“From where I stand, Disability will not stop me from achieving my dreams…”

These words were the driving force behind the rise of a polio survivor from obscurity to fame. Lois Auta-Udokanta epitomizes the triumph of “Determination” over circumstances. Hers is another inspiring story of a soul armed with determination, rising from the lowest ebbs to live a meaningful and impactful life.

The story of how this brave soul rose above the confinements of a wheelchair to conceive and champion a unique brand of advocacy for women and Disability Rights has her name forever etched in gold on the sands of time. Born and brought up on the disadvantaged side of life in far away Kagoro, northern Kaduna, to struggling peasant parents who had ten other children, life was tough from the start for young Lois. At the tender age of two, polio struck and this otherwise promising star lost the use of her lower limbs.

A Supportive Family To The Rescue

Growing up, Lois was fortunate to have a supportive family – parents and siblings. This humble Kagoro native recalls finding solace, love, and belief in family after she was isolated by a prejudiced society because of her condition. She gives huge credit for her rise to stardom to family – especially her mother. You see, in an environment rife with religious and cultural bias, it was easy for a young girl who couldn’t walk, and whose parents were caught in the throes of poverty to be relegated to an insignificant existence. Years after, one could still sense the melancholy in Auta’s voice as she recalls those dark days in Kagoro:
Even adults in my village said it to my face that I will never amount to much in life because of my disability. I couldn’t mix with the kids because nobody wanted me around them – I was treated like a leper”.

But my mother, she believed in me. Mother was able to see beyond my disability. She saw in me the most brilliant of her eleven children. One day, she said, “you are going to put the family name on the global map”. That prophecy armed Lois with renewed Determination to make something extraordinary of her life in a society that understood the term “PWD” from just one angle – Disability. From that moment, this Amazon of the equal rights struggle brought a new definition to the letters PWD, she literally became Pregnant With Determination.

The Dream Urges On…

Endowed with a bright intellect and academically inclined, Lois was determined to put this to good use. Her brand of determination echoed Jimmy Dean’s timeless nugget: ”I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination”.

Lois was convinced that education was key to the miracle she needed if she was going to defeat the mobility limitations of a wheelchair. She held a clear picture in her mind of surmounting obstacles posed by her physical challenge through education – she went for it with a deathless drive!

Medical Ambitions Dashed By A Pseudo-Inclusive Educational System

Lois’ original desire was to study medicine; she met the academic requirements. However at the University of Jos which she had picked as first choice, admission was denied her on the excuse that there weren’t provisions for her kind of disability. That rejection from a failed educational system was a stunning blow. For an ambitious soul who already had so much limitations imposed by her wheelchair, this unexpected denial of her dream could have made her loss hope. Did she? No. Instead, Lois drew inspiration from the words of Hellen Keller – “when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but we often look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us”.

Going through the other open door.

Driven by the spirit of determination, Lois was back at chasing her academic ambitions the next year. It was as if she already understood that providence had better plans for her outside her original desire for medicine. So this time, Lois opted for Mass Communication at the University of Abuja. She was admitted, but instead of Mass Communication, Fate ordained that she be offered Public Administration by the institution. At that time she might not have known it, however this predetermined course of events was actually preparing Lois for her life’s work in the political arena. A word of advice here:

“We will not always get what we want. Keep an open mind, for sometimes that is Fate taking our sides in order to offer us a better outcome”.

Performance And Dedication Singles Lois Out

Amidst the struggle to acquire a diploma, fortune beckoned on this sweet lady when she got the opportunity to do her 6-month industrial training at the Petroleum Pricing and Management Corporation. A thankful Lois seized the golden moment with both hands. Rather than use her condition as excuse, Lois put in an extraordinary performance and dedication to duty that caught the attention of her superiors. Having distinguished herself from the pack, Providence smiled, and Lois was retained for permanent employment at the company.

Nugget: Disability could be turned to ThisAbility through performance and dedication to duty.

Combining Work And Education

Life for Lois got better as an employee in an oil and gas company. While earning enough – and some more, Lois decided to go for a degree program that would better her chances in a highly competitive environment. Of course, she considered the daunting task ahead. What will it take? What will it take for a wheelchair bound lady to combine a job with academic pursuits? It would take courage, it would require determination! At this crossroads, the daring spirit of optimism in this champion drove her on – even before she fully considered the cost. Ask Lois, and she will tell you with her spontaneous trademark smile:
It’s okay to admit that the ride wasn’t easy. The road had its roughs and bumps, there were the low moments, the frustrating experiences and all that those kind of stuff, you know”.
Fortunately for this woman who is always brimming with exuberance for life, her rock solid determination carried her through. Madam Lois reminds us that: “Life isn’t a bed of roses, and even if it is, we can’t have it all roses without some thorns”.

The Cedar Seed Mission

The story of the Cedar Seed Foundation is an interesting one. This Disability heroine drew inspiration for the humanitarian mission from her Disability and the rejections suffered in those early years.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonades”.

Lois goes down memory lane to tell the story of Cedar Seed. The year was 2011 or thereabouts. As she drove to and from work, she recalls seeing folks with disabilities begging along the way. Deeply moved, Lois asked herself what she was doing to help these people. Not that she had the financial muscles or connections to lead the cause of PWDs back then. But she dared to dream, and with that dream took an initial step of determined faith at the challenging task. The rest, they say is history. However Lois is quick to acknowledge how much her oil and gas employer, along with the team at Cedar Seed have supported and shared in making the Organization the success that it is today.

Through Cedar Seed, Lois champions the cause of humanity and spearheads initiatives that improve life for PWDs across Nigeria – and she has been noticed. Her advocacy work has taken her to a number of countries. She has met with Presidents and global leaders of renown. The Organization has as Its main objective the mainstreaming of women and PWDs in Nigeria into the national development agenda based on the United Nations evaluation of rights of Persons with Disabilities. It visualizes a world where the PWD constituency participates fully in society and enjoys equal rights.

Keeping The Mission Alive

Despite having achieved considerable fame and fortune, Lois isn’t forgetting where she is coming from. She sees her disability from a Divine perspective and remains faithful to a higher calling. In her words, “I have learnt many lessons as a Person with Disability and want to see others on the path achieve their set goals.” To that end, she dreams of a center where PWDs can learn skills and get all the help they need to make headway in life. She has this encouragement for those still in the struggling stage: “I want to let them know that they can triumph no matter how hopeless the situation looks today.”

“I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the tutelage and support of my mother. God used mother to make me the person I am today”

Asked to reminisce on the journey so far and pick out one exceptional person in her success story, Lois replies without second thought: “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the tutelage and support of my mother. God used mother to make me the person I am today.” Mrs Ladi Auta (late) believed in her daughter irrespective of her disability and that served as a great catalyst to Lois’ achievements. In a special tribute to mother, Lois wrote: “ Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother”.

Her Achievements

This Disability Champion has within the space of a decade earned a staggering number of achievements and recognitions. Prominent among these: CEO and founder, Cedar Seed Foundation, 2014 Mandela-Washington Fellow, Ashoka change maker scholar, first black Thisabled woman to be named: “Young Global Leader” at the World Economic Forum, etc.

Lois holds a diploma and Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of Abuja, Nigeria.

The Disability Champions Series, a collaborative project with Madam Joy Bolarin, Executive Director, Jibore Foundation, is anchored by Ogheneruemu Alexander (Disability issues blogger).

Special acknowledgement to T.O.L.A Foundation for constant back up supports.

Published May 10, 2022

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