ABANDONED HEROES: Para-athletes in Lagos State Left Desolate and Hungry as Unpaid Allowances Push Them into Despair
Despite their remarkable achievements as sports champions in international competitions, individuals living with disabilities in Lagos State find themselves mired in dire poverty. These inspiring athletes, who have brought pride to the state, now face immense hurdles, including hunger and homelessness, stripping them of their dignity and forcing them to rely on begging for survival.Encountering these Paralympians was a stroke of luck, as they have been hesitant to share their stories of anguish. These special athletes, who have made significant contributions to sports in Lagos State, now endure a life of hardship due to the alleged failure of the state government to pay their accumulated allowances spanning 19 months from 2021 to 2023.The athletes, feeling marginalized due to their disabilities, express their sorrow over the non-payment of monthly allowances, which has brought misery to their lives and that of their dependents. They claim that the meager welfare package and treatment they receive from the Lagos State government have caused frustration and prompted many to relocate.According to the para-athletes, the monthly allowance of ₦20,000 ($49) provided by the state government is insufficient compared to what their counterparts receive in other states, particularly Delta State, where para-athletes are paid ₦60,000 ($147) each month. This stark difference in financial support has led to a decline in the number of para-athletes in Lagos State, decreasing from 35 to 24.Investigations conducted by PUNCH Healthwise revealed that the poor treatment and lack of concern for their welfare by the relevant state agency have contributed to the athletes’ dissatisfaction. The backlog of owed arrears has plunged these athletes into severe hardship, leaving them dependent on the goodwill of strangers for their survival.One of the athletes, Justina Mokwue, a visually-impaired gold medalist, recounted her struggles since becoming blind in 2016. She expressed disappointment in the government’s failure to provide adequate support and regular payment of allowances, adding that training equipment is also not readily available, and athletes are left to provide it themselves.The plight of these para-athletes extends beyond non-payment of allowances. They claim that even their award entitlements from the 2022 National Sports Festival, where they won silver and gold medals, remain unpaid. They feel discriminated against by the discriminatory payment system, where only 10 out of the 24 athletes under the government’s payroll receive regular payment.Temitope Fashoro, another para-athlete with cerebral palsy, voiced the negative impact of non-payment on their lives. Despite the challenges, he expressed his determination to pursue a career in sports and appealed to the Lagos State government to fulfill its promises and treat them with respect and dignity.Sunday Olawuyi, the Team Captain of the Lagos State Para-athletes, emphasized the importance of support for people with disabilities who have big dreams, urging the government to provide the necessary assistance.Nigeria is home to an estimated 29 million people living with disabilities, who face various forms of discrimination and stigmatization. Despite the existence of laws prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities, such as the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, enacted in 2018, the struggles faced by PLWDs continue.Efforts to obtain a response from Mr. Sola Aiyepeku, the Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission, were unsuccessful. The lack of government support and the non-payment of allowances and awards have left these athletes in dire straits, highlighting the need for urgent action to rectify the situation and provide adequate support for individuals with disabilities pursuing their dreams in sports.