The House of Representatives on Tuesday celebrated a former physically-challenged Lagos beggar, Mr. Abdulsalam Kamaldeen, and Miss Aarinola Olaiya, for their academic feats.
While Kamaldeen overcame his physical challenge as a crippled beggar to graduate as a lawyer, Olaiya was honoured by the House for the rare academic feat of being the first medical student to graduate with distinction in Surgery at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, since 1989.
Kamaldeen, 38, whose story was first published in The Punch some years back, and Olaiya, 24, received a standing ovation from lawmakers during the plenary of the House in Abuja.
This came after members had debated a motion moved by the Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, to celebrate the two young Nigerians.
The Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, left his chair at the enclosed section of the chambers to meet Kamaldeen and Olaiya where they were seated to shake hands with them.
Other lawmakers joined Dogara in clapping for the two in appreciation of their excellence.
Speaking earlier, Gbajabiamila recalled Kamaldeen’s pathetic story, including how he became afflicted with poliomyelitis at the tender age of three.
He added, “Kamaldeen, 38, lost his two legs to polio at the tender age of three; lost his mother at the age of four; and started primary school at eight. He started street begging to raise money to buy school uniforms, books and to feed.
“Kamaldeen begged for alms from primary through secondary schools; known on the streets of Lagos as a beggar; and slept under the Idumota Bridge for several years before saving money he gathered from commuters to rent a room.
“From street begging, he bought a GCE form in 2002; passed his GCE and JAMB examinations and was subsequently admitted to study Political Science at the University of Lagos.
“He sat for another WAEC and JAMB examinations while preparing for completion of his first degree in Political Science. In his determination to become a lawyer, Kamaldeen gained admission to study Law at the University of Lagos in 2010. He went to the Nigerian Law School in 2015 and was called to the Nigerian Bar on 30 November, 2016.”
For Olaiya, the House leader said she produced a unique result.
He stated, “Miss Aarinola Olaiya, 24, was admitted into the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, to study Medicine and Surgery in 2011; she scored an excellent Cumulative Grade Point (CGPA) of 4.74 in her first year.
“Subsequently, in her second through sixth year, scored: Distinctions in Anatomy, Medical Biochemistry and Physiology (200 Level); Distinctions in Medical Biochemistry and Pharmacology (300L); Distinctions in Pathology and Pharmacology (400L); Distinctions in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Mental Health and Dermatology (500L); and Distinction in Surgery (600L).
“The achievement was elusive for a period of 28 years in OAU/Nigerian medicine and community health.”
Gbajabiamila described Kamaldeen and Olaiya as Nigerians of “humble background,” who fought all odds to achieve greatness.
The leader noted that Kamaldeen’s case struck him deeply when he first heard his story.
He added, “His story is amazing, sad, as it is also inspiring. Going through Law School for able-bodied men is tough, let alone for a cripple.
“Despite the circumstances of his life, he chose to work hard to make a name for himself.
“He did not attempt to go into crime or opt to cross the Mediterranean in the hope to go to Europe.”
Contributing to the debate, a member from Plateau State, Mr. Edward Pwajok, SAN, said he prayed for Kamaldeen to rise beyond the Nigerian Bar to the Nigerian Bench.
Pwajok stated, “I celebrate these young Nigerians. Despite suffering from polio, today, Kamaldeen is called to the Nigerian Bar.
“I see him rising beyond the Bar to the Nigerian Bench one day. I challenge young, able-bodied Nigerians to learn from these two graduates, especially Kamaldeen.”
On his part, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Mr. Yussuff Lasun, said the lesson to all young Nigerians was that the “best way to go is to be hard-working.”
Summing up the debate, Dogara asked Kamaldeen and Olaiya to do more.
“You still have to do more through dedication and discipline. This recognition by the House should spur you on for more achievements,” he added.
Both Olaiya and Kamaldeen were elated and thankful as they reacted to the gesture of the House.
Olaiya said she was so happy because while in school, she never knew she would be this celebrated.
She stated, “I am happy, very happy. While I was in Medical School, I was just working hard but I didn’t know that a day like this would come.
“I appreciate the House and the Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, for what has happened today.
“I like the lawmakers and I hope to be like one of them one day. I will still have to go for further studies.”
Kamaldeen also said disability should not be allowed to become a hindrance to success.
“The reality of life is that life itself is a competition. No matter your condition, you must compete and compete favourably,” he said.
Olaiya’s mother, Felicia, gave a piece of advice to parents, “Send your girls to school. They must go to school.”