BARR. KAMAR-DEEN LANRE ADEBAYO: Blind, yes… but I see just as well

Kamar-deen Olanrewaju Adebayo is a blind journalist and later became a lawyer. As journalist, working in The Guardian, his reviews on visual art works, stage plays, films and home videos, baffled people and made them asked, ‘why is he seeing what other reviewers couldn’t see?’

In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Barrister Adebayo, who made second class Upper Division and the best graduating student of the Department of English, told of his challenges, and noted that he was made to live without depending on anybody.


How has life been?

I have to tell you about my background, so that you know where I’m coming from.

I was born nearly 50 years ago in Lagos. By Nigeria classification, I’m an indigene of Ogun State, because my father hails from there, even though he was born in Lagos. My mother has lineages in Iseyin, Oyo State, but sides of her had long settled in Lagos, especially on the Island, they had properties there though taken over by the government. My grandfather also had property in Lagos.

So, if I claim to be a Lagosian, by all standards, it is a genuine claim, even though my parents have lineages outside Lagos. I’m using this to make a statement on this state of origin issue by stressing that where you were born and where you reside in greater part of your life, and where perhaps your parents have settled for a long time should actually be your state of origin and nothing else. When you look at it, there is much less about us outside Lagos than in Lagos both from the paternal and maternal sides; there is more about us in Lagos than outside Lagos, but because of the classification, one claims Ogun State, which I hardly visit, except for official reasons.

I attended Pacelli School for the Blind in Surulere, Lagos having been born with degree of sight problem, which was rather hereditary from my maternal side.

From Pacelli to Kings College and from there to University of Ibadan, where I graduated in English in 1988, with Second class upper, and also, the best graduating student in the department that year. I did my National Youths Service Corps with The Guardian newspapers and assigned specifically to the Arts and Culture desk, where almost as a weekly columnist, I combined, among other reportorial duties in arts and culture and reviewing visual arts, stage plays, films and home videos.

You wonder how I did all that. From The Guardian, I moved to Daily Times under Dr Yemi Ogungbiyi as the managing director then. I was there for about 13 years, also working on the arts and culture desk and rising to the position of senior staff writer. In between that, I did some part-time jobs for Radio Nigeria programme, production and presentation. I was also doing something for Minaj Television in the area of programme and production presentation too. Both radio and TV programmes had to do with persons with disability.

While at Daily Times, I went to read Law in University of Lagos and graduated in 1999 and went to the Law School and was called to the Bar in 2001. I did some private practice for about two – three years before joining the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, first with Citizens Mediation Centre and later the Office of Public Defender, which was a contractual arrangement and with effect from December 2005, I was converted to a full-time staffer.

How were you able to cope with schooling, secondary and tertiary, etc?

Visual impairment has ceased to be a serious challenge. It is just that in this part of the world, we are very slow to catch up with development. Secondly, we have a culture of every individual who is physically challenged to be made either completely redundant or completely dependent on other people. Those are the two problems that even when for instance you are seen moving around on your own people would think that you are doing something stupid by moving around on your own. They asked, why not let somebody move with you, forgetting that if they were my brothers or sisters, they can never have time to move around with me on a daily basis and I was made to live my own life without being dependent on anybody.

Once you are physically challenged, the culture makes you almost totally redundant or makes you fully dependent on one person or the other. As I said, we are very slow to catch up with development.

Right from the 18th century, there is a system called Brail reading and writing that enables the blind to cope with education. Since that time, development has enhanced the capacity and capability of the blind to cope with life generally to the extent that in western countries that if you want to pour water or any liquid in a cup, there is a little device that you put in the cup, which will tell you when the cup is full and also buildings are also designed taking cognizance of the blind.

Even the roads and streets are also designed to make it conducive not only to the visually impaired but also to the physically challenged. For instance, in UK, even a visually impaired is driving when he is approaching a junction – a kind of minor road entering into the main road, the surface of that road would become rough, before then it would have been smooth. At the point of the junction, it would become rough that you the visually impaired will know that this rough surface is leading to a junction so that you stop, but here in this country we are yet to get to that level.

Over there you have blind judges, lawyers and bankers. We are gradually trying to get to that level. Some of us would get to that level. We have senior blind colleague, but I’m not sure he got to the level of practice that I have got to before he died.

