‘I was happy I could see how beautiful my wife is after years of blindness’

blind In this report, AKINWALE ABOLUWADE takes a look at plights of people with eye impairment and government’s initiatives vis-a-vis experts’ views on eye care.

It was broad daylight. The sun was hot and scorching. It shone with force and fervency. One could see clearly but Alhaji Hamid Omotara Okugbaja could not see things around him; his vision was blurry. Having been down with untreated cataract that deteriorated for close to 13 years, Alhaji Okugbaja, Chief Imam of Palupo area, Asolo, Ibadan, struggled with veiled vision before he eventually got a respite.

Like Okugbaja, millions of Nigerians are either going blind, born blind or became blind in different circumstances such as accident, diseases, environment and more. And while experts posited that quite a number of eye problems are reversible, they said other cases are sadly irredeemable.

Alhaji Okugbaja had lived in fear and doubt on whether his eye problem could ever be rectified. But happily, the husband of three and father of 21 got salvation through an Igboho-born politician and philanthropist, Engineer Rauf Olaniyan.

Back in the days when he grappled with eye problem, the cleric said an opaque substance which physicians said could be removed only by surgery blurred his vision causing him to see objects around him partially. As time went by, the situation deteriorated.

Okugbaja said: “I was seeing well before but I later noticed that it became difficult and I could not see clearly again. At some point my vision became blurred. I was so worried; it was as if the world was crashing on me. I went for checkup at Oluyoro Catholic Hospital in Ibadan. From there, they referred me to Eleta Specialist Hospital, Ibadan.

“There I was diagnosed with cataract and was advised to go for surgery”. The fear of going under the knife threw the Chief Imam into jitters for two reasons. First, as a diabetic patient, he was told of the risk. He, therefore,  expressed discomfort against the recommendation for surgery and secondly, he said that the pain and rigour of surgery kept him in perpetual fear.”

He said the wrong notion that he had about procedures of the eye surgery was the chief factor that prevented him from embracing the idea. He told Saturday Tribune: “Apart from standing up as a man to bear the pain, I could not imagine the surgeon plucking out my eyes from the socket into a plate as people say to scrape up the substance called cataract from the lenses of my eyes. I saw the hope of success of an eye surgery as a slim possibility. If I had a choice I would have preferred taking medication rather than allowing them to put me under the knife.

“I was told that the cost of surgery was N70,000. The cost, honestly, was not the problem but the fear that I could lose my sight in the process. I was mis-informed by many people about the surgery. Some said that the eye would be removed and placed inside a plate for cataract to be removed. As a result of this I avoided the hospital like a plague.” However, on one fateful day he got an information that changed his life. In the morning, while listening to a radio programme, he heard a cheering news about a free eye care. He said: “I stumbled on  the announcement that an eye test and  treatment was being sponsored by a governorship aspirant of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Engr Rauf Olaniyan. Interested members of the public with complaints relating to eye were asked to show up at a place at Eleyele area of Ibadan on a particular day. To cut the long story short, I went there and so many people were tested. About 43 of us were diagnosed with cataract. There were many other cases like glaucoma and astigmatism. Those of us that required surgery were given dates for screening and further tests while others were given drugs and some received eye glasses.”

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According to him, those who were scheduled for surgery were taken to Iseyin and the sessions were successfully carried out. The cleric, who went for the surgery in company with his wife and her baby, said, “my eye was covered to prevent contact with light after the surgery.” He jumped for joy the next morning when the veil on his eye was removed and he found out that he  could see clearly with the eye.

“At first, I could not believe that I could see clearly ever again,” he said, adding, “I was happy that I could see  my youngest wife, Suliya, who went to Iseyin with me with my eyes after the surgery. I married her a few years ago. She is now 24 years old. Everybody in the ward burst into laughter when I looked at her and marvelled, saying that I never knew she was as beautiful as that.

“They asked if the beauty of my wife was the first thing that I was able to  see but I told them that the reason for that was because of my experience. Whoever loses the power of sight or vision is missing a lot in life. Such a person would depend on others to take him about and help him to do most things. It is a nightmare to be at the mercy of others.”

blindAsked what worried him the most while having challenge with his eyes, he said: “I was always saddened by the fact that I would forever be unable to read the Qur’an. On getting home after having a medical check-up at Oluyoro Hospital one particular day an intriguing idea came to my mind. I called my wives one after the other and cajoled them with a story that the doctor told me that each person has four lenses and that the doctor advised me to ask my wives to give me a lens each from their spare lenses. To my bewilderment, they all turned down my request with an explanation that they could not afford to lose their eyes in the process of giving me the spare.

“All my children but one also denied my request for an eye. I was shocked because these were women that commended me for giving them the sum of N50,000 each barely four days earlier. Despite my shock, the story underscores the importance of eye to all human beings. When I had the eye problem I was having a high sense of insecurity.

“During a recent conversation with a blind friend, he expressed frustrations about having a good and reliable person to pilot him to his destinations. He said it was so difficult because all his children were living in other towns and could not afford to call him over to live with them.”

Abdulwaheed Fijabi, 57, who had a cataract surgery almost six years ago was also one of the beneficiaries of  the eye care initiative.  During an interview with Saturday Tribune, he described the free eye treatment as “timely intervention,” explaining that he heard about it when his eye problem relapsed.

