Wheelchairs for Nigeria

2012 Nigeria Wheelchair Report

Dr. Ron Rice, October 2012

My first week back in Nigeria - September 21, 2012

Everything is going very well here, and I have been extremely busy my first week. Ayuba and I have travelled to three state capitals and given out 25 wheelchairs to children at the Universal Basic Education Board at each one. The furthest, Yola, was an 8-hour drive each way.

Friday morning we gave out white canes or digital voice recorders (they had to choose) to the 78 blind students at the university. It was a big event, with the Vice Chancellor (university president), the Dean, and other officials present. It was the first time the V.C. had ever met with the blind students, and they were very excited to finally have a chance to air a number of serious concerns with him. He shook everyone's hand, which was a big deal!

In between and all this weekend I am frantically editing a Faith-based AIDS Awareness teachers' manual which will go to 44,000 junior high teachers. It was cobbled together by a committee, and has never been edited. It needs an enormous amount of work and it goes to the printer Monday morning!

Security is very tight. There are many checkpoints. On Sundays, the streets are blocked off in front of every single church in Jos, so that no vehicle (read suicide bomber) can get anywhere near a church. Because the Boko Haram have shot at police and then sped off on a motorcycle in the past, now throughout the country, every motorcycle rider has to get off and walk their motorcycle past every checkpoint and police station and 100 yards past before they can get back on. The Boko Haram have blown up quite a few cell phone towers in the north, because the army has used them to track down and arrest a number of the extremists, including some of the leaders. So things have been quiet for several months.

Week 2 - October 1, 2012

The highlight of my second full week in Nigeria was a 1,000 mile round-trip (in 2 long days) to Argungu, Kebbi State in the far northwest of Nigeria. The Emir of Argungu hosted us for the presentation of 24 wheelchairs. An emir is a traditional ruler, similar to a king. This emir is very famous, perhaps the most important Nigerian in the whole country in the fight against polio. He came to Seattle in June last year and we appeared together on a panel at Washington Global Health. When he found out from Ayuba that I was in Nigeria and considering coming to Argungu, he said he would be greatly honored and would clear his schedule for my visit. They presented me with a big framed enlargement of the two of us that his aide had taken in Seattle.

His Royal Highness Alh. Samaila Muhammadu Mera is the 33rd Emir of Argungu, a descendent of King Muhammadu Kanta, the founder of the Kebbi Kingdom in 1515. We slept in one of his luxurious (by Nigerian standards) guest houses, and I was invited to sit next to him in his huge throne room in the palace for the ceremony. Everyone who enters the throne room takes off their shoes, gets on their knees and bows. He wears a white turban with another swath of white fabric around his neck and chin. When he goes outside a horn blows, an aide holds a huge ceremonial umbrella over his head and all the members of the Emirate Council follow along.

He travels with 8 or 9 vehicles with all of his guards and council members. They passed us on the highway going home after the ceremony, siren blaring and red and blue lights flashing. He had told us he had a meeting in a city a couple of hours away. Ayuba says he will go into the meeting by himself and all this entourage will wait and then escort him back.

The Argungu Fishing and Cultural Festival is perhaps the biggest and most famous cultural event in all of Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of people come, including the president of Nigeria and many other important leaders. Thirty thousand fishermen line up a kilometer away, and when the horn sounds they rush in mass into a shallow lake with their nets and calabash floats, searching with their hands and feet for fish (catfish?). No fishing is allowed there any other time during the year. The winner gets a new car and a check for 1 million naira ($6,350). The winning fish last time weighed 145 lbs. The emir told us he had to cancel this year's event, usually held in March, because he worried that the huge crowds would be a target for Boko Haram suicide bombers. I saw a video online last year of the festival which was one of the most incredible videos I have ever seen, but now I can't find it.

Because of his leadership and organization, there have been no new cases of polio in Kebbi State this year. Unfortunately there have been a total of 90 reported new cases of paralysis in the other northern states so far this year. His plan has now been adopted nationwide, and he recently received an $8 million grant from the Gates Foundation to begin implementation.

To get to Kebbi State we had to travel through three states in the northwest I had never visited before: Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto, so I have now traveled in 33 of Nigeria's 36 states, which is probably more than 99% of Nigerians. And we have now given wheelchairs in 19 states.

Yesterday I preached at both the English and Hausa services at Emmanuel Baptist Church, our favorite church near the campus. This is the church that had their building destroyed three times by Muslims during the various crises here in Jos. This last year they built a new building in a safer area. Pastor Sunday, our dear friend these past 15 years and who has remarkably grown the congregation in spite of all the setbacks, had just announced that he is leaving to take a call to a new challenge, a small church in a town a couple of hours away. The congregation is going through real grieving, like losing a member of the family. I preached from Acts 20, Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders. Sharon had made 100 finger puppets, so I did the children's sermon on behalf of "Mama Chicken" the affectionate name given her by the congregation years ago.

We are also grieving here in the McCain household. Martha, the McCain's wonderful cook for years, lost her husband last week. He was big and strong, in the prime of his life, in his 40s. He suffered a stroke and died after four days. He leaves a very successful metal fabricating business, four kids and a wife who is pregnant. High blood pressure and stroke seems to take a much higher toll among Africans than among whites, even in the US. At both services yesterday I challenged the church to begin a blood pressure monitoring program, like we have at West Side Presbyterian, our church in Seattle.

We attended a nice service in the front yard of the family home last night, with a couple hundred in attendance, and the funeral is tomorrow morning (Tuesday) in the nearby JETS seminary church, where they are very active.

Tomorrow afternoon Ayuba and I give out white canes at the Zawan Vocational School for the Blind. I begin the long journey home a week from tomorrow.

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