AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat with Jennifer Nikoro – Director LBD FOUNDATION

April 22, 2022 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Jennifer Nikoro
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat with Jennifer Nikoro – Director LBD FOUNDATION
Show Notes Transcript

Jennifer Nikoro is the director of LBD FOUNDATION. Jennifer Nikoro was recently appointed as a disability task force member in International Arbitration by the International Court of Arbitration in Paris.  She is also a member of the Board of Appeal of Classification at the International Paralympics Committee, Germany, aimed at classifying athletes with disability for the Olympics. She is an Advisory Board Member of Future Additive Manufacturing in Africa (FAMA). She is a Board Member of the African Diversity & Inclusion Center – ADIC, Uganda. Jennifer is a lawyer trained in Mediation and Arbitration. Born without the right arm, Jennifer is a jealous lover of young adults and children with disabilities in Africa, He desires to see them harness their potential. Jennifer currently studies at Ulster University, Birmingham where she is undergoing her master’s degree in International business with human resource management. 

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript AXSCHAT Jennifer Nikoro

DEBRA:

Hello everyone, I am Debra Rue and this is Axschat. Antonio Santos, my co-host is with me and Neil is packing boxes again and moving. He has decided to take his time off to move his family again. So he was unable to join us and Jennifer he wanted to give his apologies because he was excited to listen to your story but you know things happen. We want to welcome Jennifer Nikoro with the LBD Foundation to the show. She is joining us, she happens to the United Kingdom right now because she is studying there. But I believe February 2020 you created a foundation to really help people with disabilities in Africa and you're from Nigeria, if I am correct Jennifer but you were actually supporting all of Africa to make sure that they could be included so we wanted to have you on the show today to talk about your efforts and also the reason why I know her is because we are very proud to have them as partner of Billion Strong. We have talked about Billion Strong before; we are trying to bring together the 1.2 to 1.7 billion people with disabilities to be proud of our lived experience with disabilities. Jennifer can we turn it over to you and maybe you can talk about who you are and why you care about the community of people with disabilities and then also tell us more about Life Beyond Disabilities Foundation and I love the name of the foundation too

JENNIFER:

That you so much, Debra. Thank you Antonio. I do appreciate this meeting. Hello everybody. As Debra introduced me, my name is Jennifer Nikoro and I am the founder of Life Beyond Disabilities Foundation and its initiative aimed at empower persons living with disabilities in Africa. I am a person who was born with a disability, without a right arm and I have lived all my life this way so I understand the hurdles that goes with living with a disability in Africa, especially in Nigeria. As I finished my law school I decided to advocate for persons living with disability. I started from my home country, Nigeria and it has extended beyond Nigeria to Africa. Currently we have persons living with disabilities who are in a foundation, being empowered by us from Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and even from Zambia. However our ten year plan is extend beyond four or five countries. Currently we have persons from with disability from these countries and even a bit beyond. Thank you so much Debra.

DEBRA:

Yes, yes and Jennifer, it's quite an undertaking to do this not just in Nigeria, much less trying to do it in all of Africa and you also did it during the Pandemic. That you know, that is really amazing but why, why is it so important beyond your own experience growing up in Africa and having a visible disability but you know, one thing that I think a lot of people don't understand is how different the countries in Africa are. I think a lot of us just want to throw everybody together but one thing I have learned is how much I don't know but I just you know, why would you try to do it then because that is a really tough time to start.

JENNIFER:

That is very true. Well the reason why I started, personally, I started in 2019 for myself as a person, as an individual but I made it global in 2020. And the reason why I made it global was because I discovered that a lot of persons needed to be reached beyond just my community and I also observed that when I started there were a lot of persons emailing me and encouraging me that what I am doing was good and they wanted me to continue. This encouraged me and gave me passion to continue and that was why I decided not to look into the challenges that come with the Pandemic and to go all out front irrespective of the risk involved in Covid just to reach out to these persons. Also, I discovered that persons with disabilities will not be considered really Covid in Africa. A lot of them will not even be regarded. I decided to use my position and my little abilities to reach out to them during the Pandemic. That was why I decided to do that during the Covid Pandemic.

ANTONIO:

Jennifer, Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest GDP in Africa. I know far bigger than South Africa, people sometimes might not be aware of that. In the fast growing economy in Africa, what are the challenges of people with disabilities and what actually needs to be done so that people are not left behind while the economy grows?

