?


All The King’s Horses … And All The King’s Men

December 23, 2015

Watchers of the Middle East and North Africa would have seen two interesting news items. The first was the agreement between the two rival parliaments in Libya on a power sharing arrangement and the second was the US and Russian sponsored UN Security Council Resolution which proposed a roadmap for peace in Syria. We all hope that in these two countries, there will be great progress towards peace in the next year. However, I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place, in Syria, Libya and many other countries.

 

I know that there was, in most cases, a certain degree of authoritarianism, even oppression. However, I believe that the situation was exacerbated by the interference of outside factors, and that in most cases, these outside powers were not as interested in the ultimate success, or even peaceful resolution of the situations they instigated. The other day, it occurred to me that the Taliban only ruled Afghanistan for about 5 years. During that time, there was undoubted oppression of women, and even muslims who did not hold to their fundamentalist position. However, with the news of fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces in Helmand province, the evidence is that they are still causing death and destruction, 14 years after they were deposed in 2001. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was removed in 2003. I’m sure he executed several people, but if you remove the wars with Iran and Kuwait, which would have resulted in the deaths of soldiers, then I’m forced to ask the question, haven’t there been more deaths since he left power? And these have been caused by Iraqis killing Iraqis. Ok, I know that he used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, so perhaps things don’t run in two dimensional lines. Still, I’m not sure the number of civilians killed in those attacks comes close to those who have died in the past 12 years.

 

I don’t wish to underplay the real fears that people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other countries lived in. However, it does say in the Bible “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion …” (Ecclesiastes chapter 9 v4, KJV). I hope nobody ever has to ask me which I’d prefer, to live in constant and deep fear or get killed as an innocent bystander in a roadside bombing incident.

 

The novel that’s currently on my bedside table )if a Braille book with six volumes, each the size of an encyclopaedia can fit on a bedside table) is David Baldacci’s novel, “The Whole Truth”. Its thesis is very troubling, that those who are determined to do so at any cost can cause or manipulate facts, events and circumstances to create a ‘truth’ in the minds of everyone else. I can’t say how original this is; certainly I’ve read of how we can use words to direct the thoughts of others to our perspective. The most famous example is “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”. But this book goes much further than mere propaganda; events are fabricated, opponents killed and ‘leaks’ are created, while the propagators watch with satisfaction as the world gets ever closer to all-out war.

 

I can’t tell you how it ends, I’m still somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, it’s a work of fiction, which is probably why I’m still alive to write this blog right now. However, it made me think of how US officials claimed in the Security Council that Iraq was really close to developing a nuclear weapon and had large stocks of other weapons of mass destruction. As I was researching the subject at that time, I was really confused. Because all my readings had indicated that the International Atomic Energy Agency had signed Iraq off as not possessing any ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The UN agency responsible for inspecting the other weapons of mass destruction was also satisfied that it had carried out comprehensive work and was moving from inspection to monitoring, to ensure that Iraq would no longer be able to produce any chemical or biological weapons. So, where did the US get its facts? And what happened, when, after Saddam was deposed, it was discovered that all these ‘facts’ were not true? Nobody thought of apologising to the already executed dictator for getting him off his seat of power through deception.

 

Actually, the bigger question is, who cared? The US soon began to worry about the cost of maintaining high troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan and started to make plans for withdrawal. Those very much concerned with ensuring that Humpty Dumpty had a great fall now realised that it was impossible to put it back together again.

 

I’m still looking for evidence that regime change instigated by foreign military action can lead to peace. Despite all the calls for Western powers to remove the Assad regime, it still survives in Syria because of Russian and Iranian backing. However, if it were to fall, there’s no reason to believe that there would be peace in Syria; it didn’t happen in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, so why should Syria be different. Eventually, the Syrians would be left to fight each other because the powers that brought the downfall of the hated regime will have had enough; it would have become too expensive and their own soldiers would be dying.

