Living in Lagos comes with its own set of challenges. Being the most populous state in the country, job opportunities are scarce, even for a qualified able bodied person.
For Gbolahan Jonah, a married, 37 year-old man and father of one, being physically challenged reduces one’s opportunities by a great percentage. At the age of two, Mr Jonah contacted polio, a disease which left his legs deformed and consequently, made him disabled. And so, several years after completing his secondary education, Mr Jonah is yet to find a job in Lagos, which happens to be his state of origin.
“I have a secondary school certificate,” he said. “Presently, any decent job that is offered to me, I’ll do. I can read and write. I’d like any good office job or government job. I have been to some insurance companies and a lot of private companies but they didn’t employ me. They don’t have lifts and it won’t be easy for me climbing the staircase.”
But he is not daunted in the face of these challenges. Mr Jonah engages in special sports, weight lifting, and has grown from being an athlete to being a coach.
“After completing my secondary school, I went into sports. I have won silver and bronze medals at different competitions within Nigeria. I stopped actively participating in sports last year. Since then, I’ve been a coach. I have trained people for several competitions. Some of the people I trained won gold, silver and bronze medals at KADA 2009 National Sports Festival.”
Mr Jonah trains not only physically challenged people, but also able bodied people.
“Currently, I have four people that I am training now in weight lifting. Two of them are disabled, and two of them are able,” he said. “When I went for the NIS course, a coaching course, I was trained to be a coach for both able and disabled people.”
His sojourn into coaching has led him into coaching not just for sports, but also life coaching. At different times, Mr Jonah has acted as a mentor to other physically challenged persons who have been facing some form of discrimination. Through sports, he has helped them find value in their lives.
“There is a lady I’m coaching now. Her name is Sherifat. She has polio and she uses two crutches. Before, she normally stayed at home. She felt lonely, she felt rejected, she was doing nothing at home. I approached her, talked to her, told her that she can do something better with her life. I introduced special sports to her. I’ve been training her for the past six months now and she is doing well. By God’s grace, I am preparing her for the next sports festival coming up next year in Rivers state.”
Between participating in sports full time and getting a job, Mr Jonah prefers sports but complains that the income gotten from it is quite insufficient. “Whenever there is any festival or competition, they give us some little allowance. When we win in any competition, they usually pay us some money. But that is hardly enough.
“The National Sports Festival for instance occurs once in two years, while other competitions occur once in a while. We are praying for more help from the government. I’d prefer to do sports full time if it will bring me more money. If the government can support us better than they are doing now, there will be no need for me to worry about getting another job.”
Despite the several challenges he faces daily, Mr Jonah is grateful to the government of Lagos state for the better ease of moving about within the state.
“Our present governor has done a lot of work through the infrastructure he has been providing. All the service lanes now are smooth and there is no much traffic like before. I pray that God will continue to strengthen him and give him the power to do more. It’s better than before. Also, the Lagos state government has given us the privilege to enter the BRT bus free of charge for special people. We have two seats reserved for us just behind the driver.”
He recounts some of the difficulty he had moving around while he was still a student. “During my schooling days, it was not easy to get a bus. Sometimes, I’d spend almost two hours at the bus-stop. With my condition, I couldn’t rush for a bus, so I’ll stay until all the passengers have left before I’d be able to enter a bus.”
Mr Jonah encourages disabled persons to find something engaging to do rather than feel sorry for themselves. He takes pride in the fact that disabled persons have been able to employ able bodies persons through the disabled sports transport initiative.