Twenty-six-year-old Ikiotere Ayebantoye defied his disability to get university education and recently finished his mandatory one-year national youth service. He tells OPEYEMI ADEFEMI about his story of triumph and future plans
Kindly introduce yourself.
My name is Ikiotere Ayebantoye. I am from Bayelsa State. I am 26 years old.
What did you study in the university?
I studied Business Administration at the Niger Delta University.
Did you attend a special school as a child?
No; my educational background is like that of every other child. I was born and raised in the village. My primary and secondary schools were in the village. After my Senior School Certificate Examination, I took the UTME . I gained admission into the university and I would have graduated in 2019 but there was a flood and we all had to pause school for months. Added to that, there was ASUU strike that also delayed me in school too. I finally graduated in 2021.
What kind of family did you come from?
My family is a liberal one. I am actually blessed with a loving mother and brothers. They don’t ever look down on me or make me conscious that I am different from them. I think it’s because I am proving myself and they love me too. I have never felt shut out in their midst.
I have four siblings – two elder brothers and two younger brothers. None of them lives with a disability. They are perfectly okay.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was normal. I was born and raised in the village. It is not like I haven’t encountered one or two cases where some children would try to talk down on me or want to remind me of who I am; but I have never bothered about any of those things. So, when children want to mess with me because of my physical state, I just fight through it. I see it as a war. I don’t just allow people to intimidate me. That is how I grew up.
While I was growing up, I would look at myself and compare to my brothers and I would ask, ‘Why am I like this?’ Within me, I would console myself and say maybe God wanted to prove something with my case or He had a special reason for making me like this. I just encourage myself and carry on with my life.
Were you born with the condition?
I was told that I was born with it. I never knew what exactly happened.
Did your parents seek help?
Yes, they did. It wasn’t medical but spiritual help. I remember them telling me that they went to different places to seek help so my condition could be reversed. I remember when I was talking to a pastor to seek solution; the pastor was just pulling my legs like he wanted me to walk by all means. I think my parents did their best in their own little way.
Were you ever told the medical term for your condition?
I honestly don’t know but when I fill medical forms, doctors would write upper and lower limbs case. Most times they write physically-challenged.
You mentioned that the ASUU strike delayed you in the university. How did that make you feel?
For me, I know it’s not a good thing to be delayed in school due to something like that but I count it as a blessing. Things were not rosy for me while I was in school because I had only my mother to depend on for my financial and material needs. I lost my dad in 2010; so it was just my mum that I had and she wasn’t too prepared for my university education. I caught her unawares as I didn’t tell her before purchasing my JAMB form. Whenever there was a strike or the school was closed for reasons like COVID-19 and flooding in my school, I would go back home and do fish business. I would buy fishes and my mum would dry them for me. I would then take them to Port Harcourt and Bayelsa to sell in order to raise money in readiness for school’s reopening or resumption. That was how I got my school fees and money for upkeep. The strike and even the lockdown never affected me negatively. I used those period to ‘hustle’.
How did your mum feel upon your passing out of NYSC?
My mum and brothers felt proud. On my sign-out day at the university, they were so happy for me. Many never thought I would go this far. I am so happy to make mum proud because it has always been my dream to do so. For my mum to take me as I am since I was born shows how deep her love for me is. At the time of my birth she already had two boys. She could have decided to put me away like some other parents do to their physically-challenged children because of the burden that comes with it. I have seen cases where mothers throw their children into the gutter or just dump them somewhere. She didn’t do that to me. She nursed me, took care of me and provided for me like every other child she has. She could have just said she didn’t want me since she had two boys before me. I have never felt neglected or felt unloved by my mother. She was so excited for me.
What attracted you to the course you studied?
The attraction didn’t come so early. When I was in SS1, I checked within me and asked myself what I wanted to become in future. At first, I thought about sociology so that I would be an activist but then I realised that these people just talk and each time these activists talk about the right things, people think they are enemies of politicians. Later I thought of becoming a politician because I realised that one of the issues we have in our nation is because of bad leaders. I felt I should become a politician so that I could right all the wrongs and change all that needs to be changed. Currently, it’s not like our policy and I don’t know what they are doing or they don’t have good intentions for the people. I just came to the realisation that everything boils down to mismanagement. We just lack management. So, I opted for management, so that we can have good resource management. From there, we will know that we have the hope of making Nigeria a better place. That was why I studied Business Management
Do you get discriminated against because of your disability?
