There are many things that strike you on coming across him. Apart from his inability to move around freely with his lower limbs, which immediately catches your attention, his unrelenting desire and courage to triumph equally hits you in the face on sighting him.
Born 38 years ago in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, into a humble family, Kamarudeen Idowu found himself battling some of life’s biggest challenges right from an early age. One of several children in the home, his childhood was reduced to a living hell after polio took away his legs at age three. Left in the care of his paternal grandmother after his father abandoned them to start a new life in faraway Taraba State, ‘luxuries’ related with such formative years were never his lot – he survived the very hard way.
Unable to attend school like the rest of his peers as a result of his challenge, Idowu was dealt a further blow the following year when his mother died from a strange illness. Even though he still had his grandmother and father alive at the time, it was the little his mother brought home from petty trading she engaged in at the time that sustained him and his siblings up till that stage. Her death meant the beginning of an even tortuous journey for him.
“My mother, even though just managing to get little money from the petty trading she engaged in, was the one we all looked up to at the time for survival,” the 38-year-old, now a certified lawyer, told our correspondent during a telephone conversation earlier in the week.
“Her death not only punctured whatever hopes we had in life but also dampened our spirits. We were left with our grandmother, an old woman who couldn’t do much to help us. Our father who had moved to reside in Taraba State then, cared less about us; sometimes we only saw him once in four years, he was never part of our life,” he added.
But determined to carve a new path for himself, little Idowu, one day, after watching all his peers begin nursery school, decided to follow them to the classroom. Even though he was not a registered pupil, the teachers allowed him to come around and sit with others while learning took place. He was excited. He thought education had finally arrived for him. However, by the end of that term, he realised the bitter truth.
“While others took part in the end of term academic activities, I wasn’t allowed to do so. When I expressed surprise, I was made to understand by one of the teachers that I was never a pupil of that school, and that I was only allowed in to interact and play with other children so that I wouldn’t feel lonely at home. As young as I was then, those words were like a hot knife piercing through my heart. I completely broke down,” he revealed.
After shedding tears for weeks, Idowu, not willing to give up on his dreams of becoming a success in life, gathered his strength. Days of strategising a survival plan dropped different ideas in his young head. He had no choice. No matter how demeaning it might look, he felt he had to do it.
“By the time I was six years old, I had left the home to start begging in the streets and market places,” the legal practitioner disclosed.
“It was the only way I could raise some money to register myself in primary school. While some people would take pity on me and give me alms, others would abuse me and my parents for giving birth to a person like me. It was a difficult exercise but I had to do it if I must survive,” he said.
Two years after taking to street begging, Idowu was finally able to register himself in primary school with the little money he had managed to save. But considering the fact that he had nobody to support him, he continued the ‘job’ after school hours, relying on the benevolence of kind-hearted individuals to keep hopes alive. However, by the time the flow dwindled in the ancient city, the 38-year-old was forced to look elsewhere for survival.
“At a point when getting anything reasonable from begging in the part of Kwara we lived in became difficult, somebody advised me to go to Lagos if I really wanted to make it big through such activity,” Idowu cut in, pausing for a few seconds before continuing.
“After thinking about this for some days, I joined the train one morning and headed for Lagos from Ilorin. By the time the journey ended at the Iddo Terminal and every other passenger went their different ways, I was left alone there, not knowing where to head to.
“The next day, after explaining my situation to somebody and what brought me to Lagos, I was advised to go to the Idumota area where there was a big market to beg for alms. I would go there in the morning and beg till around 6:00pm before going to sleep under the Apongbon Bridge. I did this for about two weeks before returning to Kwara to face my education. It was that strategy I adopted until I was able to finish primary school and enrolled in secondary school.
“Because of my situation, I couldn’t stop begging for alms at the time, so even while in secondary school, I still came down to Lagos and sought assistance for about two weeks before going back for studies. As usual, I would sleep under the bridge whenever I was in Lagos. The hoodlums who controlled the place knew me already because I always gave them from out of the little I made. I also made sure that the bulk of the money I made daily from begging was saved in a bank around Idumota with whom I operated an account, so that I wouldn’t lose it to thieves. That was how I was able to sponsor myself through secondary school until I finally relocated to Lagos,” he revealed.
By the time the 38-year-old took permanent residency in Nigeria’s commercial capital – Lagos – he had upgraded in class a bit. He didn’t have to go back to the Apongbon Bridge for shelter; he had managed to rent a one-room apartment in the Ajegunle area of the city, from where he set out every morning to Idumota to carry on with his alms begging. Soon, he enrolled himself in evening classes to prepare for the General Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination in his quest to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a lawyer. It was a difficult combination but his will power drove him on.
“After returning from begging for alms, I would proceed to evening classes,” he told our correspondent during the conversation.
“It was very tough but I had to do it because being a beggar wasn’t what I ever wanted for myself, I was just doing it to sponsor myself through school. By the time the results of both GCE and UTME were released, I passed very well. I chose Law and Political Science as my first and second course choices at the University of Lagos, however, as a result of my scores; I was selected to study the latter.
“During our matriculation, a reporter from The PUNCH Newspaper came across me and featured my story in one of the editions. After people read the story, a lot of them blessed me financially and gave me so much support that I needed not to beg again to sustain myself through university. I also got a wheelchair that helped me move around on campus easily. The assistance I got from Nigerians after that publication helped me to concentrate more on my academics and do very well,” he said.
But still not willing to give up his pursuit of becoming a lawyer, Idowu sat for a fresh UTME in his final year of studying Political Science to have a better chance of realising his ambition. His perseverance paid off. He got his dream course in the same university, making things a lot easier for him.
“Because I was already 31 by the time I graduated from the Political Science department at the University of Lagos, I couldn’t partake in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps programme, so I immediately resumed at the Department of Law where I had just been offered admission. It was one of the happiest periods of my life, considering how tough it had been for me to get to that stage of my life. As usual, I concentrated on my studies and never allowed my physical disability to weigh me down for once. Through the mercies of God, I was able to complete my Law degree in record time without any issues,” he said.
Now a practising lawyer after being called to bar in 2016, Idowu has shaken off the dust that characterised his early beginnings to make a bold statement in life. Even though he has yet to establish a firm of his own, Idowu has been attending court sessions, handling a handful of cases he had been able to lay his hands upon. As a result of his courage and determination to succeed against the odds before him, he was in December 2017 celebrated and given a car by the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila. The gesture, Idowu said, would further inspire him to continue on the part of excellence that he had come to embrace.
“Being honoured by Mr. Gbajabiamila and other members of the House of Representatives was indeed one of the happiest and most remarkable moments of my life,” he revealed. “The honour only goes to remind me of the journey ahead and how much there is to achieve.
“But apart from me, I would love the government to create policies that make life easier for people living with disabilities like me. Many people in this category want to work and make meanings out of their lives but because the society discriminates against them in many ways, they end up being frustrated and take to alms begging. If policies are enacted to support people like us, we can add a lot of value to the society.
“I am working hard at establishing my law firm. I want to grow from the stage I am now to also be able to employ others. If God gives me the grace and assistance I need, I would do my best to continue to inspire others passing through what I experienced and let them know that they can also triumph,” he said.