How I Carry Myself Doesn’t Give Room For Discrimination – Amputee Food Scientist, Iguodala

Abuja-based Edwin Iguodala, 33, an amputee food scientist with a master’s degree from England, lost his arm in an accident in 2015. He speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about the event of that day and some life changes he has had to make since then

What do you do currently?

Currently, I am unemployed. However, I am a trained food scientist. So, over the course of the year I have been in different parts of food processing – production, quality control, food consulting, food safety, hazard analysis and critical control. My previous engagements were setting out a quality control for food processing units in Lagos State. Sadly, that contract got terminated, because of the lockdown which happened last year, and I haven’t picked up a new contract since then, because things are just beginning to open up amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from that, I am a catfish farmer. I own a catfish farm. The farm is not running at the moment because the economic situation is not favourable for production. If things pick up, we’d continue our production. I used to also drive on one of the e-hailing services when I was in Lagos. I am in Abuja at the moment, so I am still trying to move my account from the Abuja branch to the Lagos branch. Somehow, the e-hailing services do not recognise the licence given to people living with disabilities.

Do you consider that to be discriminatory?

It is discriminatory but that is where we find ourselves in this country today. According to them, their system does not recognise it.

What was growing up like for you?

I had a fantastic childhood. My home was a very happy home. My parents were comedians by default. I was born and bred in FESTAC Town, Lagos. I spent most of my childhood there.  I am the second of four children. I was a very smart kid growing up. I don’t think I am as smart as I used to be. I attended schools everywhere in the South-West, apart from Oyo and Ekiti states. I had my primary education in Lagos State. I had my secondary education in Ogun State. I did a pre-degree at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State. I had my first degree at Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Osun State.

What led to the amputation of your arm?

I was not born like this. I had lived over 20 years before I had my arm amputated. I was 27 or 28 years old when it happened. I am 33 years old now. It (the amputation) happened in 2015. I had an accident. I had just returned from England where I got my master’s when it happened.

What kind of accident was it?

I went to the wedding of a family friend. He was more like an elder brother or a cousin to me – you know these family friends that have become brothers. I’d like to call him my cousin. The white wedding was in Benin City, Edo State, and the traditional marriage was in Warri, Delta State. So, I had driven to Warri for the traditional marriage that Friday night and it was on our way back to Benin that I and other occupants of the car got involved in the crash. A long lorry literally shoved my car off the road. We stumbled and my hand was badly damaged. It was crushed beyond repair. I was in the vehicle, a Siena bus, with eight other people, two of whom were my siblings – my elder brother and my younger sister. I came out of the car and saw my arm dangling. I was very conscious of the activities going on around me. I saw that my elder brother was trying to break the vehicle open to allow other people exit the vehicle. The moment he sighted that my hand had been damaged, he lost it for a bit. I was the only one that was hurt in the vehicle; every other person came out unscathed. I am very happy about that. I was at the part of the vehicle that had the most damage, because it was the part which had the greatest impact of the lorry. Sadly, my hand was placed just by the door; I want to believe it was the reason. It is all a blurry image right now.

What immediate action did you take when you saw that your arm was damaged?

My elder brother gave it his best to get me to the nearest medical facility. He tried stopping a taxi. It was an uphill task, because nobody was ready to carry an accident victim. I would want to believe it was because of past stories that everybody had heard about being a ‘Good Samaritan’ and then the victim dies and you are locked up for a long time for a crime you know nothing about. So, many drivers avoided us like a plague. That was until a gentleman eventually stopped. When he realised it was an accident victim he was about to carry, his first reaction was, “Abeg! I no wan make blood stain my motor o!” My elder brother begged him that whatever amount of money it would cost we were ready to pay. All we needed was for me to get medical care, because I was bleeding. He eventually agreed to carry me. I was not based in Benin or Warri. I only went there for a visit. So, I didn’t know anywhere in Benin City. At the end of the day, he was very helpful. The accident happened around 5.30pm or 6pm. The driver was able to beat traffic because he understood the terrain. I remember that there was a lot of traffic on that day. At some point, he had to take ‘one-way’ all in a bid to get me to the hospital. The first hospital we went to was Stella Obasanjo Hospital, off Sapele Road, Benin City, and the nurse on duty said we should go to UBTH. Sadly, I didn’t get any first aid to stabilise me. I was still bleeding. At this point, the driver took us to Central Hospital, Benin. My dad had a brother who worked there at that time. The doctors then were on strike. When we got there, the man had arranged an ambulance to move me to UBTH. All the while, I bled profusely and I had not received any treatment.

What went through your mind during those moments?

