At a press briefing held in Lagos recently, the Vice-Chairman of the society’s Executive Council, Mr. Asiwaju Fola Osibo said; “We rely largely on the donations of spirited individuals and organisations.
“However, the Federal Government a few years ago, promised to give us N 30,000 per annum, but that meant that we had to go to Abuja to collect the money. Because of the bureaucracy, it could take days on end to go through the motions. We realised that we were spending more than N 30,000 to collect the money. So, for years, the Federal Government has not been fulfilling its commitment to us.”
Continuing, Osibo said; “We are supposed to receive subventions from the Federal Government and Lagos State Government annually. But these have not been given to us for some years except recently when the Lagos State Governor visited us.
“The state Government pays the fees of all our 60 students which is about N50,000 per head. However, that amount is subsidized because it costs about N200,000 per annum to train each student. When the society’s income is viewed against the background of the ever rising cost of running our programmes, it becomes imperative to ask for more public support.”
The society’s call for public support is not without merit. This voluntary, non-governmental, non-profit making organisation set up the Vocational Training Centre for the Blind at Oshodi in Lagos in 1956. Since then, the centre has trained over 2,000 blind men and women to acquire skills in Braille writing and reading, type writing, handicrafts, telephone switchboard operation, computer operation, mobility skills, tie and dye and various crafts necessary for self employment.
The Vocational Training Centre for the Blind runs a two-year course for visually impaired adults and adolescents, as well as a special one year course for professionals and special persons who need to adjust to their new predicament in order to be able to return to a normal life and continue with their professional or vocational calling.
Returning to a normal life is the testimony of Mr. Obinna Uche, a middle aged legal officer at the National Open University of Nigeria who lost his sight a few years ago. After spending a year at the centre, Uche returned to work in 2006.
“Blindness is but a physical challenge,” he says, “and like all challenges it can be overcome through belief and faith in God.” There are still a lot of people in the process of getting their lives back, like 20 year old Afolabi Oyebiyi, who has extremely low vision, but has his sight set on studying information technology at the University; his friend Chidozie Obianyanwu who is thinking of settling for a career in Physiotherapy instead of his dream course, Medicine; and Opeyemi Adewale who refuses to let blindness deter her from her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Barr. Lanre Adebayo is a member of the Executive Council of the NSB; visually impaired, he can easily identify with the needs of the society. Speaking at the conference, he said: One major challenge is that a lot of people who should benefit from what we are doing here do not know that we exist.
“Another challenge is that a lot of people who should support us do not know that we exist. That is why this press conference is important; we want blind people out there to know that there is hope for them, that being blind is not the end of their lives. We also want corporate bodies and well meaning individuals to continue to support us.”
Mr. Osiboh, expounding some parameters for financial support said: “We would like to emphasize the need for enrolment of the public in general as members of the Nigeria Society for the Blind. Anybody can become a member by simply obtaining an enrolment form, filling in the details required and paying the stipulated fees.
“You can become a Life member by paying a once and for all fee of N50, 000 for individuals and N250, 000 for Corporate Membership. Even students can be members by paying an annual subscription fee of N1, 000. If just one million Nigerians enroll as members, you can imagine what that would mean to our finances and our programmes for the blind.”