Yewande Ojo is a Nigerian Banking and Finance graduate and an entrepreneur who lost a limb to an auto crash at nine.
In this interview, she tells ALEXANDER OKERE life lessons living as an amputee for 21 years has taught her
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Yewande Ojo. I am a graduate of Banking and Finance from Ekiti State University. I live in Lagos State but I am from Ido Osi Local Government Area of Ekiti State.
Can you recall how you lost part of your left leg?
The whole thing started between 1998 and 1999. I was about nine years old and in primary school then. It was a car accident. I was returning from school when it happened; it was a head-on collision around the Ojota area of Lagos. I think one or two people died (in the accident). After the accident, I was unconscious and woke up in a hospital located in Igbobi. When I woke up, I saw a lot of injuries and wounds all over my legs.
Was amputation the only option for survival for you?
It took my mum two years to agree to have my limb amputated. It was the best option to save my life because the doctor said it was either the affected limb was amputated or allowed to worsen and that the injury could cost me my life.
Losing a body part could be quite traumatic. How did it affect you as a child?
I spent most of my childhood in the hospital after the accident.
How long did you spend in hospital?
I spent about four years in the hospital, so I was already friends with those in the hospital. I didn’t have the privilege to move around; I was just stuck to the bed for about four years. So, I don’t really have much of a story to tell about my childhood. But thank God for my mum; she was there throughout my stay there. However, I was the type that mingled with people.
As a teenager, what were challenges that came with being an amputee?
I think the challenge was more when I planned to go further in my education. That was when I knew that something had happened to me. Moving around and trying to meet up with my friends was difficult. When my friends wanted us to take a stroll, the pain involved in using a prosthetic limb was too much for me such that I couldn’t mingle well with my secondary schoolmates. That was also when I knew something had really happened to me.
Did you experience depression?
That happened when I was in secondary school. When I was alone at home, I pondered over everything. I attempted suicide twice.
How did that happen?
As of that time, my parents were still processing my enrolment into secondary school. My mum worked with a local government council, my dad was a businessman and my sibling went to school. I was the only one at home. I drank battery water twice and I just slept and woke up.
Did you use crutches?
I never did; my mum didn’t allow me and we got a prosthetic limb. But we didn’t know much about prosthesis, so we were duped. She wanted me to use an imported prosthetic limb but because we didn’t know the right channel to follow, we were duped of about N2m. So, I had no other choice but to make use of a locally-made prosthesis as of that time. It wasn’t easy using it as a child because it was heavy and the pain I felt was much. I had to take painkillers every day. Sometimes I forgot that my lower limb was no more intact and I slipped and fell. So, I learnt to be more calculated.
Were you bullied at secondary school?
I have never lost my self-esteem because I have self-belief. Many of my friends commend me for my courage. I don’t look down on myself and I was one of my principal’s favourites in secondary school. I never gave anybody the chance to bully me.
Did anyone try to do that?
A lot of people did. Most of those who tried were my classmates. I used to sit in the front row, so some of them would mock me by saying I have one leg. But I didn’t take that; sometimes, I stood up and challenged them, and even slapped one of them. I tried that twice before my case was taken to a teacher. The teacher whipped me for slapping a classmate and I told him that I was insulted on account of my disability. When the principal heard about it, that teacher was suspended for beating me because I defended myself against a classmate. I gained more confidence after that day.
Would you say the accident affected your childhood dream?
I didn’t have a particular profession in mind, but I just knew that I loved business. Even now, I don’t see myself working in an office. I love business. I love travelling. My condition doesn’t affect it because business was what I did when I was in a higher institution. I did petty trading because I didn’t want the entire burden to be on my family.
Can you share what your most painful experience was as a university student?
Walking down to lecture halls, when the original venues were changed, was difficult. Some of the halls could take about 30 minutes to reach and I had to trek. During examinations, I used to tell my classmates to tell the invigilator that a physically-challenged lady was trying to make her way to the hall and could take a longer time to get there. I graduated with a second-class lower.
What do you do for a living now?
I sell womenswear and bags for ladies. I don’t have a shop; I advertise the womenswear online. But I’m into sports as well. I play lawn tennis. I do shot put, the discus and the javelin.
Have you participated in any sports competition?
My first outing was in Kaduna State for the National Sports Festival; I think that was in 2008. I participated as part of the team that represented Ogun State. I placed fourth; that was because it was my first outing.