Yes, but I don’t listen to them. There are people who want to talk rubbish with me but I always ignore them. But in most cases, I am accepted almost everywhere I go and I am thankful for those moments.
What was service year like for you?
I was initially posted to Osun State where I had my three-week orientation camping, which was so fun and exciting for me. After the three weeks, I was redeployed to Bayelsa State to continue my service year. My place of primary assignment was a very nice place too. I went to work to gain experience and exposure to prepare myself for when I will start working officially. I want to prove people wrong that the limitations they thought about when they see me are not true and that I can perform more than they can ever imagine. I am beyond being physically-challenged, I have the mental capability to do things. I want to go the extra mile on the things I am doing. I went to work, asked questions, listened attentively and made friends. The people were very nice to me. It was a service year full of fun.
Did anyone ever discourage you from going to school?
No, I love going to school. When I intend to do something, I keep it to myself until I get results. There was a particular day I was talking to my friend and I told him that I don’t discuss my plans with people because I have tried it and the comment I get is: “You sef, you no dey stay for one place?” That is the more reason I don’t discuss my plans. All I want to hear is congratulations.
When I purchased my JAMB form, I didn’t even tell my mum not because I didn’t trust her but because I just wanted to surprise her. I just came home to inform my family of my admission offer. There is no way I will be discouraged if people don’t know my plans.
What were some the challenges you faced in school?
I always had financial challenges but about the physical challenges, I told myself that I could do it and that God was with me. Where I come from, things are not rosy, so it was just financial challenges. Paying school fees when due, buying books and paying levies when due. I didn’t miss any important class in school. I was always one of the first persons to be in class back then and that was because I was so conscious and intentional about my studies. In everything I do, I programme myself; so it doesn’t cost me anything to be in school on time.
What was your reading schedule like?
I read before going to school and also when I came back. Whenever I had nothing else to do, I read.
Now that you’re through with NYSC, what is next for you?
By God’s grace, I will work. Maybe in the state’s civil service. I pray that I find God’s favour. While waiting for white collar job, I want to do business. I want to be taking palm oil from Bayelsa to Abuja for sale. There is oil in Bayelsa and I have been able to buy some of the things I need for production. I was able to save some money from my NYSC allowance. Additionally, I was doing some petty things that were fetching me money.
How soon do you see yourself starting the business?
I am starting immediately; just that at the moment I heard that some roads are blocked, which might make distribution a bit challenging for me. I have bought products and I have customers already waiting for me to produce. I am also planning to go to Abuja any moment from now so that I can meet customers there. There is a union that I need to register with.
Are you in a relationship or going out with anyone?
No; I am not in any relationship currently.
What is your greatest motivation in life?
I see myself as a motivation. I believe everyone in this world has their own purpose to fulfill. It won’t be okay for one to just condition oneself to one position and wallow in self-pity; if one does that, one won’t be able to do anything tangible for themselves. I can’t sit down here and blame life or the people around me. I just do my best. As long as one is alive, God’s blessings are new every morning. There is a new opportunity for me each new day. Striving ahead and trying to make impact in whatever situation I find myself has been my motivation.
What expectations do you have of the government and individuals towards people living with disabilities?
Out of kindness, individuals should please extend help to people living with disabilities; welcome them and say nice things to them. Private organisations should please offer people with disabilities employment as long as they are qualified for the job and are willing to work. The government should please create an enabling environment in the sense that there are some of us who want to strive; we just need people to care. Loans should be granted so that we can also live life comfortably. I know the capacity of some us. Some people want to work but do not have the financial capability which leaves many stagnant. I am talking about those who genuinely want to work.
What advice do you have for people living with disabilities?
As long as you are not deranged, you can do everything you want to do. Please strive for the things you want. You don’t have to be physically perfect before you can do these things .