 

Nor would the threat of IS go away so easily. In fact, the evidence is that it would probably prosper as it is doing in Iraq and Libya, if there is no force powerful enough to oppose it, operating within the country and with the commitment borne of having to defend your own land and means of livelihood.

 

IS and Al Qa-Eda do not operate within the rules of state conduct. They’re not in the UN, they’re not bound to behave themselves by the threats of sanctions or anything else short of war, that the international community can throw at them. The only people who can stop them are those with a real reason to. See for example how hard Assad is clinging to power. He has support and he can, if given the means, defeat IS in Syria. We may not like him, but do we prefer IS? Or would we rather have many more dead lions than a few living dogs, while we struggle to put Syria back together in our own image? Do we hate Assad so much that we are prepared to risk the consequences of removing him? Or can we look at the longterm effects and find a way to ‘contain’ him while achieving the more important objective of defeating IS? It’s too late to ask the question “what were we doing there in the first place? So we’d better just make the best of the situation.

 

The whole truth about Syria cannot be encapsulated in the simple maxim “Assad is bad, so he must go”. And if it can, then my advice to all future dictators, look for a backer who can keep humpty dumpty from falling. The evidence is that all powerful dictators destroy the opposition and so when they leave, there’s a power vacuum that can’t be filled because there’s nobody strong enough to take charge. As we can see, the greatest probability is disintegration and when that happens, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put humpty dumpty together again. It’s been happening as far back as Alexander the great. If there’s no succession planning, there’s no successful end to a powerful regime.


The Anatomy of an Unsolved Crime

December 16, 2015

I was standing at the top of the stairs, leaning against the stair rail when I heard it. It was breaking glass … it went on and on, perhaps for a minute or two … it sounded like breaking glass falling on marble. I now had two choices. I could go back to the bed where my phones lay, or come downstairs and confront the intruder. To pick my phone, I would have to be real quiet getting to it and calling 999. In my small house, I’d certainly be heard. But to confront the intruder? Surely that was suicide if I had no weapon and no sight. I was still pondering these when I woke up.

 

In truth, there were many differences between the dream and the events of a few days before. I was lying in bed, lazily drifting off to sleep. It was after midnight, so it would have been Saturday morning, 17 January 2015. I heard a ‘woooosh’ sound, as though something had dropped from some height onto my living room floor. My bedroom is above my living room. I was too sleepy to get up to investigate and to my mind, it couldn’t be anything major anyway. I’d completely forgotten the incident when I woke up in the morning, but when I went downstairs, there was something crunchy underfoot. It didn’t take long to establish it was glass, but where had it come from. And then I saw a stone at the foot of my settee. And why, when the central heating had kicked in, was the living room so cold?

 

This was obviously beyond me, so I made two calls. One was to a Nigerian couple who lived two doors away, Michael and Gbemi; the other was to Brian. Brian is my go-to person for anything from reading mail to fixing my printer. If he can’t find an immediate answer, he’ll always think of an alternative while working out the solution. But he’s more than that, he’s a rock, a solid friend. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone in church. He was round, in as long as it would take to sprint from his house. My neighbours were here too. I can still hear Gbemi’s voice as she approached the house. I knew there was trouble because she was just going “oh no! Oh no!”

 

It was only after my initial observers had described the scene and explained which window had been damaged that I called the police; they said they’d show up about lunchtime.   I knew from all the crime stories I’d read and watched that I shouldn’t disturb the scene of the crime. This worried Brian who wondered how I’d survive till the police came; I simply retired upstairs to wait..

 

I had called the police before and thought I knew what would happen. They usually came in pairs, but to my shock, only one gentleman visited me this time. He said there was no need for a scene of crimes investigation because the stone that hit my window was thrown with such force that it had broken in two. According to him, as it was a stone, they couldn’t get any fingerprint or other evidence. anyway.