While working in the print media, you were reviewing visual arts, stage plays, films and home videos. How were you doing that?

Talking about print journalism and the arts, I see myself as informer. The role of a journalist is to inform. Mine is to gather information and communicate the information to the reader. For an art exhibition, for instance, on the first day of the exhibition when it is opening, I would move round with all the other art viewers, listen to all their comments and speeches, and all that and asked them of their opinions about the art works. Then on a later day when the art exhibition is less occupied with people, I would go there and the artist would conduct me round the art works and explaining to me each work and I would ask him questions. Maybe, by virtue of my training in English Language, which has a way of introducing one to the art generally, I developed a perception for the arts. So, I was able to interpret things even beyond what anybody would tell me. I was able to form my own independent opinion.

As per the technicalities of the production of the artworks, I will ask questions from the artist – how come you used this colour, how come this one is rough, I would feel some of the artworks, how come this is rough, is it the brush strokes?

I became gradually schooled in visual art production. By the time I would review the artworks, I would put up all the information I had gathered and married it with my own perception of the work and interpretation of the work, I would come out with my review.

If you remember the Maroko incident, where the military governor in Lagos evicted the residents, there were two artworks that focused on the that, one by Biodun Olapun and the other, I think by Kolade Osinowo, and I was bale to compare and contrast the two works. One showed a Combi bus loaded with household items apparently belonging to the residents, and the driver was standing hands akimbo, feeling satisfied that he was making a fortune out of others’ misfortune. It was painted in bright colours. The other was a midnight scene, which juxtaposed the prevailing darkness in Maroko as a result of the demolition with the brightness in Queen’s Drive, which is just separated by a lagoon. The light from the houses on Queen’s Drive reflected on the lagoon. I was able to capture all these in my contrast of the works, such that the peak of my work as a reviewer, there was hardly any arts exhibition in and outside Lagos that I was not invited to cover, even when they knew that this person is blind.

I remember I wrote a review of a stage drama and the playwright, Mr. Kunle Adebanjo, told people that he couldn’t believe that this person could not see and asked, ‘why did he see what others could not see.’ All I did when ever I’m watching or reviewing a stage play is to ask the person beside, ‘what is that person doing?’ and the person would tell me what he was seeing, the person telling me what he was seeing may not even understand what he was seeing as much as I to whom he was telling. That was how I got the information and perhaps my other colleagues may not notice what I have noticed and I included it in my review and it baffled the playwright that he asked, how come that I was the only person who noticed it. However, others saw it, but didn’t take notice of it as much as I did.

So, that is how I went about my art reviews.

How was your growing up?

The challenges have to do with the fact that people will always reminded you that you have a physical challenge. They would call you names in that regard – O, the blind man, see your eyes, you cannot see. They want to look down on you as a result of that. I had to live over and above those kinds of statements or thoughts. I had to put that behind and did things that other young people of my age did.

I remember in those days, when we were living at Fadeyi, I would roll tyre like other children would do to Bada Street, off Agege Motor Road, where one of my aunts was staying, and I would follow the inner roads from our residence through Ogunjobi, the railway line and I would get to that my aunt’s house rolling tyre.

One was trained in school to live over and above limitations. We were made to do things on our won and not to depend on people; we were made to face challenges including very tough ones and were punished severely for any wrongdoing. For instance, even when they knew we couldn’t cut grass with cutlass, we were made to pull grass with our hands and that was in primary school. At home, the school always told our parents to make sure we were doing things on our own. So, they never really pampered one at home, so, one was really baked hard in those days.

Who were your role models?

At primary school, I think my teachers were my role models. One made me to see life as highly competitive, so even in the classroom you want to aspire to be better than your mates. Some of our senior colleagues who had passed through the system and doing very fine are my role models as well. You have Mr. Taju Alade, he is a very senior person in Federal Radio Corporation, Ibadan national station. We have quite a number of colleagues who excelled in various professions, who were visually impaired. I remember Bashiru was our senior, he was one of those who thought if these people could make it, we too should be able to make it.

Of course, professionally, my immediate boss then, Omoloju, the Art editor of The Guardian and another colleague, Anikulapo who rose to the position of editor, Sunday Guardian before he retired from there.

