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Inside the 114-year-old Ogun Lepers’ Colony

The 114-year old colony, hitherto a secluded settlement outside the city of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, has been caught up with development; hence a…

The 114-year old colony, hitherto a secluded settlement outside the city of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, has been caught up with development; hence a large portion of the land has been taken away. Daily Trust visits the Lepers’ Colony.

Plagued by deplorable roads and lack of amenities, the Iberekodo Lepers’ Colony houses about 28 young and old people who are battling leprosy.

Dilapidated structures, absence of perimeter fence, lack of water, insecurity, financial difficulty, among others things, are the challenges confronting the inmates.

Pa John Ojoawo, 70, told Daily Trust that he had been living in the colony for over 30 years.

He said, “I have been living here since 1973 to receive treatment.  I am the only person battling the ailment from the family, but they didn’t abandon me. They always visit here to check on me.

“Our doctors always treat us. And I am hale and hearty. I arrived as a young man. I got married and have my children. The children are all fine. Some of them are now on their own.’’

Our correspondent observed that the roofs of some of the structures built decades ago are partly blown off. Some organisations have equally come to their rescue by fixing some of the structures to make it habitable for the inmates.

While elderly inmates rely on monthly stipends from the government, younger ones like a 33-year-old Olaitan Sunday defied the odds and embraced entrepreneurship for survival.

A female inmate with her petty trade

‘Monthly stipends no longer enough’

Findings by Daily Trust showed that successive administrations in the state always paid monthly stipends to all the inmates for their upkeep.

In 2001, the monthly stipend was increased from N500 to N1,500. In 2003, it was raised to N3,000, and now, the inmates receive N10,000 monthly from the government. However, according to them, it no longer meets their needs.

“The stipend from government is being paid at when due. We are glad about it, but we also told the governor severally, even before his emergence (when he came visiting) that the stipend is no longer enough for our upkeep and government should help us increase it. But up till now, it has not been increased,’’ Ojoawo told our correspondent.

Jimoh Ahmed, who is the chairman of the Ogun State Integrated Dignity Economic Advancement (IDEA), the association that caters for people affected with leprosy, said the economic challenge in the country had made the stipend insufficient.

He said, “The only thing some members rely on is the stipend the government is giving to us. Everyone knows we are in crisis now, so the stipend is no longer sufficient. We have families to cater for. By the time you take N1,000 out of the money, it has finished.

“We are appealing to the state government for an increment. When we were farming we didn’t depend on the stipend, but now we don’t have any other means of livelihood.’’

The inmates also told Daily Trust that stigmatisation by society had not stopped. According to them, commercial vehicle operators usually deny them the opportunity to hire their vehicles anytime they have any occasion that warrants them to travel.

Ahmed said discrimination against physically challenged people “is still very high.’’

“Sometimes we find it difficult to attend programmes because of discrimination. It will be easier if we had our own bus,’’ he said.

The 70-year-old man corroborated Ahmed’s view, saying, “We do attend events of members of physically challenged organisations, but commercial vehicle operators always discriminate against us. They reject our offers to hire buses. We are begging the government to provide a bus for us to ease transportation.’’

Ojoawo also appealed to the government and individuals to always ensure that inmates of the colony are treated for other ailments. He noted that they are adequately treated for leprosy.

He said, “On leprosy, government has always provided drugs for us. But apart from this condition, we also suffer from ailments like malaria etc. The body that used to provide those drugs has closed their account here. So we are begging. We want the government to provide drugs on other ailments.’’

Olaitan Sunday further said he developed the ailment while in junior secondary school and left due to financial challenges.

He said, “I started experiencing pains in one of my legs while in JSS3. I was about writing examination. When I got to the hospital, the doctor told me that the leg must be amputated. After the surgery, I went back to school, but I was told that I would no longer continue because I would not cope as it was not for the physically challenged.

“They advised me to enroll in a disability school, but because I didn’t have money and there was no one to help me, my education came to an abrupt stop.

“I went ahead to acquire a skill in buying and selling of motorcycle and generating set spare parts. That’s what I do for survival.’’

Also speaking on other challenges confronting members of the community, Ahmed said they had been exposed to insecurity.

He said, “When former governor Osoba was there, we met him and he directed us to the local government that should provide security for us. But in the last six years they transferred the guard they gave to us to the local government; and since then, there have been security threats here.

“If you keep anything at night, for example, before morning someone would have stolen it. We told our children to do vigilante job, but we realised that we were exposing them to danger.

“We are appealing to the governor because we wrote a letter to the local government recently and they told us that they didn’t have the capacity to pay for local security operatives.

No COVID-19 vaccines

Inmates at the colony expressed their readiness to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying that as members of a vulnerable community, government should make it a priority to vaccinate them.

The septuagenarian said, “We only heard of vaccines on radio, government officials have not brought it here. So, we have not been vaccinated.”

‘We are ready to take the vaccines.’

Ahmed said, “We have not been vaccinated. We are appealing to the government not to forget or neglect us.’’

But the executive secretary of the Ogun State Primary Health Care Board, Dr Elijah Ogunsola, justified the delay in vaccinating vulnerable citizens in the state.

“This exercise is meant to be in four phases. The first phase is for frontline workers, which include health workers, police, immigration, customs, supporting staff in hospitals. The second phase is going to cover people of 50 years and above, people who have diabetes and others. The third will be those with high bodies. And the last phase will be any other population.

“So the state is taking all the population into cognizance, but we are running with the guidelines stated by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. I would like to assure everybody in Ogun State that the governor is mindful of them, and as soon as we have more vaccines, people that are eligible, whether vulnerable or above 50 years of age, hypertensive, diabetic or those with any other ailment will be captured and given COVID-19 vaccines,’’ he said.

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