 

Now, you probably don’t know this and I shouldn’t be saying it loud; but when I don’t like what I’m hearing, I argue and fight back. This time, I was so desperate that I even played the blind man card. I told him that in my view, this had to have some foreknowledge, as most people here actually know where I live. On several occasions, I’d be walking and someone would stop me, perhaps asking if he could help me cross the road or something. Then he’d say “I know you, you’re the one who lives …”. And he’d be right! I’m recognizable as one of only two black visually impaired people in this town. I told him that in my view, this could be either a hate crime or a crime against a vulnerable person.

 

I fought hard because all the time, there was a picture in my mind. Just three days earlier, on Wednesday 14th, I’d had a really long day. I’d gone to London on a very early train and had returned just in time to head for church and worship group. When I finally got home, at just before 10 PM, I was so tired that I just sat on the settee till I woke up at about 1 O’clock. What if that had been the night he’d struck? The sound would have been much clearer then, I’d have been directly facing that window. The stone might even have struck me on its way down to rest on the carpet. And if the guy had realised he’d startled me awake, his reaction would have been either fight or flight. and if as I suspected, he knew I couldn’t see him, would he have fled? Or fought? And if he had other stones with him?

 

But my policeman wasn’t budging on this one. He made only one concession, that he would ask for increased patrols around my house and that when doing their rounds, some police people would call on me to reassure me. I did get a crime report number, but I’m afraid that was the last time I saw any police man or woman. I cannot confirm that patrols were increased because nobody came to reassure me on the point.

 

So now I know, if a stone is thrown through my window, no need to keep away from the scene of crime, as the police can do nothing to trace the criminal. I could go about my life, which I did by calling my friends to help me clean up. Two sisters, Ola and Yinka, came from the other side of town and joined Michael and Gbemi. When she’s not cleaning vandalised houses, Yinka is a network administrator. She agreed with my brother who moonlights as my long distance security adviser, that I need some surveillance equipment, cameras, CCTVs, etc. She was so disgusted that she took photos before the clean up began.

 

Later on, Ola’s husband, Ayo came around to board up the window as a temporary measure. He showed me the torn curtain, and suggested that the guy with the stone might alsohave wanted to get into the house. Apparently, he’d tried to use the curtain to hold the window, near the break, to see if he could get to the latch and open it. And I didn’t think there was anything to worry about when I heard the sound?

 

I have moved on since that day. So many personal triumphs and some difficulties. I thank God for so much in 2015. The rest of the world has moved on too. Other crimes have been committed, even our church was broken into. And there have been floods, wars, terrorism; yesterday, as my sister celebrated her birthday, three people were climbing onto a rocket and heading for the international space station. In the light of all this, the incident was just another unsolved crime; after all, nobody got physically hurt and nothing was taken. The house was cleaned free of charge, it was probably tidier than the night before. All it cost was fixing the glass that was broken.

 

Even though I’ve moved on too (I haven’t had that dream since) I remember the day because tomorrow, it would be exactly 11 months since I woke up to crunching glass on my carpet floor. As I’ve already written here, the police seem to have forgotten the incident; but that’s because it didn’t personally affect them, they don’t see it from my perspective. You see, I know just how vulnerable I am. Most people say how wonderful it is that I’m always on the move; London today, Manchester tomorrow, the States, Nigeria, everywhere. But nobody knows of the times when people have walked up to me and shouted right in front of me to see if I’d flinch. About 20 years ago, some children were throwing stones at me; when I didn’t respond, one got so angry that he (or she, let’s not be sexist here) picked up several stones and flung them at me. In one sense, you could say this was just the sinister end of bullying the vulnerable. But it could be worse than that; it could have developed into a real attempt to exploit the vulnerable for advantage. I know there are limited resources, but I was still left asking myself exactly what would make the police take my case seriously.

 

Again, I must point out that this is really about me, just one person among 6 billion. So maybe I should say I learned something really wonderful. I learned about people caring for one another, naturally and without fuss. While taking the photos, Yinka was evidently upset, but we were laughing through it. Ola saw this as an excellent opportunity to upbraid me for my untidiness and introduce some form of order into my living room. On the next Tuesday morning, I was in church for GUGU (grown ups and growing ups).   I sometimes play nursery rhymes when I’m in town. Several of the parents had walked past my house, further confirmation that many know where I live. All were concerned to see that I was fine. In the end, for just one person out of 6 billion, how much does it matter what the police do or do not, when there are people who love and care so much? Thank you all, thank God for you.