Then, the legal side, when I read the judgments of some very notable Supreme Court judges within and outside Nigeria, Lord Dennis in UK, who is universally renowned. Also, the like of the late Justice Oputa who just died, the late Kayode Esho, Emeka Agu, Ayo Salami, Kabyi White, etc when you read their judgments, you feel thrilled and want to aspire to the level they are.

In the broadcast, I used to be thrilled by Usen, I was listening to him why in secondary school, Benson Idonije. On television, there is John Momoh.

One would inwardly wish to aspire to the level to which these people have aspired in their various endeavours.

The lectures one passed through in school, including Prof Niyi Osundare, Prof Adeyemi, Prof Agbede, and others who were role models in various fields.

When I was in UK, for a professional course in journalism in 2001, the people who taught were veterans from BBC. They are also role models.

What has been your greatest moment?

The day I graduated from University of Ibadan was indeed a very great moment. The day I was called to the Nigerian Bar was also another great moment. The day I started working to earn a living, I remember October 16, 1989, was when I started earning salary. I also remember June 4, 1984, when I finished from secondary school, and I felt if I were 10 feet taller than my height then, just because I had finished secondary school. I don’t know which is the greatest, but they are great moments. June 4, 1984, when I finished from

What has equally been your lowest moment?

I remember while in school, you know as a child you would always play pranks. Some of those moments I wished they never happened, especially when one was caught playing stupid pranks. In fact, at one instance, one was punished for weeks and you were serving the punishment on a daily basis for misappropriation, because you were put in charge of a kiosk.

Another funny one I could recall was when I was asked to write an essay, and our teacher was an Irish Sister of Charity, and I thought she didn’t know how to read brail, so I just wrote a few lines and was reading offhand what I ought to have written. To my greatest surprise she took the rubbish I wrote and read it with her eyes. It was one of those pranks that you were caught unexpectedly.

I remember a particular day I was rushing for an assignment and I was passing in front of BOC Gas on Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, there was a ditch where they deposited wasted gas, and I fell into it headlong, with my special computer. That was how that computer worth about four thousand British pounds sterling damaged. It was after that incident that the company covered it and barricaded the place. That is one of the examples that things left uncared for on the road pose a serious danger to people like us, who feel we must move around on our own.

How do you relax?

I listen to music, I love to read and chat with friends.

How did you meet your wife?

I got married in 1995. I met my wife at The Guardian newspapers, while I was doing my national service. She was managing The Guardian canteen. She was attracted by the fact that this is a journalist who could not see. We were only acquaintances as we only met when I went to eat. That was not really when it started. It started after I left The Guardian for Daily Times and I was still going back to The Guardian for one or two things. That was in 1989-90.

When you approached her, what was her reaction?

According to her, it was a kind of mixed feeling. She had seen how much of an achiever I had been and could be, she had seen how self-reliant I could be, yet she couldn’t pretend about this fact that she was going to marry someone visually impaired.

There was also the religion factor, she is a Christian and I’m a Muslim, but since God meant both of us for each other, all that didn’t pose any problem.

Religion is a major issue in Nigeria, how do you manage the home or have you converted her?

No, I have not converted her. In Islam, you are not expected to compel anyone to take your religion, because if you compel anyone to take your religion, you have no reward for doing so and the person who was compelled and because he didn’t accept it willingly, does not have any reward. You only let people see the religion through you and let anyone decide to accept or reject. The Quran makes it clear that it is only the Almighty Allah that guides anybody. The Holy Prophet Mohammed who we follow, his uncle refused to accept Islam and Mohammed couldn’t do anything about it. One can only talk to people or let people see the religion as practised by you; you cannot or shouldn’t compel anybody to take your religion.

Are there times that you ask God, ‘why me’ or you wished you were normal?

Well, yes, especially when you find yourself facing things, which otherwise you would have loved to do. For instance, I can’t drive myself, so I’m at the mercy of the driver. Without being hasty and generalising, drivers are not always the kind of human beings you would want to relate with. So, imagine that it is mandatory that I should have a driver; these are one of the things one would regret. At times when you just cannot do certain things on your own, you have to need somebody to do it simply because you cannot see, that also makes me feel, ‘O God, I wish I were not like this.’ But, far and above all that, one always have cause to be grateful to God.


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