[INTERVIEW} Desire To Make Impact In Justice System Made Me Read Law – Ene-Obong, Lawyer With Cerebral Palsy

My first day in court wasn’t exciting. I was to appear before a magistrate whose courtroom was located on the first floor of the court complex. The building didn’t have elevators and it was difficult for me to find my way through; the hallway was dark and the staircase narrow.

[INTERVIEW} Desire To Make Impact In Justice System Made Me Read Law – Ene-Obong, Lawyer With Cerebral Palsy

Lawyer and author, Affiong Ene-Obong, talks about her advocacy for women, girls and kids with special needs as well as her experience growing up as a child with a disability

Where do you get your inspiration as an author and poet?

I have authored two books, ‘A Life Called Forever’ and ‘After the Storm,’ and published two editions of my magazine. A Life Called Forever is a collection of inspirational poems written in two parts. The first part is a collection of poems that are introspective and chronicle the inner struggle with different emotions. The second part is a collection of prose beautifully written to illustrate how to deal with negative thoughts in life. After the Storm is a true story based on love, courage and hope. It tells the story of love and life gone sour and the challenges of filial loyalty and responsibility. The book aims to address issues that serve as a tool for activism towards spurring principal actors, families and society to act swiftly to the increasing level of discrimination, dejection and disregard for persons with special needs by advocacy, affirmation and affection.

Yellow People (magazine) is a combination of two deliberately selected words – yellow and people. Yellow represents light, happiness, courage, hope, royalty and wealth, among other things. On the other hand, ‘people’ are human beings. We are humans despite our race, religion, colour, nationality, special needs persons or able-bodied (persons) who want to live our best lives. Our vision for Yellow People magazine is to reflect these categories of people who are thriving and living colorful lives amidst their peculiarities. Categorically, I would say inspiration is drawn from my experiences, books, personal research, dialogues and prayers.

As a writer who advocates for children with special needs, what do you think the Nigerian society misunderstands about disability?

The Nigerian society has failed to understand that disability is a medical condition that prevents any person from engaging in certain activities. Before anyone is categorised as a person with disability, he or she must be regarded as a human being and should be treated as such. The fundamental rights of every Nigerian, disabled or not, are enshrined in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution and must be duly implemented and protected to propel the change we seek.

The Nigerian society has failed to understand that inclusion must be prioritised. A fight for one is a fight for all. Disability is part of human diversity and must not be perceived as a taboo. As a person with special needs, each part of me complements another; don’t assume that when one part doesn’t function, other parts won’t.

As a child, how much support did you get from your family and how important was that?

I had and still have the best support I could ever ask for. My parents were present – present in every sense of the word. The support of my family made me realise that I could achieve the impossible by simply paying attention to details and developing a positive mindset. Parental support cannot be overemphasised. It shapes the child’s life and creates a pathway for all-round successes.

Can you describe your experience growing up as a child with mobility impairment?

Growing up to understand I was unique was the best feeling I ever had. There were a lot of questions as to why I couldn’t use my legs but I believed I could achieve the impossible. I knew I could be and do more with other parts of my body since they functioned optimally.

Did your parents enrol you in a special school?

I wasn’t enrolled in a special school.

What were their reasons?

I attended mainstream schools because my parents believed I was an amazing child and put in the work to ensure I got medical support and I was fit to begin and complete my educational pursuit. My developmental stages as a child were impressive so they believed that with the right attention, I could give my best at every phase. Mainstream schools can be improved to accommodate persons with special needs when the right structures and systems are put in place. It shouldn’t be about a special or mainstream school but acceptance, ability to thrive and live fully amidst their peculiarities.

How easy was it for you to understand that you are a child with special needs?

I must say my parents made it easy. They were present in every sense of the word and gave their best each time.

Did you easily relate with your peers in the neighbourhood?

I could easily relate with my peers because my parents shaped and made me understand that I could get and live my best life. I was exposed to the right things, cultivated the right mindset, hence, I attracted the right people.

The jeers, sneers and stares were unavoidable but at some point, I became comfortable in my skin. I believed I was entitled to the same level of inclusion, participation and mutual respect from my peers from a tender age.

Can you describe some of the times people have misunderstood your condition?

Misunderstanding stems from the idea of not knowing what to do or what not to do. Disability is uniqueness in every sense of the word. The medical condition is peculiar and because others don’t know how to unbox and accept it, it becomes a problem. Children toyed with the wheelchair and it wasn’t a great feeling; I always felt there were other toys; caregivers also made derogatory statements and this wasn’t good.

You have a Law degree. What was the motivation?

I was motivated by the desire to uphold justice, improve and impact the legal system. I want people, particularly those with special needs, to know their fundamental rights and exercise their civic responsibilities nationally and globally. I was motivated by the desire to improve my communication, writing and research skills since I had developed excellent speaking, listening and reading habits from the age of eight.

What did you find challenging about studying Law?