Let’s move!

April 23, 2015

This morning, as I sat listening to the old Earth Wind and Fire hit ‘Let’s groove’, I wondered how repeating a musical bar for about 5 minutes could still have me tapping my feet, almost 35 years after it was released. And of course, in that random way that thoughts go, I started to think of other people, not grooving, but moving, around the world.

The impulse to move in large numbers is not new, and its effects have been known for centuries. Largescale migration was in part responsible for the fall of the Roman empire; then, there were no immigration controls. Nor could the unfortunate American Indians have prevented the large numbers of Europeans who eventually subjugated them, treated them like second class citizens in their ancestral homes and in some cases pushed them into reservations in America. But large scale migration has also been good; just look at the world’s largest economy and ask yourself how it started. Look at all the advancements that have taken place n the US because of European migration several centuries back and more recently, the Jews and other nonconformists who left Nazi Germany.

Now, large scale movements are once again assuming dangerous international dimensions; and we have social media and news outlets to bring the full horrors right into our homes. Only this time, we also have immigration controls and military personnel, determined to prevent them from accessing their destinations. Governments are now sophisticated enough to realise that an influx of people can create an unsupportable situation in host countries, but nobody is yet advanced enough to stop the migration at source.

I hope this comes out before the worried European ministers agree on what to do. In truth, there is no doubt that their approach is causing so much of the deaths. I was horrified to learn last year of the decision to create this European force to replace the Italians. At that time, several warned that this new force which had no real ability would result in greater harm to the immigrants. The response was that if the message got out that there would be no rescue available to those desperate enough to take their lives into their hands in such flimsy boats, then, somehow, they would change their minds and not make the journey. That was as laughable then as it is now.

Suddenly, the weather is good for travel and the boats are leaving Libya for Italy. And they’re sinking, and people are dying on mass. And what are we to do when the overwhelmed Italian and Greek navy cannot cope?

It’s become a great opportunity for the Australian government to publicise its discredited immigration policy. Australian ministers are telling us that they’re the most humane for stopping boats in midocean, taking refugees to underdeveloped countries with limited and overstretched facilities and ensuring that nobody caught coming to Australia actually enters the country. Please note that even the UN High Commission for Refugees has pointed out that Australia is in breach of its international commitments. But Australian ministers are publicly saying this is the most humane thing to do. The BBC has even interviewed the major general who was in part responsible for this new policy and he lectured the European decision makers on how they could completely stop the problem of boat people, Australian style.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that everyone should start by thinking this is not a simple black and white problem. Refugees are coming, stop the refugees, and problem solved! First, where are the refugees coming from? They’re coming from all over Africa and Asia, but largely from poor or unstable countries and through Libya. Libya is a very interesting country. It used to be stable, if disruptive, undemocratic and even scary for opponents of the leadership. One day, everyone decided they’d become tired of Ghadaffi, so they started bombing him. But here we have a problem. If you want to remove that kind of person who has built a very strong state based on a personality cult, you risk creating a power vacuum. I believe that’s basic political sense. Time and time again, the failure to observe this basic sense, which they taught me in secondary school (west African history is full of what happens when empires like Ghana, Mali and Songhai disappear) has caused such untold hardship that I wonder why nobody has stopped to think. Saddam is out of Iraq and now we all worry about Islamic state. We’re all very good at starting something, but how good are we at anticipating consequences? There are now two de facto governments in Libya and I hear there are large parts which are ungovernable. What did we expect? Why didn’t we think of this when we were bombing the country to smithereens and proclaiming our greater good philosophies?

