Tobiloba Ajayi is a Nigerian female writer living with Cerebral Palsy. She is a lawyer and advocate for people living with disabilities. She started her early education at the age of three. However, due to the complications of the condition, she did not start walking until the age of 12. She completed her primary, secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria. She obtained a master’s degree in International Law from University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. Her works include three published books namely Inspirations, Observe to do and Who’s with me. She contributed to Nigeria Vision 2020 on disabilities matters. She was part of the team that drafted “the Lagos State disability Law”. She had worked at Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Center (MAARDEC) and she currently works at Benola Cerebral Palsy Initiatives. She is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows.
- Can you tell us what your parents told you caused your disability?
My parents told me that my disability was caused by lack of oxygen to my brain at birth. I was born pre term and the hospital wasn’t ready.
- Do you think it could have been avoided?
I am not sure, based on my current knowledge that it could have been avoided
- In this part of the world people usually say that disabled children are a form of punishment to their parents. What do you think?
I think that is a wrong way to think. A disabled child presents a challenge, but a child is never a punishment.
- When did you realize you were different from other kids?
I think I was about 5 years of age
- Can you tell us a bit about growing up with a disability
It was interesting. I dealt with funny questions and discrimination and I learnt to find my own way around doing things.
- You once told me that your parents were instrumental to the person you have become today. Do you mind to expatiate on that?
My parents decided early that they were going to raise me as if I did not have a disability. My dad insisted that I was not broken in any way, I was just plastic. This shaped my world view and how I viewed myself and my disability.
- From your profile, you didn’t start walking until you were 12 years? Wow! How did you feel?
I started school without independent seating at 3 and I sat independently at about age 6 or 7. I walked independently at the age of 12 in JSS2. I felt quite liberated.
- You also mentioned earlier that you attended a boarding secondary school. How did you cope?
The ‘how did you cope’ question goes back to how my parents raised me. Since they had decided early that I was going to be raised like my neuro typical siblings, and they had all gone to boarding school, I already sort of knew I was going too.
Mentally, my family prepared me for boarding school. My older siblings gave me stories of their own experiences and tips and tricks. I was already used to doing chores from home so that was not a problem.
I got to school and like I grew up being told to do, I found my own solutions and developed my own unique coping strategies.
- From your profile, you have two law degrees. One from a Nigerian University and another from a University from UK? How did you cope?
University was a follow up to secondary school; I had already learned how to live independently away from home. I knew how to live on a budget, I outsourced some of the things I couldn’t do. I was not afraid to ask for help. I created for myself, a system that worked for me.
- Now this is mind blowing. You attended orientation camp at the National Youth Service and you were posted to Enugu State. What gave you the courage to go? Where you not scared?
Hmm, I think I was more excited than I was scared. I had already gone to university outside of Lagos where my parents live. For me, this was going to be my chance to prove to myself that I could live independently without physical help from home and frequent daddy visiting days.
It was hard, but I pulled it off and I loved it.
- In 2016 you were selected as one of the one hundred youth leaders from Nigeria to attend the Mandela Washington Fellows in The United States of America. How did you feel?
I was selected as one of the 100 Mandela Washington Fellows from Nigeria and 1000 fellows from Africa who eventually, after a six week academic training in the United States, met president Obama.
It was great to be selected, especially as the selection process was rigorous and merit based.
It reinforced for me that what I have chosen to do in Disability Management Advocacy has merit and it is not just in my head.
- Recently you released a new book titled, Observe to do. This makes it your third book. Can you briefly tell us about it?
Observe to do started as my personal journal where I documented the things God was teaching me as I spent time with Him. In 2015 January, I heard God clearly; He told me to put the journal writings together in a book and allow others to be blessed with the knowledge. I did and that is why we have the book out today
- Despite your physical disabilities you have become an inspiration to many youths. What motivates you?
Two things I think are my biggest motivators:
Losing my mother at 15 taught me in practical terms, the brevity of life and how each day is a gift that should be maximized to the benefit of others as much as you can.
The other thing is the realization that purpose is sometimes found on the other side of pain, and that God never wastes an experience.
There’s no way I would let all my experiences living with Cerebral Palsy in an interesting country like Nigeria go to waste
- What is your advice to young people with disabilities?
If you are a young person living with a disability, I hope you have people around you who believe in your inherent abilities irrespective of your disabilities. If you don’t, find ways to motivate yourself to succeed beyond expectations. Become creative with solutions that work for you.
Choose the life you want. Have a picture of your future and start building towards that picture.
- What would you like to say to parents with children with disabilities?
For parents raising children with disabilities, my message remains the same. Please see your child as a child, not just a diagnosis. Get them the best care you can afford, yes, but nothing beats pure love in raising a well adjusted child.
Focus on your child’s abilities, give your child an education, please. Find a way to ensure your child has an education, use empowering language around your child and watch him/her thrive and bloom.