He was barely one year old when his parents neglected him and parted ways after a serious fight, simply because he was an albino, a rare breed that was contrary to what they had both expected.
Forty years after, Mr. Abdullahi Obafemi, has yet to recover from the painful knowledge that his parents abandoned him. They tossed him between each other until his grandmother, who was living in northern Nigeria, took over his custody.
Obafemi is still haunted by his history, the humiliation and rejection he continues to suffer from the public daily.
“I am my parents’ only child. I learnt their marriage ended abruptly the moment my mother gave birth to me as an albino. In fact, I learnt my mother screamed, Eh! Afin ni mo bi (Ha, I gave birth to an albino) when she saw me.
“While they were busy denying me and fighting over who would take care of me, my grandmother took me away from them,” [/b]Obafemi said with a note of sadness.
Growing up was also not easy for Obafemi as he helplessly endured the constant discrimination meted against people like him.
Although albinos are no strange beings as they only lack the pigment that gives colouration to the skin and body parts, called melanin, they are usually discriminated against.
Apart from their skin and brown hair, many albinos suffer from short sight vision, thus, they usually have challenge with seeing objects, whether far or near.
Obafemi recalled his tough experience in school. His bad sight affected his learning in school even when he sat in front of the class.
He said, “I wasn’t seeing things clearly and I couldn’t afford to buy reading glasses. I had to rely on my classmates so I could copy from their notes but they often treated me with disdain. Nobody wanted to move close to an albino.
“Thank God I was brilliant, it was when they saw that I was very good that they came close to me, not because they liked me but they knew I would always solve questions for them so they could pass.”
Despite the resilience and hard work that saw Obafemi through school, getting a good job has remained an elusive desire. He was rejected, abused and humiliated everywhere he looked for job because of his albinism.
Obafemi studied Building Technology at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.
“The pains, humiliation and rejection I went through before I could graduate are things I don’t like to remember. It is now more painful that nobody wants to employ me because of my skin and some employers even make jest of me.
“There was a time I applied for a job, and having seen my application, I was invited to write a test. When I got there, one of the interview panel members said, ‘So you are an albino, don’t worry; we will invite you some other time.’
“When I later got a job as a civil servant, I had to learn painting to augment my meagre income and even when people want to give me job, some people would say I wouldn’t see very well because of my eyes. [b]They say I would paint green instead of blue. I lost many jobs because of that too but I got few on compassionate grounds.
“There was a day I went to apply for a security job, I was asked by the company officials how I would see people coming in and I told them I was not blind. But they told me that I was the one who needed security instead, not for me to be a security man.”
Obafemi has had to combat rejection in many ways, including relationship with women.
“Thankfully, I have a nine-year-old son now, who is not an albino, but the family of his mother didn’t allow me to marry her because I was an albino and they said I wasn’t rich enough. However, I am happy I have one already, but I wish I was not an albino, because life would have been easier for me, like others,” he added.
Obafemi’s situation underscores the challenge being faced by people affected by albinism. Inasmuch as they are also humans, many of them have dreams of what to become in life but a number of them have had their hope of a better life replaced by frustration and utter dislike for themselves.
Tola Banjoko is another albino. She suffers from bad sight, and that alone has cost her the desire to go to school as she had to drop out of school.
Born into a family of 10, and as the only albino in the family, life dealt cruelly with her. She told Saturday Punch that not even the idea of sitting in front of the class would help her situation and since her mother could not buy the recommended glasses to aid her vision, she had to stop going to school and opted to run a kiosk.
She said, “When I complained to my mother that I didn’t see things on the board, she didn’t really know what to do. My mother went to plead with my teacher to allow me to sit in front but that didn’t solve the problem.
“I was able to finish primary school because one of my teachers would sit beside me and read the questions to me during exams, but there was no such help when I got to a public secondary school that my parents could afford.
“In JSS1, one of my teachers would always tell me to go and sit at the back because she said I was too tall to sit in front. Even when I tried to explain why I needed to sit there, she wouldn’t listen. And my own sight was so bad that I could put number one in two sometimes. When I became so disturbed about everything, I stopped schooling, more so that I couldn’t afford the pair of glasses that would have aided my sight.”
Banjoko told Saturday PUNCH that after she dropped out of school, her skin began to change for the worst when she had to defy the golden rule for albinos not to roam in the sun, to look for a job until she couldn’t get any and had to settle for running a small kiosk on the street where she earns a living.
“While I was going out to look for job, it was like fire was burning my skin each time I was in the sun until I was forced to start selling things. I still want to go to school and I don’t want to lose hope, but I feel very bad that I am an albino because my education has suffered for it and that is a huge loss for me. I wish I was not an albino but what can I do?” she lamented.
Lamentation, a shared currency
While Banjoko had to drop out of school because of her sight, Chiamaka Chikwem, 26, managed to go to school but has not had much to show for it, even though she finished with a Second Class Upper Division.
She told Saturday PUNCH that she feels so unlucky and unfortunate being an albino because of the disappointments, marginalisation and discrimination she has had to live with.
Chikwem, a graduate of Microbiology from Michael Okpara University, Umudike, Abia State lamented that she had been so frustrated to the extent of considering suicide when it seemed the doors of favour had been shut against her.
“Even when I know I am qualified for a job, I don’t get it and some even say it to my face that an albino cannot do their kind of work. Albinism does not affect our intelligence, we are not blind, it is just the skin colour and our sight. I believe in myself and I know I will make it because I won’t give up,” she lamented.
I will never marry an albino
Chikwem said even though God created her for a purpose, she would never marry a fellow albino. She said, “I feel unlucky and unfortunate being an albino and I will never marry an albino or someone with the gene because that would be double tragedy. It is not because there is something wrong with albinos, I am an albino, but the discrimination has made it a problem.
“I am at the moment an office secretary somewhere and I do another free job because some don’t even want me in the first place, so I forced myself to be there so I could be actively engaged even if I am not being paid. I like to practise what I studied, but nobody wants to give albinos a chance. But I won’t stop searching in spite of the frustration.
“If I struggled to go to school with my short sightedness and graduated with a Second Class Upper division and I still do not get a job because of my colour, that is not a thing of joy. I am sad. Now I want to do my Master’s programme if that would help, but I don’t have the money.”
As she continues to look for job, Chikwem is not thinking about being in a relationship even at 26, because she rarely gets passes from men. She said, “That I’m an albino may be a factor, but I don’t want to think that way. I don’t even like to think about it so that it doesn’t compound my problem, and the reason why you don’t see many albinos at the top is because of the adversities that we face. Those who are not strong-willed tend to lose hope and withdraw their efforts.
“I once considered suicide when the adversities and rejection became so severe; but I chose to face it headlong. When one is pushed beyond some limit, a reaction like suicide could flash through the mind.”