When I look at our world, I see a house where the DIY enthusiast has started several projects but gone off them. If you go up the stairs, you’re likely to topple because the handrail has gone? If you get into the bathroom, you could get an electric shock because there’s some exposed light fitting. Then all the good friends of the householder come to dinner and discuss how best to fill in the cracks to give the house some semblance of order. And the householder knows that if he’d thought about it before embarking on the project, he’d have seen all the government standards for good work in place, even found some experts who would not leave his house half complete. This is what our world policemen have turned our house into, a barely liveable dwelling.

People are actually quite wonderful and countries are enriched when they allow intercultural tolerance. I once had a chap who kept arguing that the British government should stop supporting foreign development projects because all the other people in the world were just scroungers. He despised even the immigration policy of the UK because it let in too many foreigners. I pointed out to him that a large number of medical personnel in the UK were from my home country, Nigeria. Maybe they should all go back home then, give the jobs to UK doctors (oh I forgot the BMA recently stated that the UK isn’t producing sufficient numbers of doctors).

It’s really interesting to hear politicians these days. I once told a gathering that it is not a political statement to say that the UK government doesn’t like foreigners. All parties are falling over themselves to announce tighter immigration controls. One UK minister actually made a great point the other day that the way to prevent these migrations is to attack the problem from source. I wish he’d gone further to explain how he could solve world poverty and all the other factors that make these highly educated people take such risks to come to Europe. They are highly educated! Have you heard the survivors speak? I’m sure that as an aunt of a Gambian presumed dead at sea stated, they do want to contribute to their new host communities.

Maybe the problem with these refugees is that they’re not such a powerful force as the 15th and 16th century Europeans, or even the 5th century barbarians. And let’s face it, they do face a more formidable effort to keep them out. However, this doesn’t make them any less important as a historically significant mass migration movement. Nor is it fair to label them scroungers, when they’re part of a centuries old tradition. Indeed, what has changed is not mass migration, but efforts to stop it. Suddenly, the people who prided themselves on their ability to settle around the world have decided to prevent others from settling in their own lands.

Now, after this rant, you’d think I had the solution. Sorry to disappoint you, how could one man solve such a large problem. I do know however that the way Europeans are going about it might not resolve things. Here are a few broad hints I picked up from the Bible. The Bible says The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. This suggests that if everything belongs to the Lord, then we’re stewards and should use it wisely. The Bible says that when God created humans, he gave us dominion over everything; but it seems that we’ve also assumed that we have dominion over each other, and that has made some rich and other poor. Finally, the Bible says we should love our neighbour as ourselves, but we seem to love our neighbours less than ourselves. Result, we keep them out, leave them poor, complain about them, try to dominate them and tell them how to live their lives.

Again, there are no simple solutions. However, I cannot sit by and watch hundreds drown and still keep my doors shut. I cannot accept the Australian position that my country is better if I keep desperate people out. I’m not sure how many decent, hard working people have died; people who could have been inventors, athletes, doctors, or even waiters and porters. I say, let’s all be allowed to move as we like and if you want to stop me, don’t erect fences guarded by stern looking officials who think I’m a nobody just because I want to come to your country.


Christmas Is Forever

December 28, 2014

This Christmas, I found I was behind in some work, and I planned to do it. Is that a shocking admission? I bet you’re thinking, either that I’m a workaholic or do not give Christmas the reverence it deserves. I think you’re wrong on both counts.

Why? Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. I may celebrate my own birthday, but if I have work to do, I do it. I admit that I can’t compare Jesus to me, or even to my friends, whose birthdays I also celebrate in between work commitments. So, perhaps I need to explain the realisation, even revelation that hit me this year.

First, we do not treat Christmas like any other birthday. We celebrate the baby Jesus every year. I don’t do that with my birthday, I always celebrate how much I’ve grown from the past year, what I’ve achieved, why I’m grateful to God. I even take some time to think of where I’d like to be the next year. This is in between work of course.

