Ability in disability: Despite deformity, Kano entrepreneur employs over 30

Aminu Adamu Naganye, Kano

On a fateful day in 1963, I fell to the ground on my way outside our house to meet my father. That fall changed my life permanently. I was rushed to the then Asibitin Binni now called Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital and later moved to Dala Orthopaedics Hospital. I was operated on but I could not regain the use of my legs. I became physically deformed at the age of three,” narrated Alhaji Aminu Ahmed Tudun-Wada, who defied his seeming deformity to fend not only for himself but also provide thriving work opportunities for many others to eke out a living in Kano.

The lower-limb impairment that permanently denied him a chance to walk also affected his educational pursuit. Reclined to his stunt stool, coupled with a humble beginning where neither he nor his family could afford a hand-cycle that could bring succor to the daily difficulties of going to the nearest school, Tudun-Wada dropped out of primary school, a past that he still despises to remember. His education was disrupted by that sad episode in his life.

He narrated that in his 20s, he realized that the lack of a bicycle had restricted him from accomplishing a lot, and so he decided to provide a hand-cycle not only for himself but for other disabled persons so that they will not be stranded.

His experience of searching for almost six months before he could have his first mobility purchased from Chad which cost N150 in 1966, also laid the foundation for his quest to make hand-cycle accessible and affordable to other PWDs.

Against all odds, Tudun-Wada remained resolutely committed to transcending the socio-cultural boundaries that society designed for people with his kind of disability. While it is a norm to have Persons with Disability roaming the streets and other public places begging for their basic needs, Tudun-Wada and his friends established a hand-cycle producing workshop that produces for their use and numerous others who need it to live a normal life.

“In the entire Kano then, there were only two people doing it. One in Dakata and the other in Jakara. Apart from these two, you have to go to Chad or Cameroon to get one,” he said.

As part of their experimentation, Tudun-Wada and his friends bought a hand-cycle from Chad at N200. They disassembled and carefully studied it with the help of an Igbo welder who used to work in Katsina Road.

“We told him (the welder) we wanted to replicate the cycle and he appreciated our initiative and supported us. We would then go to Sabon Gari, buy metals and break it into pieces with his support. That was how we made our first hand-cycle,” he said adding that “We observed that for us to sustain the tempo, we should make it a business. That was how we started producing in 1980.”

From making hand-cycle to motorcycle and car adaptation

Subsequently, Tudun-Wada and his team tried to adapt a motorcycle for PWDs. They obtained an old motorcycle (Yamaha) from Lagos and adapted it to suit the needs of PWDs.

“When we succeeded on that motorcycle, we tried the second one and it was successful, then we added motorcycle conversion to our vocation,” he said.

After a successful outing with motorcycle adaptation, the entrepreneurial spirit of these PWDs became more daring when they considered converting a car to suit the peculiar needs of drivers with limb disabilities.

He recalled: “We started replicating cars in 1990. Abdulwahab Ali Abdallah ordered a car from England suitable for disabled persons. Then, it costs 1500 pounds to customize it for the physically challenged in the UK. We disbanded the arrangement and studied it well and went to Sabon Gari Market to get relevant metals. That was how we started.”

Today, Tudun-Wada and his teeming workers have adapted over 100 vehicles for PWDs in Kano and beyond. “We produced over 100 in Nigeria. We turned disabled people into taxi drivers here in Kano… that was how we promoted it all over Nigeria,” he added.

Mass production of swing, seesaw for pupils

For anyone familiar with Katsina Road in the ancient city of Kano, Fagge Disabled Metal Services (FDMS) is a major landmark where people are busy working, trying to meet up with demands from individuals, politicians, NGOs and schools.

Tudun-Wada noted that “Prices range from N35, 000 to N65,000. Sometimes, size and quality of materials used determine the price.”

“There is always demand, although sometimes, it is occasional. Currently, we are working on a contract to produce 50 pieces to be delivered in Nasarawa State. Hardly a week or two passes by without an order for 20, 30, 40, or even 100 pieces of hand-cycle. Recently, we supplied 209 to one man here in Kano and he distributed them to people.”

He further called on politicians to patronize their business by purchasing the cycles to distribute to PWDs in their areas of political influence.

“We advise politicians whenever they want to distribute vehicles and motorcycles to their supporters and loyalists to also consider PWD because they have votes too,” he said with a smile.

As part of the vocation expansion strategy, they also delved into swing set and seesaw construction for nursery and primary school pupils.

FDMS boasts of at least 30 employees

Currently, FDMS directly provides at least 30 full-time employment opportunities to both PWDs and physically viable individuals. This is with the exception of middlemen or marketers who buy as wholesalers and sell as piecemeal to individual users in Kano and other states.

Alhaji Tudun-Wada explained that “All together, there are 10 PWDs full-time employees here working on different things. Those who are not physically challenged are 13. There are seven apprentices. Currently, there are at least 30 people living here.”

With different people working on different parts of the production process, Tudun-Wada said division of labor and specialization make their work faster and easier than when the business started.

“We have trained a lot of people who now run their own businesses. One of them is in Naibawa area and has his own workers. You can go there and verify on Zaria Road. I personally trained him,” said Tudun-Wada

Lack of government support

From when they started in the late 80s/early 90s until now, Tudun-Wada said they have gone through the bad, the good and the ugly but their doggedness and resilience have sustained them despite the enormous challenges they encountered.

With a single hand-cycle of N200 as their starting capital base, currently, the Center has a capital base of around N10 million even without government intervention.

“Sometimes when the demand is high, we face challenges of the fund to meet up with demand,” he added.

According to Tudun-Wada, both Federal and State governments have not deemed it important to support them yet. He said their business has been duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and pays taxes into government coffers. In their efforts to attract funding, they underwent training and were certified by the Sani Abacha Youths Center in Kano.

According to them, although they appreciate the Kano State Government’s sponsorship of the education of PWDs and their children, they contend that much can be achieved if they are empowered in their business environment.

“Basically, here in Kano, the government funds education for the deaf, blind, albino and crippled in the state. It’s sponsoring our education, the younger ones and our children. And we appreciate it,” he said, adding that beyond that, governments at all levels can leverage their expertise, zeal and commitment to collaborate with them in eliminating or minimizing street begging among PWDs.

“We succeeded in reducing street begging among the disabled. Check primary schools, you will find PWDs attending. Kano State also appointed SA on PWD, giving free education up to the university level. Our target is to eliminate street begging among the disabled in Kano,” he said.

For the FDMS, the support they crave from governments is a loan they can use to expand their business, create more jobs and reduce street begging and miserable living conditions of numerous PWDs.

“If the government can support us with intervention, not free but a loan repayable within a specified period of time, we will create more jobs and we will pay more taxes to the government to improve its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). We call on the governments at all levels to come to our aid because we provide opportunities for all. We want to expand that as our contribution to tackling unemployment.”

Foreign donors to the rescue

Not all doors of support are closed for these enterprising PWDs who have chosen paths of self-reliance and entrepreneurship. Despite the absence of support from the government, they occasionally receive interventions from foreign organizations who see their efforts as worthy of encouragement and emulation.

Tudun-Wada told Daily Trust Saturday that Rotary International and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are currently their only source of support to which they are grateful.

“Those who support us and our business in Nigeria as a whole are two organizations. First is the Rotary International. It supports us with equipment to improve our business. The second is ICRC. They recently purchased and donated three machines to us: one is a generator worth N500, 000; a painting machine that greatly improved and standardized our painting work from when we used to do it manually; then wielding engine was the third machine they donated to us. So, these are the two that assist us in Nigeria and we are grateful to them,” he said.

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