Auta: Disability is blessing in disguise
For Lois Auta, who was awarded the most valuable player for promoting disabled sports globally in the US in 2014, being struck by poliomyelitis, when she was only two years, was an opportunity to not only carve a niche for herself, but to also show others that disability shouldn’t be deterrent to achieving greatness in life and fulfilling one’s calling.
Despite her ailment, Lois decided early in life to add value to society, a decision which, quickly pushed her to limelight and saw her dining with world leaders, such as, Barrack and Michelle Obama, John Kerry, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Assistant Secretary of State on African Affairs, Ambassador Rice, US Senators, Nigerian Presidents, Nigerian Senators, Ministers, and Chief Executive Officers of world recognised companies.
Born into Auta Akok family of Kagoro, Kaura local government area of Kaduna State, on April 29 1980, Lois, who lost five siblings to similar disease, believes the best thing that ever happened in her life was the support she received from her parents, particularly by ensuring that she had formal education.
Graduating with a B.Sc. in Public Administration from the University of Abuja, she turned her attention to creating a community, where disabled people in Nigeria and other parts of the world are encouraged to achieve their dreams in spite of their conditions.
Using the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD) approach, her foundation is aimed at mainstreaming the issues and concerns of persons with disabilities, particularly Nigerian women, girls and children with a view to integrating them into the national development agenda.
She is of the belief that people, particularly the disabled, must be very productive, be full of life and energy, be role models, brave, courageous, independent, intelligent, hardworking and mentor others, no matter their experiences and encounters in life.
Recently, the 36-year-old told The Guardian that while some people see disabilities as weakness, hers is a blessing.
“In fact, others may blame God for how they have been created, but the good Lord knew I could manage it well, and that was why He created me this way,”
So, to create a platform, where she can give support and vision to others in similar condition, Auta founded the Cedar Seed Foundation in 2011, together with a group of persons with disabilities. The foundation is basically focused on “advocating for the rights and betterment of persons with disabilities in Nigeria and other part of the world,” she explains.
And since inception, the foundation has helped over 300 people with disabilities in securing scholarship, supported by NNPC and the Sahara Foundation.
Five years on and through its various humanitarian activities, the platform has succeeded in helping a lot of persons with disabilities gain full employment in reputable organisations. It has also helped push for sign language interpreters to be included at meetings and the need for ramps in offices, schools, churches, and restaurants and other social places.
In her fight for a better life for people with disabilities, Lois heads several organisations. Currently, she is the President, Disabled Sports Club, Abuja, President, Women on Wheels Multipurpose Cooperative Society, Vice President, Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association, Nigeria Chapter, Assistant National Coordinator, Advocacy for Women with Disabilities Initiative, Board Member, Potters Gallery Initiative and Member, Joint National Associations of Persons with disabilities.
She also represented disabled people at the drafting of Youth Declaration Document for President Buhari Administration in the pre-summit Youth Consultation on Youth Development in 2015 towards the International Youth Day 2015.
In recognition of her efforts in championing the cause of persons living with disabilities, she was honoured with a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in 2014, an initiative of President Barrack Obama, organised and held in the United States of America by President Obama. She met the Obamas, received a presidential handshake from President Obama, as well as a hug from Michelle Obama. She also holds an award for Linking Sports and Communities, USA, as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for promoting disabled sports globally. She is a support staff with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). She is also a mentor with the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and a YALI Recruitment Assessor for West Africa Regional Leadership Centre.
In her words, Lois said, “I would like to be remembered as a change maker, a servant, a giver, a passionate leader with innovative ideas, a problem solver, a good listener, and one who makes things happen in her community,” she said.
As Executive Director/Founder and with the collective efforts of her team, CSF is poised to see through the advocacy for the inclusion of women with disabilities in key decision-making. This is evidenced by her selection and participation as a member of the technical committee for the deliberation and draft of Nigerian Disability Bill passed at the two arms of National Assembly, waiting for presidential assent now, participant and a special interest group member for persons with disabilities in the Vision 20:2020 and as a member of the constitutional review representing persons with disabilities for North Central.
She is making things happen by ensuring the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in government policies and programs, particularly the 2015 Nigeria’s Election in which she promoted a violence-free election and inclusive election for persons with disabilities in Nigeria.
She was one of the panelists on the Contributions of Women in Developing West Africa with Christelle Bay Chongwain of Cameroon and Selma Neves of Cape Verde at the Regional Conference.
Advising others with disabilities, Lois says there is more gain in accepting one’s disabilities and looking for ways to improve oneself and be a challenge to those who are not physically challenged.
“I want to implore those with disabilities to embrace their situation and believe in themselves that there is no stopping them, if they don’t hinder themselves with negative attitudes and self-pity. With a positive outlook and hard work, they can always achieve their goals in life,” she says.
On whether there are any laws protecting the disabled people in Nigeria and how effective such are, she says: “Not yet. We have been advocating for the passage of the law and it has passed the National Assembly four times, but has not received presidential assent. But we thank the Lord, as July 13 was a good day for disability community in Nigeria, because the bill was again passed in the National Assembly for the fifth time and sent to the lower house for harmonisation, which will be followed by presidential assent and we hope it will be passed into law this time because of the passion the present administration has for persons with disabilities. It will interest you to know that for the first time we have a Senior Special Adviser on disability matters appointed by President Buhari.
“It is certain that we can only achieve little on our own. We need support from stakeholders to empower persons with disabilities in the countries.”