For Dr. Christopher Nwanoro, April 5, 1995 was the day his life underwent a metamorphosis.
The day was like any other until about 1.00pm when he suddenly became blind inside the lecture hall. He was in his third year, as an undergraduate of History/International Studies at the University of Uyo.
Nwanoro, now a PhD. holder in International Relations from Isiukwuato in Abia State, said his world suddenly crumbled on his head that fateful day. He acknowledged that the incident was an admixture of frustration and inspiration, arguing that it was, however, the turning point of his life.
Putting the impediment behind him and soldiering on, he has since broken several barriers to carve an enviable niche for himself both in Nigeria – as an awardee of the Presidential National Honours – and in the United States where he currently heads the Trade and Investment Department in the Nigerian Consulate. Dr. Nwanoro is indeed a proud Nigerian blind ambassador.
How he became blind
He told the reporter the events that led to his blindness. “I was born normal with my two eyes, but I suddenly lost my sight in my third year on April 5, 1995. It was a sudden drop in vision that I could not see again while in a lecture hall at the University of Uyo.
“I didn’t have any eye problem before the incidence. I did everything like every other person until that fateful day during a lecture on Research Methodology. I had some sensation in my eye and by the time I realized it, something like a dark cloud covered my vision and I couldn’t see again.
“I thought it was a joke and didn’t know whether to shout or cry. I tapped my friend and told him that I could not see again; he became worried and hinged it on the sun. There was no premonition, there was no fiction or accident, there was just nothing.”
Coping with life as a blind man
He revealed that he contemplated suicide initially when confronted with frustration arising from his blindness. According to him, blindness is synonymous with poverty and hopelessness.
“I wasn’t enlightened or aware that blind people can go to school then. The blind people I used to meet on the streets were usually beggars and hopeless people. What would have killed me was how I could cope as a blind man,” he stated.
However, left with no option, he braced up for the realities and challenges of redirecting the ship of his life by returning to kindergarten school with other visually impaired people to learn alphabets with the kids. He said: “After several failed efforts to restore the sight, I finally left the university. People, friends and well-wishers came to sympathise with me and after few months, somebody informed me of the blind school in Umuahia, Abia State.
“At first, I didn’t know how to start all over with the children to learn alphabets and numbers. The people there were shocked to see an undergraduate joining them. They would size me up and ask me questions. I had no option. But the blind people were very happy people. They would dance jubilantly.
“I resolved that if these people could survive it, I would survive. I started adapting, though it wasn’t easy. Everybody wanted to be my friend – the teachers, the people and visitors; I became the rallying point and everybody showed me love.
“They were all interested in teaching me that I didn’t even have time to sleep. One would teach how to type and another would teach me mobility because I couldn’t move from one spot to another then. It takes about three years to learn Braille but because I was determined, I learnt Braille and typing within six months. In fact, I even type faster than my teachers. I perfectly mastered the keyboard of the manual typewriter within a short period,” he informed.
But unknown to him, a bigger challenge awaited him over his reabsorption into the university. Casting his mind back, he explained: “I passed the exam and returned to the university during the Sani Abacha strike that lasted for close to one year. By then my classmates had graduated. It became a serious tussle because I was the first blind person to be admitted in that school.
“The school authorities didn’t know what to do when I refused the option of sending me to University of Jos with the biggest department for the school of the blind and special education because I didn’t want to go there and start life afresh.
“Having mastered some areas at the University of Uyo, I could still move freely and probably meet one or two persons, who knew me before now. The university authorities sat many times to deliberate. They examined me and were left with no option than to readmit me.
“However, something extraordinary happened. I improved in my academics more than the time I was sighted. It was impressive that some students completed their lecture notes through my recordings. One thing that excited and kept me going was the love that people showed me. Everybody wanted to help me in the university.
“People would ask what they could do for me. Some would wait to assist me to the lecture hall and take me home. I was the only blind person in the school but I didn’t see it as a challenge again. I was able to fit in within a short time.”
The trauma of seeking medical treatment
The battle to regain his sight was a torturous and traumatising one, but the most memorable, according to him, was when a friend suggested he visit a spiritualist, who could transfer somebody’s eyes to his through some metaphysical force.
He recalled: “Seeking medical treatment was a terrible experience. I didn’t believe in traditional medications. A friend had suggested I see a man in Port Harcourt, who could restore my sight by invoking someone else’s eyes into my own and transferring my own into the person. But I asked him why such person should merit such treatment. Yes, I want to see, but it should not be at someone else’s detriment.
“My saddest moment was when my friend told me he would die if he was in my shoes, but I rebuked him. Today he reads about me everywhere. He still has a first degree while I have more than that,” he quipped.