JENNIFER:

Okay. Persons living with disability in a developing country like Nigeria and probably Africa at large have a lot of challenges. For me in particular, one of the challenges I face, which is the major challenge, is the culture and the stigmatisation that comes with disability. The mental breakdown that comes with being a person with disability. Africa and even Nigeria has a kind of traditional mentality that believes that persons living with disability are either cursed by the Gods or they are unfavourable family. This alone has a lot of mental degradation for persons living with disability. Beyond that we also have challenges that go with their welfare that goes with their wellbeing. That goes with even economy co facto. A lot of persons with disability are not able to be on equal level or playing ground with persons with non-disability when it comes to employment opportunities. I have suffered it in my early days as a young graduate, as a young law graduate and I were able to come out of it. But not everybody would be able to succeed like I have. And that is why we need to be able to advocate for equality, for persons with disability. This equality will enable everybody to be regarded at an equal level, with the right support system. Narrowing down to what I do at Life Beyond Disability, basically we started with empowering people, especially during the Covid with food items and other medical items needed to help them survive during the Covid. But, we progressed, after the Covid into helping them by empowering persons with disability, especially those who have former education with digital skills and leadership skills. That is what we currently do at Life Beyond Disability. We reach out to organisations.

ANTONIO:

Jennifer, in terms of contacts, I would like you to explain to our audience a little bit more about Nigeria and particularly in the area of advocacy, so you created a foundation because you found that advocacy is really important. But if we go back we know that there have been United Nations programs taking place in Nigeria and all the African continent. We know that there have been people doing advocacy for people with disabilities but in your opinion what has not worked? What is working and what needs to be done even to go to the next level to make sure that people are not even left behind? Or even to make sure that people really have a voice in terms of talking about their rights and needs.

JENNIFER:

Okay thank you for that question Tony. In my opinion, I believe that advocacy would work more if persons with disability are those in the field. I mean they are the game changers. For instance putting persons with disability on like I say, on the field, they should be the one participating in advocacy and not being behind the scene, while others are advocating for them. I believe that no one can feel the pains of persons with disability, if you don't. Like, I believe rather that no one can feel as much as having the pains that come with disability in Africa if you are not attached. Be it you have a family member or you have a friend or you have a disability. You may not be able to understand what it means to have a disability if you're not related to someone personally. That is why I, one of the reasons I feel that advocacy is not really having a stronghold. The game players are persons who may not be related to persons with disabilities. Secondly, another reason for advocacy not having a stronghold is the farther implementation policies are not being structured properly. I think for us to have a voice, we should always have strategies to be able to implement them. Africa has challenges with structuring and implementation. If the right persons are in place and implementation policies are also in place then I believe we'll have a long term plan and it would be implemented. Those are the few challenges I see when it comes to advocacy, implementation and the game players.

DEBRA:

Well said and also Jennifer, I know that is one reason why we are creating Billion Strong because for example I went to Kenya and one thing I noticed when I was in Kenya is that I was treated very differently from other people. I went with a group of people and I was the only older white woman and it showed me how much colonisation has, it was just such an interesting experience. I agree with you. I think it's very important that you speak for yourself and I don't speak for you. I also think it's important that the voices in Nigeria need to be heard by others that live in Nigeria and Africa as opposed to what we are doing in the States or Portugal or London because you understand the cultures better. And I know that one thing I was really sad about was how inaccessible Nigeria was. I mean Kenya was when I visited. And I remember we were going into a bank and there was a woman in a wheelchair and she had to wait until these two big men came up and picked her and her wheelchair up and brought her in the bank and I thought oh wow, what happens when she wants to leave the bank and it was just one little thing I happened to see. But I was really surprised at the lack of access and of course, we have a lot of brands saying oh, we are going to help Africa. We'll do this and we'll do that. I think once again, as you have already said, it's a mistake that they are not working with the people on the ground, the people that live there and are doing the work and understand the cultures. I know you were born, you said with your right arm missing and it's just amazing what people think about that. You did something wrong in your past life or your family and it's all you, you're the reason. And I also like that some of the work that you are started with was really talking about the mental health issues associated with this. I know that Leman Geray when he agreed to be the CEO of Billion Strong. He said I do want society to not underestimate us as a person living with disabilities. But at the same time Debra, he said, we have a huge problem in our community because we underestimate our own selves and each other and I think that is one thing that you are trying to help others. I mean because you're a lawyer. It's amazing watching your work. But I also believe we need leaders that look like you on these stages, which is why I invited you to Axschat and why I also invited you to join us at Billion Strong because I have to take my influence and help others come in but you're doing that same thing. So I knew I threw a lot at you but I just wanted the audience and Antonio has already asked some questions talking about this but there are major issues, major issues in these African countries. And if we don't let people like you solve them Jennifer instead it's always outside people come in and fixing you. I think we are going to continue to not make a lot of progress. You know what do you think about those issues?