Even while on earth, Jesus didn’t remain a baby forever. So, why do we focus so on baby Jesus. By doing so, we miss out on something most important, His purpose. His purpose on earth was so staggeringly significant that angels left heaven to announce it to shepherds (we celebrate that) and wise men travelled from distant lands to visit Him (we celebrate that too). In recognizing these, we concede that Christmas celebrates a momentous occasion, but don’t go further to explore why it was so significant.

Even more interesting, some focus on giving without recognizing that Christmas celebrates God’s gift of His son to us. We buy things for children, who discard them after two weeks. We buy the latest gadgets for adults, which get replaced by even newer ones. We buy treats for each other and consume them, and they end up as waste products, clogging up our disposal systems. But God’s gift doesn’t get replaced, and was not intended to be wasted. If that had been the case, angels wouldn’t have announced it, wise men wouldn’t have come from so far.

In a conscious or subconscious way, each of us knows that we’re here for a reason. If we didn’t think so, we’d just lie in bed all day. Even those who are forced by illness to do so are constantly wishing that it’s temporary. In the meantime, they look for ways to communicate to their friends and loved ones, or their carers. It has never been considered a term of endearment to say someone has no aim in life.

Furthermore, we all recognize that achieving that purpose must involve interaction with others. It’s not only those who lie in hospital that think that. Even the most selfish, filthy rich people know that to achieve their wealth, they had to buy or sell something to others. So, why do we celebrate Christmas with nativity scenes made up of dolls, Christmas trees, decorations and other things that cannot move or interact? Why don’t we celebrate our birthdays in a similar way? On your next birthday, would you commission an artist to depict the hospital scene with doctors, nurses, your mother and yourself being born?

So, if on our birthday, we celebrate our accomplishments, not our birth, I want to do the same for Christmas, and I find that there’s even greater reason to do that. You see, Jesus’ purpose was so marvellous that God could not keep the birth to Himself. It may have been humble, but it was an occasion that was momentous beyond human imagination. We all know about the angels and wise men, but the Bible also tells us about two prophets who told everyone about Jesus. Both were so old, but one in particular was made to wait for the birth before his own death. It was just like you’d tell a friend about a fireworks display, “you have to see this one!” Only the One saying this to Simeon was God Himself, who gives and takes life on earth. He said to Simeon, “this is so wonderful, I’ll make you wait to see it before you die!”

We all sing the carol “While shepherds watch their flocks by night …”. The last verse of the song goes “O Glory be to God on high and to the earth be peace, goodwill henceforth from heaven to men, begin and never cease”. Which means what?

The angel (and the book of luke says that it was one angel in chapter 2 verse 9) did not only tell the shepherds about where to find baby Jesus and how to recognize him. This angel was then joined by a multitude of heavenly hostspraising God and saying in verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” In their praise, the heavenly hosts were telling us about God’s plan for Jesus, to bring glory to God and peace to us on earth. Jesus Himself tells us about the peace in the gospel of John, he said (I’ll paraphrase) I give you my peace, not like other men give peace. In this world you will have trouble, but do not be afraid, I have overcome the world. So, it’s peace that comes to those who understand His purpose, his victory over the world, and most important, that He did not come to do things like we expect. But He did come because God so loved us that He had to implement a plan beyond our own understanding to save us from the horrible place we’d found ourselves. That’s also in the book of John, in the famous chapter 3 verse 16.

My problem with how we celebrate Christmas is that we’ve designed it and forgotten its purpose. God’s purpose in Christmas is salvation that goes on forever, that is continuing right now, and that is ever available for those who believe. Instead, we’ve made Christmas a seasonal thing. It’s so seasonal that it’s superstitious to keep Christmas decorations on after 6 January. I should have my Christmas decorations on all year, because the real purpose of Christmas never ends. Because it never ends, it carries on being Christmas, whether I’m working or celebrating, whether I’m eating or sleeping.

At least there’s one good thing: The fact we celebrate Christmas 2000 years later is a subconscious admission that Jesus still lives. He once died, but He rose again, and now He lives in heaven, forever implementing His Father’s plan for our salvation.