According to him, he was given some drugs after a test was carried out on him. He said the physicians handling the health scheme explained that it was not advisable for him to undergo another cataract surgery on the same eye having had a surgery the first time. A few weeks after taking the prescribed medication, he expressed joy that the condition of the eye improved.

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But the story of Augustine Akpeji, a 200 level Business Administration student of Dominion University,  is grimmer just as the cost of giving him quality living is higher. A bunch of talent with ability to play several musical instruments, Akpeji is down with cancer of the eye. He toils daily in pain and discomfort while hoping that succour would, one day, come his way.

He said: “I am 21 years old, having been born on the 27th of August 1997 and I have cancer of the eye. I was  not born blind but I became blind when I was four months old as I said due to cancer of the eyes. In fact, when the cancer was still fresh nobody was aware until one Friday morning when I was in my mother›s shop.

“It was a Friday morning; I was playing on the floor in my mother’s shop when one woman came to where I was and started clapping. She noticed that I was not looking in her direction so she called the attention of my parents to it. That was how they knew that I was blind. My mum cried and cried. They took me to the Group Director, Eleta Eye Institute, Ibadan, Dr Ben Ajayi, popularly known as Ojulowo, for treatment. He started managing my case since then.”

Asked how he manages to carry on with his daily routine, he simply said: “Concerning my day-to-day activities, I move around by myself. Sometimes when I wanted to enter a car or a bike, the driver would just drive off impatiently because they would be saying that I would waste their time. I pray to get my own car one day.”

Speaking on the attitude of people around him, he said as a child many of his peers used to avoid playing with him. He said: “I guess they were actually afraid to move close to me. They would run away from me. But now, I am loved more  by children because of my talents I guess. I play up to eight different instrument. I play the keyboard, drum set, violin, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, flute and the talking drum. I am also a presenter. I can say I am the first blind Disk Jockey in Nigeria as far as I know”.

Meeting the cost of surgery, for him, is a tall ambition considering his humble background. He explained: “My mother is a tailor and my father a printer. My father resigned from work because of my case and went into commercial motorcycling popularly called okada. With this, he could create time for me especially as a toddler. Talking about the limitations being experienced, he said he found it difficult at times to move about. He stressed: “I have not seen a blind man driving a car. Maybe I might be the first blind driver anyways.

“I really need assistance to be able to live a normal life. My parents are merely struggling to make the ends meet.  It has been extremely difficult looking at the financial aspect. My doctor (Dr Ajayi) has been helping me; he has been responsible for my tertiary education. I urge the government to rise up to the occasion to give desired attention to the physically challenged persons in the society”.

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While some people were actually born blind, it is heartbreaking that many people go blind accidentally. It is even more hurting that quite a number of people go blind unconsciously without knowing. Claims by experts that poor and developing nations of the world are the worse hit by blindness is intriguing.

Dr Ajayi, who is an eye specialist, said: “There are different categories of blindness. Vision function is classified in four broad categories, according to the International Classification of Diseases —normal vision, moderate vision impairment, severe vision impairment and blindness. Moderate vision impairment combined with severe vision impairment are grouped under the term “low vision”: low vision taken together with blindness represents all vision impairment.

“One is described as being as blind as bat, when one is totally blind and cannot see one’s way around in clear daylight.  Bats can’t see during the day and hang on trees until night time when they become active. But then, there is legal blindness.

“To be declared legally blind, you must have five per cent vision or less. A patient of mine described it to me as “Everything appears blurry. I can tell the difference between white and black even on TV, but the details are lost. I cannot recognise faces.

“Someone who is visually impaired can actually have a 6/6 (perfect vision) in some areas of his field of vision – parts may be blind or blurred. Sometimes he can see only when using his peripheral vision while unable to see what is in front of him when looking straight ahead. Patients with advanced glaucoma often see clearly (6/6) whilst looking straight ahead of them but are unable to see anything on the sides. This is called “tunnel vision” and often the main reason why they do not seek assistance until they are unable to cope with the level of vision.

“It is estimated that about five million adult Nigerians aged 40 years or above have moderate to severe visual impairment or blindness. That is about entire population of Oyo State”.

The 2010 World Health Organisation (WHO) global data on visual impairments put the visually impaired persons in the world at 285 million (39 million blind and 246 million with low vision). Of this, 65 percent are visually impaired and 82 percent of all blind are 50 years and above.  Nigerian national blindness and visual impairment survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 indicated that a total of 1.13 million persons aged 40 years are blind. Another 2.7 million adults aged 40 years are estimated to have moderate visual impairment and additional 400,000 adults are severely visually impaired. A total of 4.25 million adults aged 40 years in Nigeria are visually impaired or blind.

Dr Ajayi explained  that necessarily, every adult,  especially those who are aged 40 years and above, should go for eye test as well as general medical checks.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has expressed its commitment towards stemming the tide of blindness and visual impairment. While talking on the initiatives of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in an address on Vision 2020 “Right to Sight”, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo noted that eye care empowerment deficit by past administrations was responsible for the prevalence of eye related problems in the country, stating that the “President Muhammadu Buhari Restore Vision project is aimed at improving eye health and reducing prevalence of cataract-induced blindness in the country.”

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Tracey Merlin

Tracey Merlin

I am Freedom Fighter and prolific writer who speaks up for the voiceless.