Peter Lumati is a physically-challenged person, who works in INTELS Nigeria Limited. In this interview with AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE, he shares his workplace experiences and encourages persons with physical disabilities to move beyond self-pity to develop themselves to achieve their life ambitions. Excerpts:
By way of introduction, may we know a little bit about you?
My name is Peter Lumati. I hail from Ogbum-Nu-Abali Community in Port-Harcourt Local Government Area of Rivers State, Nigeria. I am a graduate of Economics from Abia State University. I was employed in Intels Nigeria Limited on 1st of April 2004. I started as an Assistant Supervisor and rose to the Principal Supervisory Position and presently I am the Principal Learning and Development Supervisor in Human Resources Department of the company. I am happily married with a son.
How did you become a staff of INTELS and how long have you worked there?
By April 1st 2018 I will be 14 years in Intels Nigeria Limited. It was never easy in life as a physically challenged person in Nigeria. I got my University Degree Programme in 2002 and approached the Religious Sisters of Charity in charge of Compassion Centre for the physically-challenged in Rivers State should there be an opportunity for job placement. Indeed, that was how I became fortunate to have a job placement in Intels Nigeria Limited through them.
How has it been working in INTELS with your challenge, considering that many Nigerians and businesses have little or no regard for the physically-challenged?
There has been equal treatment of staff in the company. Intels has continued to be sensitive to the plights of the physically-challenged persons through the provision of welfare, easy accessibility to any office within Intels working environment and so on. It is also true that this segment of the society does not only suffer discrimination/stigmatisation from privileged members of the society, but Intels is in a different world.
What specific provisions has INTELS made to make work easy for you?
As earlier mentioned, they provided ramps for easy accessibility. Secondly, as you know, to climb into a bus is mostly an exhausting and time-consuming task for physically challenged persons, which are not appreciated by commercial operators. Keeping safe balance on a motorcycle is almost impossible because of the physical deformities; therefore, physically-challenged persons may have to take commercial taxi transport (‘drop’) to and from certain pick-up points on their way to work or home. However, the Management of Intels Nigeria Limited is ‘seriously’ considering a proposal on special transportation scheme to lighten the physical burden because such sponsorship would result in easy movement to and from work and would greatly assist in improving productivity of the physically-challenged employee. Let me also add, the company has made a provision for car park for few of us who are driving to work, this is in line with international standard and you can hardly find such in other workplaces in Nigeria.
How really has INTELS changed your life?
It has been a tremendous change! Firstly, Intels equipped me with lot of skills to become good professional, specifically in Human Resources. Today, I am a happily married man with a son, living in a personally built apartment. I also own a self-driven car and at least attain a minimum standard of living and so on.
Are there discriminations in the workplace?
There are no discriminations towards any physically-challenged persons working in our company. Honestly, the workplace attitude or put differently the general attitude of employees working in Intels are indeed professional and we get supports like no other. I have personally encountered bitter experiences in life but let’s leave it at that.
Do you feel totally integrated in your work community, among your colleagues?
Very well, my relationship with my other colleagues has been wonderful and beyond expectation. At this juncture, it will be unfair if I fail to mention my superior, Michael Ndon. We are like a family. I will always appreciate him for his care on both the job and off the job.
How many physically-challenged people work in INTELS at present and what is the company’s policy towards them?
Currently, 13 physically-challenged persons work with Intels and one person is on Graduate Trainee programme. As a policy, Intels strongly believes that physically-challenged persons can become productive and reliable employees, despite their being handicapped. Intels is capable of adjusting access facilities and job descriptions to suit the physically challenged persons proposed for training and employment. Also, Intels will continue to retain and even absorb more physically-challenged persons in employment, when the need arises and provide them with adequate training to enable them attain any level in the company and society.
Tell us more about the company’s CSR, especially as regards helping the less-privileged in the society.
Intels has in March 2003 implemented a scholarship programme that covers the three tiers of education for the less-privileged. The programme covers primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education as well as Industrial Training. On successful completion of their education and training, the sponsored students will be offered training/work placement.
What are your aspirations?
I encourage other companies, especially the multinationals and also the Federal, States and Local Governments, to emulate the efforts of Intels Nigeria Limited by initiating meaningful programmes towards enhancing the livelihood of persons living with disabilities.
Apart from work, how has it been engaging in other social activities outside the workplace?
With what I have been able to acquire as a result of working in Intels, for example my car, it has been easy to attend my family meetings, club meetings as well as church programmes. In addition, having been a salary earner, engaging in social activities becomes easier. Most social activities attract one payment or the other. However, it has been very comfortable to adapt, as a result of meeting up any form of contributions or fees or levies. At times, we do assemble for a picnic, in which case individuals are to contribute a specific amount to buy refreshments and my work has aided that.
How will you want to see physically-challenged persons treated in Nigeria, and what amenities do you think should be put in place to enhance their living standards?
Teach a child how to fish and giving fish to a child is never the same thing. Former President of World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz once said that PWDs are people with extra talents. Yet, they are often forgotten. Of course, there should be an equal and better treatment not neglect, discrimination and so on. The constitution recognises all people to be treated equally and that needs to be enforced.
Secondly, enhancing standard of living is one of the biggest problems the physically-challenged persons face in Nigeria. We need an Act or a Law to cover areas like; access to basic facilities, free education, medical care, employment and so on. With these amenities in place, Nigeria will be a better place for the physically-challenged.
Do we have enough laws in Nigeria to protect the rights of the physically-challenged?
There are no laws specifically on Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), except the current Disability Bill awaiting the President’s accent. I am using this medium to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to eliminate the challenges or difficulties physically-challenged persons are exposed to in this country and sign into law the Disability Bill. He will make history and will never be forgotten by the physically-challenged families in Nigeria.
A lot of people see physical disability as a licence to be on the streets to solicit alms. What is your message to those who indulge in this?
I had approached some of them while driving along the streets of Port Harcourt. I informed them of the wrong signals they are sending to the society about physically-challenged persons. My message to them is that no matter how many years spent on the streets soliciting alms, one quarter of their financial needs cannot be met. Therefore, they should engage in meaningful things like going to school and acquiring skills.
What will you consider as your most memorable experience in your adult life?
Becoming a parent has been the most life-changing event of my adult life. It has caused me to grow up and face life. It also helped me realise that I was truly meant to be a dad. I wouldn’t have considered having a wife or not to think of becoming a father if I don’t have a job. I knew exactly what the struggle was as a single physically-challenged man without a job. Horrible!