JENNIFER:

Thank you so much. I believe as you have said we should have representatives of persons living with disabilities in every sector. Actually sectors that concerns the implementation of strategies that with regard to the lives of persons with disabilities. Yes. And as you have also said with persons with respect to accessibility. Same with Nigeria we have a lot of accessibility problems, both in public buildings, even in religious organisations, their structures and private buildings, we have a lot and I have faced a lot of accessibility challenges too as a person living with disabilities. One thing I can say is that if we put pen to paper and we pick these challenges one after the other, in the nearest future we can be able to tackle everything in Africa. All the challenges in Africa. But if we keep going round in circles we would not be able to tackle those challenges. As you have also talked about how persons and you talked about your time in Kenya, how you were rated highly and same with persons living with disabilities here in Africa. When they look at us we are also not rated so well. In fact, some persons don't even want to socialise with us. Yes. Except probably you have come to have a kind of social status or ranking like myself which everybody cannot get to that point and so we have a lot of challenges and as we have just said we need to put representatives in those places where they can be able to advocate for themselves and for their kind and that is one thing I am trying to do with Life Beyond Disability as a platform.

DEBRA:

Jennifer do you find as we mentioned when you started that right now you are not in Nigeria, you are actually in the UK studying. Do you find that you're treated differently when you go to a place like the UK as opposed to when you go into different countries in Africa? The Western World is an eye opener for me. I have seen a lot of privileges in my few months of living here in the UK. I am not treated any less and I wish Africa can be able to get that mind-set and implement it gradually. I don't feel like a person living with disabilities. In fact, I am at my best at this point. In my academics I have accessibility tools that are aiding me in my course work. I don't need to type so long because I have so many accessibility tools available to me. Lecturers and everybody are treating me with privilege and I believe that I am not the only person that needs to get this treatment. A lot of us, especially in Africa need to experience this. It isn't okay so we should not treat people unfairly. I agree.

ANTONIO:

So Jennifer, based in your experience and the fact that you are studying in the UK and we have access to those resources, do you feel that those resources that we have available now in the UK are something that they would work well for a student in a similar situation as yours in Nigeria or do you feel that well you need to look at Nigeria from a different angle and you might need to build new tools and new solutions that are more adequate to the Nigerian reality? What are your thoughts on this?

DEBRA:

I think that there are resources available to me in the UK can also be used very well in Nigeria. However, I also believe that beyond using this resources we need to do a lot of mind-set orientation for persons in Nigeria and even in Africa because if resources are available to be used without a proper mind-set to encourage people with disabilities then it cannot be utilised properly. I think environment matters, mind-set matters and this will help everyone to be able to encourage each other towards growth and development. That is what I believe. And Jennifer, do you think it's important for people of Africa to see leaders with disabilities being successful in Africa and other countries as well. Do you think that it's very important for the individuals with disabilities to have you come in and talk about the issues rather than you know someone that looks like me come? Not that there's nothing, I mean I'm a great speaker but I know you know which direction I am going in with you.

JENNIFER:

Yes. I believe Africa currently lack disability role models and that is the main reason why we have not changed our mind-set.

DEBRA:

Right.

JENNIFER:

If we have leaders with disabilities who have made tremendous success in their individual sectors, I believe we will be looking at disability from a different framework and that is one thing that I believe I want to do currently using the LBD foundation.

ANTONIO:

So Jennifer, even if you look at the age of people leading companies in Nigeria or even people in leading positions in government I am almost sure that because of aging people might have disabilities because it's a part of how life develops, how can we encourage people to disclose disability because I think that you know the disclosure is a strong element to allow people to know that well I have succeeded and I have this disability for many years and that has not stopped me from have having success. How can we break that barrier that is not just something that happens in Nigeria, something that happens everywhere around the world?