Are you married?
My experience in relationships is something else because of my disability.
Did you face rejection?
I don’t think it was rejection. I can call it deceit.
Would you like to talk about it?
My seven-year relationship crashed in 2015. It was a smooth journey in the beginning, but in the sixth or seventh year, he (my boyfriend) started saying if he didn’t date me, nobody would date me, and that he dated me out of pity. When he uttered that statement, I didn’t think about the years I had wasted with him; I just called it quits. I won’t let anyone date or marry me out of pity. Never! You probably haven’t seen my picture. I am a very beautiful lady. So, that statement alone pissed me off. I called off the relationship and ever since, I’ve not been in any serious relationship like that. But I’m a single mum of one.
What about the father of your child?
He is doing fine. He is okay.
Are you saying you are in a relationship with the father of the child?
No more. Maybe it was a ‘situationship’ because I don’t know the definition I will give to it.
Did he deny ownership of the child?
He said he wasn’t ready for marriage and the child. He said I should get rid of it (the pregnancy).
How old is your child and how have you been coping as a single mother?
He will soon be one year old. Hmm, the journey has not been easy or smooth but I just thank God that I am alive and for the kind of family God gave to me. I am not looking for any job. All I need is money to establish myself.
Have you approached the Lagos State Government, through the office for PLWDs, for assistance?
Yes. Everything is a scam, my brother. Everything is all about connection. When my prosthesis went bad a few years back and my mum couldn’t afford a new one, I summoned the courage and made a post about it on Facebook. But most people didn’t know I was physically-challenged; what they saw was just my face. But when I posted my full picture, many became sad and some asked me why I made such a post. Some asked me why I didn’t take my case to the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs. And I have been there several times but LASODA told me they didn’t have N5,000 to give to me.
Have you considered using a wheelchair and are you willing to use one?
Will it make mobility better for you?
Using a wheelchair will be within the house. What I need right now is a prosthetic limb. I have been on it in the last two years, working to raise funds to get an artificial limb. From my findings, it costs between N500,000 and N2.5m to get one. Thank God some people have been responding. But since last year, things have just been down, so I’m just managing the one I have.
Were there times men tried to take advantage of you due to your condition?
It happened twice when I was in the university. Anything related to part-time study in the university costs money. After taking an examination in a course when I was in 300 Level, my course representative gave me a hint about the result and when it was published, it turned out to be true. But the lecturer in charge of the course said there was an error in the result of some students. So, the entire result was cancelled and a new one was printed. When I saw mine, it was a D, but I knew what I wrote. So, I stood my ground and went to the lecturer’s office and he was like I had to use what I had to get what I wanted. I was so furious that I walked out of his office.
I had to carry the course over; I didn’t mind. The following year, I still carried it over. I went to his office and threatened to take his case to a panel (though I didn’t know anybody). But I just had to say that. The first time he approached me like that, when I got into the classroom, some of my classmates came to me to ask, “Yewande, how far? How was it?” That really got me pissed off. I have not tried such. So, the following year, I told the lecturer that if he didn’t give me my score, I would take him to the panel. By God’s grace, he gave me a B and I thanked God.
How do you handle discrimination now?
I am used to it. Our people just need to be orientated that people living with disabilities are also human. People can see our own disability because it is physical. Everybody will still get to that stage (have a disability) by accident or by old age.
I have attended several interviews. After one of the interviews, one of them told me to go for a computer course. I passed the interview and they wondered how I was able to get to the venue in time. When I completed the computer course and went back to the place, they told me that they would have loved to accept me if not for my condition. I wondered why they had to put me through the whole stress, moving from the mainland to the island.
Having been an amputee for over 21 years, do you mentor younger persons with disabilities?
Yes. I get calls from associations when there is a case of amputation to talk to the person, share my experience and make them happy.
Which organisation do you belong to?
I am a member of the Lagos State Association of Physically Challenged People. I am the Public Relations Officer.
What life lesson has your condition taught you?
It has taught me a whole lot. First, I have to be me. I have to be confident in myself. I shouldn’t look down on myself, no matter what. I have learnt to always think ahead, that there is a future ahead. It also taught me to stay focused and put everything into God’s hands. Losing my lower limb at nine won’t affect my chances of becoming successful.