…Each time I entered a chamber, they looked at me, and the next answer was,
“there is no vacancy” – Bar Chinenye
By Mercy Hill
This week, on Inspirational Personality page, we have the touching but inspiring life story of a physically challenged legal luminary, who has shunned what life has thrown at her, to conceive and achieve her dreams.
She introduces herself
I am Miss Chinenye Joy Okeke, an indigene of Osumenyi, Nnewi South L.G.A, in Anambra State, Nigeria. I did my primary and secondary education in Aba, Abia State and then moved to the University of Jos, in Plateau State for my University education. I spent several years in in the university due to strike and then a year in Law school, in Abuja and then moved back to Aba.
After some time I went back to Plateau State where I practiced Law for twelve years. And moved back to Anambra in the 2018 and joined the civil service here at the Ministry of Justice in the attorney General’s chamber. I am physically challenged and walk on clutches and being physically challenged is quite challenging because if you do not know how to fall in love with yourself, you will give up in life.
I was not born with this situation; it began after I was injected with polio injection by a nurse when I was a child and then my leg began to shrink. Prior to now, as a child I suffered low self esteem because even children discriminated against me a lot. Growing up was miserable because even kids rubbed it on you. Many times, I contemplated taking my life.
I remember vividly those periods I would want to swallow shaving powder or even rush into a moving vehicle, because I wanted to die. But as time went by, I realized that I was performing well in my academics, I topped my class always. I leveraged on that my high point and the fact that I always get appreciated for my beauty. From that point, I became fearless and fell in love with myself, worked hard and with the help of God, I pushed through to where I am today.
I particularly want to talk about believing in oneself, trusting God, and working hard.When I went to Law school, there was no provision for the physically challenged. The structure and administration was done without the physically challenged in mind. I practically had to manage myself.
When I wanted to go to Law school, I learnt how to drive, my immediate brother who was carrying me around in the university had to go for youth service and I needed to go to Law school. They got an automatic car, and my brother took me to drive for only four days, because I needed to go to Law school that weekend.
I learnt, so, now I can drive any automatic car, I even drive myself to the office daily. So, when people see that you are confident in yourself, they will learn to appreciate you.
How was it for you getting a job after your university education?
After law school, I wanted to do tutelage, because it is when you leave school, you know that there is a line between practice and theory. Each time I entered a chamber, and they looked at me, the next answer was, there is no vacancy. I kept going from chamber to another, until I encountered a man from Edo state, Bar SS Odende & co. When he saw me, he was impressed to see a physically challenged young lady who had reached to that point I was then.
He wondered how I managed and then, he gave me a chance. And I grew to the point that I became the best lawyer in the chambers, and I headed the chambers for a long time. All the senior lawyers in Plateau State that rejected me, saw me in court and were amazed at my performances in the court.
Being physically challenged gave me time for privacy and I did a lot of reading and research which put me on a vantage position. In school, I came out tops, in the chambers, I oversaw research, and I was good at the job! My principal was so happy with me that he bought me a car in 2009.That kind gesture made me to work harder! At a point, my boss forgot that I was physically challenged that he usually gave me ultimatum, sometimes I spent my night writing briefs (writing and studying)
In 2008, I saw a vacancy for industrial court judges, when I went to meet a Judge there, I did not know where to start from because it was highly competitive. You know Lawyers do not walk up to Judges like that unless there was a tangible reason for that. But I boldly went to meet him and discussed my intention of becoming a Judge. He looked at me and said, ”you want to be a Judge?” I replied ”yes”.
He asked me to sit down and began asking me, how I coped in the field. He told me he had been noticing me for a long time and wondered how I would cope at old age. He said he wanted me to be in government, so that I would not have to hustle too much before I could take care of myself as I get older.
I explained all I could. He told me that he had a friend at the Ministry of Justice, that he would like to post me there. I declined, I didn’t want to work at the Ministry, because I felt those in the Ministry were lazy. I encountered them a lot in court, and I was not impressed with their laziness (my apologies please). Although, they are not like that in Anambra State, I met a system that was quite different from Plateau State. After many discussions, he called the Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Peter Umeadi.
The man said I should come to Anambra State, my boss at the private chamber where I worked obliged me permission to travel to Anambra State. That time, Revenue service were recruiting, so on my arrival to Anambra, Justice Umeadi took all my credentials and was willing to help but before he was able to do the recruitment, everything was postponed.
They did not do it again and then he retired. That was when the CEO Stanel Groups, took me to see the Governor, His Excellency Willie Mmaduaburochukwu Obiano. When I met him, Stanel, explained all I had passed through and pleaded with the Governor to help me. The Governor was amazed that I could pass through all those hurdles and still achieved my goals to become a practicing lawyer.
He said I should give him my papers that he would do something about it. That was all. Some days after, he called me and asked what level I wanted, I answered, level 16. I did not know what level 16 meant, he said consider it done.
That was how I got the job. When I resumed as a level 16 officer, there was pandemonium, many people said how can she begin as a level 16 officer, it has never happened before. It was then, I understood what level 16 was and that God had used me to break records. This was the first time ever that someone who had never worked in government was employed as a level 16 staff. Three weeks ago, I was in thought, asking God how come he brought me this far.
My life as a witness and an encouragement
I have been a survivor; I have seen attitudinal and outright rejection. As a physically challenged person, you will see people who just do not want to have any thing to do with you. But that is their opinion, they are entitled to their opinion, whatever they think should not mean anything to you.
You should only be concerned about how you feel. It got to a point when people tagged me a snub, that is true, because when I noticed that people snub me, I became a professional snub, to survive. But if you come with a smiling disposition, I welcome you with much love.
I am a strong lover of God, and I have many people who have come to love me for who I am. Sincerely, I want to talk to many physically challenged young girls out there, who see themselves lesser than who they are. You are not supposed to behave that way.
You can be loved and appreciated just the way you are! When I was in the university so many meaningful guys approached me, I refused to give my body to any of them, but I enjoyed the platonic relationship we had. We should therefore know that anything that is conceivable is achievable.
Believe in yourself, you may not be opportune to come from a wealthy family but the privacy you have sitting on that wheelchair gives you every opportunity to be who you want to be. You can learn whatever skill you want to learn and climb every height you wish to climb.
Another thing that helped me is that I groomed myself to be a busy mind. I had no time to think of discrimination, ostracization of any sort. After developing myself, I chose my friends, my friends do not choose me.
Many physically challenged people never believe they can get married but have this in mind that if a guy can walk up to you to ask you out, why then, one day, a guy can ask you to marry him.
What are some of the challenges you have had as a physically challenged?
Being physically challenged is very challenging! They do not do anything having you in mind except in the United States and other developed countries.
After school, the most thought-provoking moment for me was going to Law school. When I arrived, I never knew where to start from. Personally, I don’t share toilets, bathrooms, and I cannot even climb slabs.
Law school comes with this challenge of not wanting to fail because it is a professional examination with a lot to read and write. In my time we called it ”Almighty Bar Final”. With that in mind, those that were not challenged physically were down psychologically, how much more me, who was physically challenged and could not drag to take my bath in a competitive bathroom….
The story continues in the next edition of Fides Newspaper