Hafsat Suleiman, a Law graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, was recently called to bar after completing Law School. Third in a family of 10, Hafsat’s remarkable achievement was celebrated widely on social media, as she had lost her sight at a young age. She shared her inspiring story with Daily Trust Saturday. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: How did you lose your sight?
I was just three-years-old then, so there are many things that I cannot remember and even when I was told, I could not hold on to them.
DT: What are some challenges you faced in school, en route becoming a lawyer?
The first was that I was not allowed to attend any school of my choice like any other person, I had to attend Kaduna State Special Education school because that was the only school people like me can go to. After my primary school, I attended WTC in Katsina before I moved to Girls High school, Kindire in Jos, where I did my JSS 1 and 2. I later moved to Government Secondary School, Kwali in Abuja where I completed my secondary education. Then, after my secondary education, I got admission to study Law at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
In ABU, the challenges came right from the entry point, because my dean insisted on not admitting me into the faculty because he felt the school did not have the facilities for me to study. It was with the help of God and the intervention of so many people that he was agreed to admit me. There were other challenges like buying handouts, since they were not in Braille, so I had to either get someone to read with me because I was not brailing them and I was not recording, or make the handouts into soft copies and play on my laptop which has a software that converts text into speech.
Also, some of the lecturers were not helpful. But some were always there for me. Some of the lecturers were authors of the books we used during the course, so I would ask them for the soft copies; some of them gave me, but other would tell me they do not have it or would not even listen to me. But by the grace of God, here I am.
DT: How were you able to move around campus?
I had people who were always there for me, and even when I took courses they were not taking then, they would make sure I attend my lectures. Sometimes one of them would take me there, accompany me to the lecture hall and even if my close friends were not there, I would always find someone to help. They even go out of their way to take me back to my hostel.
DT: What informed your decision to study law?
Growing up, I never thought of becoming a lawyer because I my father wanted me to be a Physiotherapist and up to my secondary school, I was still holding on to that. But then, when I later understood that the educational system is not favourable, I decided to change course and even then, I never thought of studying Law. I never wanted to study any course that has been labelled for disabled people even though there are people that have decided to offer such courses. I never wanted people to rule my life and make decisions for me just because I am physically challenged.
When I was in secondary school, a counsellor opened up to me and told me I could not study sciences, and I would have to choose between arts and social sciences. Back then, when I chose art, I kept wondering what I was going to do with it. I do not know how come, but it came one day and I decided to study Law because I felt it was interesting and I would at least have the opportunity of giving the voiceless a voice.
DT: What call would you make to others living with disability?
They should never give up, and always, always hold their head up high.
DT: What is your next step after being called to the bar?
I’m presently serving with a law firm and I hope to practice after my NYSC, but our society is not supportive of people like me. I know that if I am in a room with another lawyer, the client will definitely pick the other lawyer because of my disability. And even if he picks me and in the end, we lose the case, the client will say it’s because I am physically-challenged. Society needs to stop the discrimination of people like me.
When I was at the Special Education School, I noticed that the children were forced to learn with people older than them, thereby taking away their childhood. I pray that by the grace of God, I will be able to establish a foundation for special children, and even if I am able to cater to only two children, I would be happy and grateful.