Taraba 2015: The blinds’ support for Umar

Garba-Umar1Amidst the power tussle that has shifted towards 2015 in Taraba state, a neglected community of blinds in the state got a bailout and in turn promised to support the acting governor next year  if he seeks election into the office. STEVE OSU reports

River blindness, according to a medical practitioner,  Dr. Gidion Avaa, is an ailment not curable but  preventable using a particular drug called mectizan. This mectizan, he said, prevents the infection from the black flies from causing  the usual damage on the victims eyes.
This deadly disease became the lot of the  Garbabe community in Gashaka local government area of Taraba state, about one hundred and thirty kilometres away from Jalingo, the state capital. The community first came into limelight in 1994, when a black fly inflicted them with river blindness, with both women and children, young and old becoming victims of the epidemic. Ultimately, they had to take to street begging for survival.
The military administration of Col. Yohana Mamman Dickson, who was in charge of the state at the time, visited the affected community and promised its people basic amenities that would  make life meaningful for them. And a few months   after,  construction work commenced on a special school for the blind in Garbabe community.

River blindness
On the horrible day, the black flies swooped on the entire community, including the farmland as well as bush with all those who went to farm returning with an  itchy body and rashes  as major signs of affliction. And in no time, blindness became a common sight in the community. Chairman, Gashaka River Blindness Association, Mallam Usman Jamen told Blueprint that at  the beginning,  it was 57 people that were affected by the disease, but that this number rapidly increased to  the point that almost everybody in the community had become blind.
And in a quick response, the then military administration gave them the desired attention and since its exit in 1999, they had remained uncared for until now when they saw a new lease of life under the current administration led by the acting governor, Garba Umar.
Explaining further, Usman  said the worst moment of their lives was when the ailing governor, Danbaba Danfulani Suntai placed embargo on begging , which of course remains their only source of livelihood. The community leader also alleged that the attitude of their representatives in the state House of Assembly was not positive either. He specifically claimed that a native of Garbabe,  Nicodemus Bulus Garbabe who was a  state lawmaker and later chairman, Gashaka local government never did anything to improve their welfare. Similar claim was made of the incumbent lawmaker,  Gembo Umar. When confronted with the allegation on telephone, the incumbent representative promised getting back to our reporter  but never did up till the time of filing in this report, while Garbabe’s telephone went off upon our reporter’s inquiry to have his view on the allegation.

Umar to the rescue
Notwithstanding this allegation of neglect, succour came the way of the community when the special education centre took off late last year with 52 students in the secondary session and 97 pupils in the primary, all blind. At the moment, the centre has a staff strength of 20 with 10 each in the academic and non academic units. Of this total, only eight are on the pay roll of the State Universal Basic Education while the rest are casuals/volunteers paid a paltry N3000 monthly allowance.

Problems of the school
Top on the list of the school’s  problems according to one of the staff, Mallama Sha’afatu Kwambo a diploma holder in special education from the University of Jos, is instructional and learning materials. She said this would enable the school to truly live up to its name as a special education centre.  Our correspondent also observed that the center lacks potable water as the motorized bore hole in the  school has no source of power. Also on the list of their needs are additional workforce and  standard medical facility to enable the students and pupils access quality health care without going a distance. There is also the problem of lack of adequate accommodation as both the teachers and the students share same hostels and the mattresses are inadequate.

Government’s intervention
Upon inquiry by Blueprint, the director, school services of the State Universal Basic Education Board(SUBEB), Mrs. Monica Bukurni said government intends making the centre  a model in the real sense and is doing everything possible to set a standard.  While not denying the existence of the challenges listed above, she said a memo to that effect was before the SUBEB chairman for approval. The director who noted that the centre’s  needs are special ones that cannot be accessed just in any market, disclosed that government provides everything in the school, including school uniforms and feeding for both the school children and their teachers.

Commenting on their new lease of life, Usman said since the exit of the military, the state acting governor  is the only person that has given them hope into the future  as Taraba stakeholders, as their children like their counterparts elsewhere  now enjoy rights to education. In the light of this concern,  they have since adopted Umar as  Suntai’s successor on 2015 .
“Acting Governor Garba Umar has actually given meaning to our lives and we have no option than to adopt him as our governorship candidate. Come 2015, we  will vote massively for him, we don’t care which political party he belongs to, all we want is to make him governor because he has proven to us that he is a leader for all including even us that are rejected by the society,” he added.
Also in her comment, another indigene of the area, Mallama Mariam Abba Garbabe, called on the federal government to find an end to the epidemic in the community, as according to her, their main problem is not what they are going through but their children and grand children that, in the  view of the  mother of three, are going to suffer same fate.

In a reaction, Umar’s Special Assistant on Media,  Aaron Artimas said, what the acting governor did was just giving the Garbabe community their  dues as Taraba indigenes.”The acting governor is the leader of all and he has a responsibility to minister to the needs of all, this exactly is what he has done for the Garbabe community. Like other indigenes of the state, they have their rights and privileges under the law and they must not be denied. This is what the acting governor seems ti be saying.  I can assure you that the government will continue to do more not only for the Garbabe community but the entire state.”