JENNIFER:

Yes, that's a very good question Antonio. I am trying to think around how to answer that question knowing fully well that in Africa those with disability hide their disabilities. Especially when your disability is invisible. It makes it so easy to hide them. And those with physical disabilities are always indoors. Like I was for so many years before coming out. It would take time for people to see disability as normal, as a condition and not a death sentence. Especially in Africa. I hope to see it someday. I am not sure I can totally answer your question with regards to disclosure. I believe it's an individual responsibility and probably time will tell if the right orientation goes out.

DEBRA:

I am not going to name names or even the country in Africa but I think it's also sometimes discouraging when there is a leader that I knew that had a visible disability and one of the western countries in Africa but he did not really protect the other people. He just, you know it's like as soon as he got this position he did not want to talk about his disability any more. And so it always makes me sad when people are put in positions of power and then they forget their own lived experiences and I know this happens but I think that is why it's so important. Like it's okay for people like me to come in and speak in Africa but only if Jennifer you're also at the table, the panel and we are talking about well this is the way we do it and you're like okay that is great but understand that in Africa these, I mean people have to understand the cultural issues and it is country by country in Africa and there is a lot of. I know that when I was in Kenya they told me that there was a law still on the books that said that if a woman gave birth to a child that albino that her husband could legally divorce her because that means she cheated on him which, by the way, that is not why people are born albino, it has nothing to do with me cheating on my husband. Then of course it was encouraged to put the child in the forest and we all know what that means so or even worse, I mean that is horrible but witch doctors or Voodoos believes that people withal albino blood have special, you know their blood can be used for black magic. So these kinds of issues when I was in Kenya and I was talking and I am there Ms Expert but I did not even know what to say because it was just so far from what I had learned and I learned so much when I was in Kenya about what I did not know and why once again, I always believed that you have got to have the people on the ground that live there taking the leadership but I just learned so much from that experience.

JENNIFER:

Yes.

DEBRA:

Just to validate, once again validate what you're saying that you have got to be at the table. But I want to ask, I know that we are probably already over the 30 minutes, but you know I love the work you're doing and we want to support you too we really appreciate the work you're doing that is why Axschat features people all over the world to talk about these issues and how we help each other. But I know you recently did a class on mental health for people with disabilities. But I would also wonder what do you wish? You have a huge community in Axschat. Of course, you're part of Billion Strong. We are going to get behind you but what can we all do to really help you and others make sure that people with disabilities in Africa are not treated the way they are being treated now. What can we do to help as a society?

JENNIFER:

I believe this is a very, very important question. First thing I think, from a person living with disability's standpoint, especially those within the middle age, I think one of their challenges would be with respect to creating a kind of rather one of their challenges would be economic factors. Yes, the standard of living, raising the standard of living because persons with disabilities in Nigeria have little or no support system when it comes to finances. Most of the finances they have are either derived from their family members or from friends or well-wishers or probably passers-by. Most persons living with disability probably soliciting it from arms every day on the street. Young children that ought to be in school, they would not go to school, rather they would be on the street begging for arms for daily bread. That is one of the challenges they have. Yes. Their mental wellbeing is also important but I also believe that they also need to eat daily and the government is not providing such support system for them. It's either they live or they die. And they choose to live at their own risk.

DEBRA:

Wow, yeah.

JENNIFER:

Another thing we should tackle is their mental wellbeing because of the way they have been treated over time. We need to make them understand true campaigns, true advocacy and even true seminars bringing them together. They are very willing. They are very willing and they are quite they are, as I said we are very willing to collaborate with you or any organisation who wants to help them. I believe that bringing them together in their different communities and talking to them, encouraging them, making them understand that they are a human being and disability as I earlier said is not a death sentence will help them boost their self-esteem and give them a passion, not just to live but to impact their society.

DEBRA:

Yes, well said.

JENNIFER:

Which is very important.

DEBRA:

I agree and that is why we should support the LBD Foundation. We should help them be successful, help them be more accessible, physical wise and digital and corporate brands you want to spend money, spend money with the people on the ground that are really making the difference. I know that we are over so let me thank My Clear Text for making sure we are captioned and accessible we are grateful for them sponsoring us. Jennifer thank you for your work and leadership. I know I owe you some content that you asked me right before my husband died and I will be sending that to you. But I think we all need to get behind Jennifer and all the work she's doing and the other people that are trying to make a difference in Africa because we are not, you know the world is not going to meet the STG goals if we are not supporting each other. So Jennifer thank you so much for your leadership, we really appreciate you. Bye everyone.

JENNIFER:

Thank you.