New Telegraph

How I surmounted pangs of polio –Survivor

In life, everyone faces one challenge or the other, but one’s ability to surmount those challenges is what makes the difference. A survivor of polio who rose to the pinnacle of his career tells his story to INSIDE ABUJA at an unusual birthday ceremony


P olio is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, which causes paralysis of the arms and legs. The disease which afflicts mostly children, can be prevented by vaccination. Although, Nigeria adopted polio control measures and implemented for many years, polio cases continued to occur mainly in the impoverished northern region of the country.


The disease became endemic due mainly to ignorance and public misconceptions about the disease. In 2012, the former President Goodluck Jonathan declared a policy to make the eradication of polio by 2015 a national priority. At that time, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 200,000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunised more than 45 million children under the age of five, to ensure that no child would suffer from this paralysing disease. In July 2015, WHO announced that Nigeria has made remarkable progress against polio, as it had not reported a case of wild poliovirus since July 24, 2014, and all laboratory data had confirmed that a full 12 months have passed without any new case.

The global health agency, however, advised that continued vigilance was needed to protect these gains and ensure that polio does not return.


The victims

Over the years, before it was eradicated, millions of children were crippled as a result of the disease. A good number of these victims became liabilities to their families and the larger society. However, a few others managed to rise above the challenge and moved on to fulfill their life aspirations.

Chuma Onah, a proud survivor of polio, recently celebrated his birthday and used it as an opportunity to encourage others who were afflicted by the same disease during their childhood years.

The celebrant, who is a senior federal civil servant in Abuja, told the story of how he became crippled for life and how he surmounted the challenges and became useful to family, friends and his community. The testimony of triumph over affliction came as he gathered polio survivors and other persons living with physical disabilities to celebrate with him at a public pavilion in Abuja.


My story, my gratitude “Just as the dust of the civil war was settling in the cold January winter of 1970, then came the joy of welcoming a healthy son into the world by my young proud parents.


They named their son ‘Chukwumaijem’ which was done to immortalise Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu who had lost his life in our town, Obollo during the course of the Nigeria/ Biafra Civil War. I guess it was my father’s own way of honouring a fallen hero and a colleague of his. “As Biafra had lost the war, my parents had to move back home to resume a new life…my father having fought gallantly in the battle field.

Without the slightest idea of what laid ahead, they tried to rebuild and settle in a new environment while raising their two young kids.

Day polio struck

“One fateful day when I was about one and a half years old, I woke up with a fever and after a visit to the doctor, we returned with a prescription from the hospital.

But as I carried my scooter to ride on and having not moved far from where I took off while my parents watched, I fell to the ground and all calls for me to rise were to no avail. I laid there crying.

My mother rushed to lift me up but to her amazement, I felt oddly relaxed and that was the last day I stood on my feet. I was paralysed from the neck down. I fought over time to regain some strength over my left arm but lost my right arm and both legs to the damage.


“My early childhood was from one healing facility to another, accompanied by excruciating pains resulting from various procedures relevant and irrelevant. While some helped, some made the case even worse but the questions one would be asking may be thus: didn’t they know it was polio?

Shouldn’t I have gotten vaccinated before hand?

“Well, in the early 1970s in Eastern Nigeria with the winds of the civil war just behind us, there was shortage of qualified medical officers and facilities coupled with the fact that there was not much awareness about polio. Such sicknesses were so strange that they were perceived as spiritual and even as punishment to one whom the gods did not like or who was under a curse for committing an abominable act.

This is enough to make you begin to imagine what I went through in the hands of spiritual healers who tried to cast away the demon in me or the demon himself, “Me”. “In all that I went through, I would say it made me better. I learnt to reach for my inner strength and rely on the power of my brain. Thanks to my parents for their resilience.


They left no stone unturned. If it were in their powers I would’ve walked again, yet when all hope seemed lost, they found me worthy of being enrolled into school behind my mates. “All that I went through In primary and secondary school are best imagined than experienced. At some point when my father’s car was completely broken down, I would walk

over 3km from Greenhouse to St. Theresa’s College in Nsukka with the aid of the clutches which hung my upper body while I pulled along with every functional fibre in me with my paralyzed lower limbs. In all the struggle, I went ahead to obtain a B.Sc in Accounting, M.Sc in Financial Management and other professional qualifications.


