“I’m a stickler for tradition” Lawrence Idemudia

When the roll call of Disability Champions shall be made in the Nigerian scene, Lawrence Idemudia Edelifo will always stand out for one unusual virtue – the badge of a dogged “stickler for tradition”.

Yes, a stickler for tradition (the African tradition) – and a proud one at that. Interestingly, this sticklership for the traditional would form a core part of the virtues that would eventually propel our Disability Champion number 06 in the series to his date with destiny.

Lawrence is an enigmatic character. He is an archetype of the resilient African spirit and the extraordinary things that are possible through it.

The African spirit is fundamentally a creative one… resilience and creativity will help us overcome the challenges” Ben Okri

Resilience in this context means that genius of the human spirit which engages its intuitive and thinking faculties in absorbing unfavorable circumstances – and doggedly goes on to achieve notable success. It is instructive to note that the speed of this absorbing of the unfavorable isn’t so relevant. What’s important is that the absorbing happens and that the beleaguered soul eventually goes on to discover and fulfill life’s purpose regardless of the obstacles.

Lawrence Idemudia aptly epitomizes the preceding paragraph. Any analytic mind privileged to study this enigmatic personality – his story, his choice of words, his worldview and of course, his humble background cannot fail to perceive a “walking testimony” of the potency of the “African spirit” in conquering the barriers erected by Disability.

You see, “There’s a sense in which destiny is so large that it can absorb all barriers and still fulfill its deepest purpose in ways beyond comprehension of we mortals – yet within the prophetic understanding of the African soul” Ben Okri

Lawrence became deaf at 17 under rather mysterious circumstances (later explained to be cerebro-spinal meningitis). It happened few months to his Senior school certificate exams. The trauma accompanying such ill timed tragedy is better imagined. But did he give up? No. Family rallied around taking him from hospitals to healing homes and churches in search of a cure. Though he never regained his hearing, young Lawrence went on to sit for his exams that same year. If that isn’t resilience, then I do not know what it is.

One recurrent theme in this Disability Champions Series is the family factor repeatedly echoed by the overcomers.

Asked how supportive family was in those early days of weathering the storms of deafness, Lawrence speaks in glowing terms – giving core insights into the source of the trademark traditional wit and indomitable spirit that helped him trump Disability. Listen to him:

“I adored my parents. My dad, the late Pa Lawrence Dirisu, learnt to break stones and did so for some companies that hired him. My mum, the late Mrs Meremu Lawrence, was a trader.
They instilled in us the values of “hard work” and “never giving” up on our goals. They taught us to be content with what we have.”

He follows this with two classic examples of the traditional common sense approach to life he grew up with:

“My father, while sending me to school, told me he was laying a mat for me but if I preferred to sleep on bare floor, it was my choice. My mother, on the other hand, told me if I had two dresses and kept them clean, no one would know my secret”. Those values have shaped my views till today.

PAUSE… The best of life lessons do not necessarily involve western ideals espoused in schools and ivory towers. It could be what is passed on between parents and children (as in this case). It could be the traditional proverbs we tell our children.

And so we have Disability Champions nugget one, Dear parents:
“Take the time to impact sound traditional wisdom to that Child with disability”.
You never know how strong a foothold such would provide in weathering the storms ahead.

Still on the morale boosting support afforded by an accomodating home, Lawrence recalls:

“My family does not believe I am different. They took great care to ensure my needs were met as much as they could and carried me along so that the impact of being deaf was not visibly noticed. My father used to feel proud each time I was in the village with him and never hesitated to introduce me as his son who was in university.” One imagines the big psycho boost this gesture would have had on the young man. A boost that carried on into adult years and which the receiver continues to impart to upcoming generations.
I hope someone reading this takes a cue.

Endowed with a bright and witty mind right from childhood, Lawrence says he always wanted to read law and work in the nation’s military intelligence unit. That dream was quashed by a prejudiced dean of law faculty at the University of Ilorin. He (dean of law faculty) probably didn’t believe this deaf dude could withstand the rigours of studying law. And so Lawrence had to opt for Educational guidance and counselling. However his performance at that institution not only proved the law professor wrong, it challenged the small minds of stereotypes against successive Deaf candidates in that institution.

REFLECT… The foregoing gives good food for thought.
Lawrence’s response when he was unjustifiably denied his choice of law because of deafness is instructive.
He didn’t wallow in self pity bemoaning fate. An ardent fan of Jimmy Dean’s quote:
““I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”, this conqueror knew to shift sail, catch the right wind, and sail on.