Coping with stigmatization
Dr. Nwanoro confessed that he had got a fair share of stigmatisation. “In Third World countries, there are people willing to show you love, but most Nigerians, out of ignorance and illiteracy, think sight is their making. They refused to understand that it could be anybody.
“On the flip side, there are people so compassionate, especially the women. They are ready to assist and sacrifice for physically challenged people, even to their own detriment. Sometimes, people want to pay my fare and would feel bad when I reject such assistance,” he noted.
Speaking on the fate of disabled persons in the developed world and in the Third World, he thundered: “The gap is wide apart. The disabled are treated like kings with special provisions inside the buses, trains, banks and other places. The state and country provide for them and will never trample upon their rights.
“Most of my colleagues working in Nigeria face many difficult challenges that we don’t experience in the US. They marginalise the disabled in the offices in Nigeria. The machine I use in the US is not even in Nigeria. We have so many benefits overseas.
“The cell phone I use now is a special customised iphone. It is more than a phone to me because everything is encompassed in it. But how many blind persons in Nigeria can afford $1225, well over N300,000 to buy a phone?”
He also spoke on how his transformation came about. “From day one, I was always determined and dogged in all things I do. I don’t want sympathy; I don’t want people to attribute my mistake to my blindness. After graduation, I did my NYSC in Rivers State with the resolution to turn things around.
“I was serious, focused and never gave out any opportunity to come out the best corps member. Luckily, I was posted to serve with the Shell Oil Company and I resolved to be generous to those with similar problem. I spent almost my earnings on challenged persons.
“I visited less-privileged homes in Port Harcourt, got involved in enlightenment campaigns to educate people on stigmatisation and marginalisation of the disabled. I emerged the best corps member in the state, received national award with an employment opportunity and that was how I came to Abuja to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“God supported me to climb from one level to another. I was posted to work in the United States in the Nigerian Permanent Mission in the United Nations and after one year I was moved to head the Trade and Investment Department in the Nigerian Consulate. I always do things extraordinarily to ensure nobody blames any mistake on my deformity. I have been from one glory and one level to another,” he said.
In spite of his achievements, he regrets that he can no longer fulfil his childhood ambition of becoming a trader.
“As an Aba boy, I like trading. I had made up my mind that schooling was just to obtain a degree and that I would start a business at Ariaria market.
“That was my dream as an Aba boy, but the blindness became a turning point in my life because I had no option than to continue studying. I got my PhD. in less than 10 years, doing all my programmes full time.
“It has not been easy, especially in Nigeria where people see disability as a stigma, curse and failure. But my happiness is that many of us have been able to turn around the impression and let them know that it is no longer so, though it is difficult to wipe it out in their hearts.
“I emerged the best out of 193 countries in the Society of Foreign Consuls in the United States. The first runner-up was sighted; he’s from Paris. It was an open forum but I know that if it is in Nigeria, people will doubt my capabilities to be given the appointment,” he noted.
Having scaled many hurdles to climb to the top, Dr Chris has one ambition: to become the president of Nigeria.
“I know, God willing, I will be able to find myself in a bigger elective position one day. If I find myself as the President of Nigeria, it will not be a big deal to occupy the position. I know one day, I will be privileged to be the first blind President of Nigeria. I have no iota of doubt that it will happen,” he said joyfully.
Difficulty finding a wife
Usually, a blind man might have some difficulty finding a wife. But such was not the case with Dr. Nwanoro. He informed the reporter that eight ladies fought the battle of their lives all in a bid to walk down the aisle with him.
He said: “Some people have challenges about relationship, but I didn’t. When I was about to marry, I had about eight ladies waiting for me. They were all too close to me; perhaps, they saw something in me. The only problem I encountered was who to marry among the eight ladies. It was so serious that I had to even seek the face of God through prayer and fasting.”
“When I met my wife, she was so much comfortable for marriage with me. But at a point, her parent, brothers, sisters refused her marrying a blind man. They wondered why a beautiful lady should settle for me. They accused me of hypnotising her with juju and even attempted delivering her from the devilish juju.
“The pressure, sincerely, was so much on her but she stood her ground. I was not bothered while the drama lasted since I had many other options. The highpoint of it was when her uncle left Abuja to convince her against the marriage, warning her that she would die poor, marrying a blind man.
“She became so confused, especially when they told her to drag me to one church or spiritual home to restore my sight. Informing me of such decision almost cost her our marriage but for the intervention of my friends. Frankly, she is a very wonderful woman and we are now blessed with wonderful and beautiful children, all living with me in the US,” he said.
Advice to persons living with disability
As a man, who passed through hell and burning furnace to build himself into an international brand, his wealth of experience would certainly serve as a motivation to others in what many of them would regard as a hopeless situation.
“I want to encourage the physically challenged, especially the blind and those who will still join us in future, that blindness or disability is not the end of the world. They should be happy in every situation and not look at the problem but upon God who can turn around one’s life.