I just wanted to get medical care. So, when we got to UBTH, it was 11pm. The nurse said there was no blood. When my brother told her that it was a matter of life or death, her response was, “Everybody for here na life and death!” I could not blame her, because she would not turn herself into blood. Luckily, my parents knew someone who was able to help. I got medical attention at about midnight. I had lost so much blood that I had become pale. My brother had to go get blood from Central Hospital. I was given three pints of blood that night. The first line of action was saving my life and not my arm, which was secondary. In the morning, on Saturday, the doctor came to tell me that there was only a very slim chance of saving my arm, because it was as good as gone. I asked him what the line of action was and he told me they had to amputate it.

What was your reaction to this?

I was cool with it really. I asked him how long I had to wait to leave the hospital. You know amputation is an irreversible procedure and it’s not just thrown around at any patient except it is the last option. In my own case, that morning, my arm was dead. For me, my life was in my hands – do I want to live and lose an arm or die and still lose the arm? So, it was an easy choice to make. The amputation happened on December 23, 2015. It was just two days to Christmas. So, I spent my Christmas in the hospital. I got discharged before New Year’s Day though; that was the bright side to this. It wasn’t a happy New Year’s day for my family for very obvious reasons. It was a very traumatic experience. I have not shed a tear since it (the accident) happened.

What was the transition like for you?

My left arm was amputated and I am right-handed. So, it was not much of a transition. I hear a lot of people are going through a mental transition. For me, it was coming out of that place where I have to come to terms with my new reality. Two things helped me. My childhood memories helped me. For the longest part of my life, I had known immense happiness. My parents were disciplinarians but that didn’t stop us from being a very happy family. My mom retired as a director at the Lagos State Ministry of Education. All those memories really helped me. Also, my secondary school, Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Abeokuta, also helped me. I remember when it was time to choose a secondary school to attend, and I chose the Navy school because, as of the time, my brother was there.  In any military school, the first thing you are taught is resilience. So, for six years of my life I was living a regimented life of resilience. We were taught about actions and consequences and the act of taking responsibility. So, we were taught never to regret, because we were told to always weigh our pros and cons before making any decision.  A soldier going for war knows that he would either gets amputated, die or return unharmed, so they are always prepared. So, for me, I was ready to live with the consequences of the decision I made to have my hand amputated. My brain has been trained not to have regrets. I have always been a forward-thinking person. I asked myself, “What next?” I could get a prosthetic limb, so it wasn’t that bad. When you juxtapose that mindset with the childhood I had, you’d see that I was prepared.

Didn’t it affect your work?

Then, my line of work was not a physical one so I knew it was not going to affect my income in any way. To a large extent, I consider myself somewhat privileged. So, I knew I could get a certain level of support from my parents. All of that made me laid-back about the situation.

Did you get a prosthesis?

Yes, I did. I used it for like a year; it didn’t work for me as it was more like a burden. I dumped it. It wasn’t what I had pictured in my head. I had expected that getting a prosthesis would give me some level of functionality. That was the conversation I had with the prosthetist. When the prosthesis came, it was more like an aesthetic limb. It didn’t function the way I wanted. So, I used to wear it to complete my body, so it would look like I had two hands when I wear long-sleeved shirts. It doesn’t help me to hold or lift (things); the fingers are supposed to move. It was so uncomfortable carrying up to three or four kilogrammes around every day. I started working with a foundation, The Irede Foundation, where I also work as an ambassador, I found some purpose.

Did you think the amputation has limited you in any way?

When I start to think like that, regrets begin to set in. The moment I start to think that the reason I am currently unemployed is because I don’t have two arms, then, I am inviting regretful thoughts, which is not what I want for my life. Right now, the e-hailing service is refusing to grant me access because my driving licence is a Class D (for PLWD). This was what I noticed in 2019 when I renewed my driving licence. They locked me out from July 2019 till January 2020. They opened up after much talking and social media brouhaha, but they locked it out again. This is as a direct result of the accident and my physical status. I am not leaving out that there have been challenges, but I do not like to present it at the fore.

Apart from the issue with the e-hailing service, what other discriminatory actions have you faced in your immediate environment?

My social cycle is really good, and with the type of interactions that I have and the people that I meet on a day-to-day basis, I wouldn’t say I have been discriminated against. Most of them are exposed and it is almost unlikely to suffer any discrimination from them. I think the way I carry myself doesn’t give room for discrimination. I do not put my disability in front of me and look for sympathy. I live my life as a very cheerful, easy-going and happy Nigerian. In the first couple of seconds talking to me, you are almost blind to my disability. It is a gift and a curse, because sometimes, my family members forget when we go shopping and I am holding one bag, they’d tell me to hold something else. I will be like, “Ah! Can’t you see I have just one hand (laughs)? I told my brother recently to help me wash my hands and he asked me, “How have you been washing your hands?” This was someone that was a witness to the accident that happened in 2015. So, if in 2021, he hasn’t come to terms with the fact that I cannot wash my hand because I have just one hand, then, you can imagine many other people out there. This is because of the way I live my life.

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