Triumphant song


“Today, I’m proud to say that I am a senior civil servant having served in various accounting sectors under the federal government. I must confess that I am blessed but not without efforts. I knew I was different, not cursed, so I learnt to approach things differently.

I may not be on my feet like everyone else but I learnt to get around and get things done. “Above all, I learnt to accept myself for what I am and I lived and still living. You can never overcome disability but you can learn to live with it. It is easy to say I overcame but the next time you want to reach out and grab something, you’d realise that you are still paralysed.

“Physical disability isn’t the only form of disability that exists. Inability to ride a bike or even operate simple machineries is still a disability and people suffer from all forms of inabilities.

“One may be physically challenged but as long as it does not hinder you from getting around, it is not a disability just the same way one can be physically able but worse still ladened with other forms of inabilities. There are conditions worse than physical disability.

A frustrated mind willing to commit suicide is an instance. Inability to accept oneself is a debilitating form of disability.


Strength of family

“Physically challenged persons can live to their full potential but first they say charity begins at home. They must be accepted in their families.


“We are not curses from the gods, neither are we the demons who came to punish you. We are only victim ourselves. Love to treat us like your other children. I demanded not to be treated differently in my house even at chore level. Families need to accept that they have a disabled child. Present them to the society as if they matter and seek to ensure that our rights are protected and



that way, the society will accept and treat us right. “I want to thank all caregivers, especially in this part of the world. All the humiliations they go through and the doors that were shut against you. You all are the real heroes, especially the poor ones. “The rich has a way of doing it but imagine being a full time caregiver in a country where neither you, nor your children or aged parents are cared for by the govt talk more of your unfortunate physically challenged child.


“All these push a parent to lock up such child and care for the able bodied children…. after all the physically challenged ones will amount to nothing. Imagine if a stipend was paid to caregivers for the care that they provide! No mother will hide their child, let alone going the extra length to kill the child in order to escape the humiliation and troubles.

“I just want to seize this opportunity appeal to the govt and the general public to understand that disability is not inability. “It may cost us extra sweats and time to get things done but I bet you, we are more resilient and multi- talented. We can be educated.

We can acquire skills, we can be anything we want to be when loved and encouraged. “To the parents, please love and accept your physically challenged persons as precious gifts. They’ll wipe your tears eventually.

“Encourage your disabled child, teach their siblings to love and care for them, present them to the society as though they matter and encourage and teach them to live beyond the restraint. “Counsel them not to take out their anger on anyone as many disabled people live a bitter life especially when deprived of love from home.

Make light, our burdens

“To the society, be nice to the physically challenged and their families. They didn’t do anything to deserve what they’re going through. To the government, please include us in your plans. Consider us in your infrastructural l development.


Don’t make it impossible for us to access public facilities. Help the families to raise us to become assets rather than liabilities to our families and the society in general.

And finally to us, be kind especially to your caregivers. Show them that you’re worth it. Get involved in the things you can start… from chores just to show them that you can do anything you’re taught. “Push beyond your limit to reduce your level of dependence on others. They need to be sure you can survive outside before sending you to school or into the world on your own. Let’s be kind to one another.


“Above all, let us avoid making each other’s lives worse in cases where we can’t make it better.

It doesn’t take too much to put a smile on someone’s face. You don’t have to do so much to help a person in need. Just giving them a car lift when needed is worth more than 10m which may probably get the person into more trouble. Giving us a chance in the society like every other person is what we desire the most.


What I’m doing here today (celebrating with other polio victims) merely has nothing to do with how much I have. It’s a collective effort from individuals who thought to put a smile on my face during my birthday and I thought to share it with those whose struggles I share in. “I dont want to mention names but may God alone who rewards good deeds bless you all abundantly.


You, too, can put a smile on someone’s face. It doesn’t have to be only the physically challenged. To anyone in need. Together, we can make the world a better place for all.”


Chuma expressed profound appreciation to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State for employment for the physically challenged people in his state, but urged him to consider these less privileged persons in both the local and international scholarship programs at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


Although, polio is no longer endemic in Nigeria, there were 18 cases of paralytic polio cases , including the wild and vaccine type of poliovirus in 2019. Medical experts have reassured the public that there is no cause for alarm but we must remind the government to ensure that polio is wiped out completely from Nigeria.

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