Nugget two: “Life doesn’t always give us what we want, but we can choose to use well what it hands us”.

By playing his cards well, this Disability Champion rode on the back of a Ford Foundation scholarship to the world’s first and best University for the Deaf – Gallaudet in Washington DC, United States for his master’s degree in School guidance and counselling.

Nugget three: “Every adversity, every disability, etc, carries the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. It’s up to the person, people involved to leverage on these odds. And remember: creativity and resilience are core components in the process.

CIVIL SERVICE CAREERMore lessons in resilience
Lawrence has an illustrious career in the federal civil service. He is currently a senior official at the National Commission for Persons With Disabilities. How he joined the Civil service offers yet another lesson in the triumph of the African spirit.

After his Youth service with the federal ministry of sports and social development, Lawrence applied for a place in the federal civil service commission amidst fierce competition. Of course, getting a federal job was never going to be a stroll in the park. But our man was determined. He was confident in the philosophy that:

“There’s no chance, no destiny, no fate that can hinder the firm resolve of a determined soul!” Nugget four.

Lawrence recalls showing up (daily and at intervals) at the commission after submitting an application. He also recalls backing up his moves by writing letters of appeal to the chairman of the commission, head of service and secretary to the government until Providence and fortune smiled on him and he got the job he set his heart to. Again, resilience triumphs. There’s however a deeper insight to this account. It is captured in the following nugget:

Nugget five: “The squeaky wheel gets the best attention”. So speak out!

“Any time a man wakes up is his morning” – African Saying.

Grandpa’s (as Lawrence is fondly called) uncommon philosophy of life, remains the most striking aspect of his quietly inspiring personality. It deeply resonates! And oh, it’s so refreshingly steeped in the African tradition. His dress sense is not spared this stand out African tang, no, not even with his considerable exposure to the developed world. In a way, it’s safe to say this man is born a custodian of civilization purely driven by the African spirit.
When he speaks, he does so in typical African grandfatherly fashion. His words are few and heavy with meaning – cutting beyond boundaries of time and space into the otherworldly. They could be as curt as they are encouraging; as humorous as sobering.

A counselor per excellence, he has a quiet and unconventional way of infusing hope and self belief in the up and coming generation. Most times, he does this drawing from his personal experiences within context of a rich traditional heritage.

“We are a mosaic of our experiences” – Avweruosuoghene O

Grandpa well understands the metaphysical truth that life is an individual race and doesn’t necessarily have to be run on “popular timing”.
He is implying that in this journey of life, individual trajectory and developmental milestones don’t always follow same calendar. Some will be early birds, some just right on time, and still others far behind the conventional timing.

Thus, he brings cheer and hope to the “late-bloomer” struggling with self esteem and self discovery amidst the already daunting challenges of living with disability in the words of a classic African saying: “Any time a man wakes up is his morning”.
In essence, he’s challenging those despondent souls to self belief, self esteem and self discovery – that it is never too late unless they give up.
He’s able to do this more effectively because he’s been there.
In fact, so real in this man’s experience is the “any time a man wakes up is his morning” philosophy that he made it his topic for his General Certificate English. And guess what? He scored a “Distinction” for that expository essay.

As a counsellor and fellow traveller on the Disability pathway in a society that treats PWDs as “second class” citizens, Lawrence is visibly upset by this status quo. He laments society’s lukewarm approach to PWDs issues. Hurt by the fact that PWDs are first to be forgotten and last to be remembered in national discourses, he advocates unconditional positive regard for these under-represented minority.

His favorite premise for advocating the rights of PWDs remains: “I’m first a human, every other thing, including disability, is secondary.

Lawrence preaches creating an enabling environment with reasonable accommodation for PWDs to flourish in the society. He calls for inclusion, accessibility and participation for all Persons with Disabilities and demands that their issues be included in the national agenda.

We draw this piece to a close with the reminder that this series is meant for more than just reading pleasure.

Through it, we seek to zero in on core principles, sage advices and definitive moments of selected veterans, giants, and achievers of the ubiquitous Disability space to create inspirational learning encounters for those coming behind.

During an interview where he was asked the most painful thing deafness cost him and which he tries to help young deaf Nigerians prevent or manage, Lawrence drops the parting shot:

“Being deaf almost cost me my self-esteem. But in the end, I rediscovered myself and there was no looking back. I try to help the youth believe in themselves. To never develop inferiority complex or allow anyone to look down on them because with determination and self discipline, even the sky will not be a limit to their aspirations”.

So, it’s time to aspire and fly… Yet,

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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.

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