Law is a dynamic field of study and having to learn and understand its intricacies was quite challenging at the preliminary stages but I pulled through and applied study patterns and principles that aided my success

Did you get the right type of support system in the university?

Yes, I did. The facilities were well-equipped and the learning environment conducive for my academic pursuit.

What fascinates you about Intellectual Property law which is your area of interest?

During my undergraduate programme, I had my first exposure to Intellectual Property law when I studied a course on the subject. As a creative, I was fascinated by how this field of law would ensure that creative works could be owned and legally protected from misuse and misappropriation. This exposure, coupled with my interactions with my astute lecturer, colleagues and other creative persons have helped nurture my passion for Intellectual Property law which has since remained unwavering.

Can you describe your first day in court?

My first day in court wasn’t exciting. I was to appear before a magistrate whose courtroom was located on the first floor of the court complex. The building didn’t have elevators and it was difficult for me to find my way through; the hallway was dark and the staircase narrow.

On arrival at the courtroom, the gazes were intense but the magistrate was welcoming and supportive through the proceedings. I was impressed with the magistrate’s verdict at the end of the proceedings but couldn’t stop pondering over the deplorable state of the court buildings.

Many persons living with disabilities often decry the level of discrimination in society. What were the unpleasant moments of underestimation you have faced in life?

One of the unpleasant moments of underestimation would be inaccessibility to the banking hall due to the door. On a fateful day, I spent over two hours waiting under the scorching weather to conclude a banking transaction. When I informed the banking official on arrival, the lady assured me that I would be attended to. After two hours, another bank official had beckoned on a guard to assist with taking me into the banking hall.

Another unpleasant moment was having to sit back in the car due to the inability to access a restaurant, salon, bookstore, etc without ramps. At times like this, my dad would ensure I was comfortable enough to sit in the car while he ran off to purchase or get whatever I needed at the places or he made provisions for a family member to keep me company in the car. Accessibility for persons with special needs must be duly enforced.

How did you handle them?

I learned to ask for help and build a network of trustworthy friends who could assist with certain activities like shopping, travelling, etc.

Can you describe your best moment?

My best moment was at my high school prize-giving day when I was to receive an award for being the best in Literature in English for the academic year. My teacher beckoned on the audience to turn toward me, with their gazes fixed, I received the award grinning from ear to ear.

You also do volunteering work. Can you describe the experience so far?

Volunteering is rewarding. It gives me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that I can remain committed to causes and put smiles on the faces of people. Through volunteer groups, I have learned to harness my skills and utilise them to my advantage. I would like to say that volunteering is giving your time, talent and treasure to make the lives of others count and the feeling is priceless.

What are the current issues about women and child rights that need to be addressed to make society better?

The issues include domestic violence, inclusion, access to education, health care, women empowerment, violence against women, sexual violence and violation of women’s human rights. Violence can negatively affect a woman’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health and would increase the risk of illnesses. Violence against women is preventable. The health sector has a role to play in providing comprehensive health care for women subjected to violence and as an entry point for referring women to other support services they would need. Children who are raised in violent families are prone to suffering from behavioral and emotional disorders. The social and economic costs of intimate partner and sexual violence are enormous and have ripple effects throughout society. Women may suffer isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.

To achieve a lasting change, it is important to enact and enforce legislation, develop and implement policies that promote gender equality, allocate resources to prevention and response and invest in women’s rights organisations. Women and girls with special needs experience marginalisation, attitudinal and environmental barriers that lead to low economic and social status, increased risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, discrimination as well as harmful gender-based discriminatory practices. Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It builds stable societies that give individuals the opportunity to maximise their potential. But education for girls is more than access to school. It’s also about girls feeling safe in classrooms and supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue, including those in which they are often under-represented.

Gender-equitable education empowers girls and boys and promotes the development of life skills, like self-management, communication, critical thinking and negotiation. They close skill gaps that perpetuate pay gaps and build prosperity for countries. Gender is a social determinant of health and health issues and may manifest themselves differently in women and men. It is important to address these differences. Discrimination against women and girls damages their health care expectations.

Women empowerment is simply promoting women’s self-worth, ability to make choices and right to influence social change for themselves and others.

You founded Yellow People magazine in search of answers to questions throbbing your heart. What exactly were the questions?

They include: can persons with special needs stop being victimised and discriminated against at workplaces? Would they ever have wholesome recreational lifestyles? What must be done to propagate healthy relationships and marriages for persons with special needs? If persons with special needs were given fair and equal opportunities for leadership in different sectors would that revolutionise Nigeria? What must be done to ensure persons with special needs exercise their voting rights without discrimination in an accessible and friendly environment?

Have you found the answers?

Awareness is being created and I will continue pushing until I achieve my aim. To a reasonable extent, the changes are minimal but there’s no going back. A fight for one is a fight for all. We would find answers.

What is your relationship experience?

Love always wins. I believe that at the right time, love would win. I have had beautiful experiences.





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