If you really want to know, I did not work on Christmas day. Apologies to all those waiting for me to complete one task or another. In fact, this is the first time I’m seeing my computer since before Christmas. I ate so much that there was no room at the inn for Christmas pudding, and it had to be passed on to someone else. But that doesn’t matter, does it? There will be another Christmas next year, and By God’s grace, I’ll be there, pacing myself better so I can take a double portion of the Christmas pudding. More important, it’s still Christmas today, tomorrow, and every day of my own life on earth … and yours too, if you agree!


Let’s talk about Oscar

February 25, 2013

Last year, hee was a hero in South Africa and the rest of the world; he was hailed for medalling in the Olympics, despite being a double amputee. Now, he stands accused of premeditated murder, his sponsors have abandoned him, and he has only his family to comfort him when he sobs uncontrollably in court. But let’s talk about Oscar Pistorius. Who’s this guy?

Before you read on, I must warn that my views here are my own alone, I don’t know of anyone who shares them, so don’t blame anyone else. I should also state from the beginning that this is a very difficult subject and it should be handled delicately. If I fail to do so, I apologise in advance. I realise that there is a family, (probably two) hurting at the death of Reeva Steenkamp. Her family can’t explaine it, they knew Oscar, probably liked him before this time. His family also knew her and it is hoped that they liked her enough to mourn her loss, even if it’s overshadowed by what they feel for their own flesh and blood.

What most people have done is speak their minds, without recognizing how difficult it must be for all concerned. So, before I say anything else, I want to say straightaway that I wish I didn’t have to write this and add to the horrible publicity around both families. Both Oscar and Reeva Steenkampwere in the limelight before the shocking incident that we’re all talking about. Now, misery is heaped on publicity.

But I want to add a little to the great debate of whose fault is it that Oscar shot Reeva Steenkamp. Of course I don’t know either of them, all my conclusions are drawn from what I’ve read or heard and how I’ve applied them to what I know. Who is Oscar? We all know he’s a disabled athlete. Let me add that I think he’s a very driven person, driven more than most others by the need to succeed. He needs to prove something to people. He didn’t want to compete as a disabled athlete, so he decided to compete with nondisabled athletes; and he did well.

Why did he do that? Because many disabled people feel that they’re hidden in a corner, treated as though they lived in a ghetto. Oscar wanted to tell everyone that he should not be regarded first as disabled, then as a human. He wanted us all to know that it’s the other way around. He’s first and foremost a human being who just happens to have a disability.

I know that feeling too. I have emailed several people, (or spoken to them on the telephone), who didn’t know I was blind until the met me. I’ve observed their reaction on finding out that I’m blind. I secretly laughed, because I won the argument. They first saw me as a human when we spoke on the phone, then they realised that I’m blind. Suddenly, that took over all their considerations, but before then, I was just another person.

But this is a hard place, because it means that in their public and private lives, some disabled people constantly having to prove to others that they’re human first. I don’t know how it is in South Africa, but I know of Nigeria. Some of my blind friends are doing this all the time, even with their in-laws. I know of someone in particular who told me that his in-laws don’t think he’s capable of doing several of the cultural things that others are doing. He’s having to just do them, despite what they say, like “don’t worry, we’ll get (someone else) to do it”.
If I have to be honest, I’ll admit that there are things I cannot do as a blind person, but I hate to admit it, because of what it means to others. So, I fight harder to prove this to others. One of my greatest problems is reading printed information. In the UK, they come at you like missiles. If I hold a piece of paper, I don’t know if it’s a cheque for £1000 or a bill for £2000. How do I find out? Do I take the pile of letters to a friend, who’s busy sorting through his own papers? Do I keep them until the bailiffs come and seize my possessions, or until the cheque is no longer valid? One day, my pastor’s wife challenged me. She said everyone in my church longs to help me sort these problems, if only I’d tell them. So, I’m trying, but I still feel I’m imposing on them.

Tackling visual information makes me feel vulnerable, so I understood Oscar’s testimony, when he kept stressing that without his prosthetic limbs, he feels insecure. But let’s take this argument further. It’s unpleasant but true; some people take advantage of disability to hurt the vulnerable. I have a blind friend who was set upon by a group of people. They knew he couldn’t see them, so they’d silently approach him and hit him hard, then silently disappear. They did this for a while. Since I know this is possible, I’m careful when I move around, because I know I’m equally vulnerable to such an attack. I’m glad that I don’t have a gun, but if I sense that sort of danger, I do wave my stick in a menacing way. And would you blame me? Perhaps, some of the times I’ve felt insecure, nothing at all was going to happen to me. Would I take the risk though?

And if I felt so vulnerable about myself, what about if I felt responsible for someone else. I just explained that disabled people feel they have to prove that they can be responsible, even for members of their own family. If he feels that he has a duty as a man to be responsible for the girl he claims to love, how would he react if he perceives danger? If he failed to protect her, someone is bound to say that it was his disability that prevented him from fully protecting and defending her. I presume Reeva Steenkamp herself would not have thought that, when people are in love, there’s a bit of understanding, and sometimes, an appreciation of each other’s limitation. But others?

I’ve seen how this can affect actions. I once made my sister cry by accusing her of not trusting me to look after her daughter. Anyone who’s seen me and K girl, or even seen how my sister trusts me with her would know the cruelty of that accusation. She’s been visiting me alone since she was 5 years old. It was a rare error on my part, for which I’m still sorry. After she’d explained the facts to me, it became clear that she was reacting to circumstances that I wasn’t aware of, and that her actions were honest, probably even correct. But my reactions? Before and after that incident, K girl and I faced the bustle of UK cities together, hefting heavy suitcases, negotiating the journey from Lancaster to Manchester, Heathrow, or to some friends in East London. My sister never dreamt of saying someone else could handle her daughter through those situations. If after having my niece visit for that many years, I still felt the need to ask the question, what does that say of me?

In the light ofy own experiences, I interpreted Oscar Pistorius’ statements differently from the prosecution. He says he and his girlfriend love each other. I hope that is true. He says that they’d had a great evening, Again, I hope that is true. Then, as she slept, he left the room for the balcony, without his prosthetic limbs. I think that if he felthe’d disturb her by putting them on, nd if he only wanted to enjoy some fresh air, he’s entitled to leave his guard down sometimes. I’ve done it several times, though I won’t tell you how. He didn’t hear her leave the bed, it is possible that she woke up when he left the bedroom. He hears sounds in the bathroom, which he knows is not very secure because workmen have been there with a ladder. He’s thinking fast, probably not considering everything at this point. He knows he has to protect his girlfriend, and he’s not very mobile … That’s where the vulnerability kicks in. What happens after that is pretty confusing, even for Oscar. At this point, he says he called out to her but got no answer, but remember, he’s focussed, like any driven person on something. He knows how to focus and sometimes, that can block outside factors, or he wouldn’t have got those medals. He silently picks up his gun and heads for the locked bathroom. I’m not going to attempt to describe what happens next, but honestly, I’m glad I don’t have a gun, and I’m not placed in that situation.

The sad truth is that we can’t get Reeva Steenkamp’s version. For me, that’s more important than the prosecution’s views. They’re only working from clues, preconceptions of crime and duty to the state. Outside of those things, these are humans, and they react like humans do. Human emotion is difficult enough to decipher, because each person has an individual makeup which affects their own reactions. The prosecution does have to prove a case though, and having said my piece, I intend to remain silent until we hear the court’s verdict.

However, I can imagine that whatever the results, Oscar Pistorius will leave with his actions all the rest of his life. It’s not about the charge of premeditated murder or loss of sponsorships, it’s about the girlfriend he killed. Nobody is saying he’s killed before, so it’s safe to conclude he’s not a natural murderer. That means that taking another life will sit on his conscience, whether it was accidental or by design, and if it’s the life of the one you love? …