Fred Manjack, 59year -old physically challenged journalist has few months to retire from the Federal Civil Service but he would be leaving the service without a home either in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, or his home in Gombe State.
That, perhaps, is the least of his challenges. He hates to beg for alms, yet, he is finding it difficult to send his four children to school, pay for his accommodation in one of the satellite towns in the Federal Capital Territory, and live a decent life.
Fred, despite his challenges is full of humour. At a point during the interview, he pointed to his walking stick and said: “that is my bicycle, my car and aero plane.” Excerpts:
Kindly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Fred Manjack. I first attended Kalari Primary School in Kaltungo local Government of Gombe State. From there, I went to Government Secondary School Darazo between 1975 and 1980. After I graduated, I was not able to access a job. My uncle suggested that I go and attend a clerical school in Potiskum. I refused and told him that was not my pastime. I don’t like the job. After three years of no job, I went to the Chief Social Worker in Bauchi, Mr. M. C. Abubakar. When I saw him, he welcomed me and asked me to sit down and make myself comfortable. He politely asked what he could do for me, and then I told him I want a job. I told him I want to work in a Radio House. He asked me how I would be going to work because of my disability. Then I told him he had not asked me how I managed to go to school. He laughed; a very astute gentleman I recall. After that short laughter, he then asked how I came to his office. I told him I came by a commercial motorcycle. He gave me a letter to Mallam Adamu Missau, the then General Manager of Bauchi Radio Corporation, and the Chief Welfare Officer also called the GM, Radio Bauchi and told him that I was coming and that he should do two things- fix me and don’t ask any question. On the phone he told the man that I am disabled but he did not see disability in me. When I got to the Radio House, the GM asked me the same question of how I will be coming to work if given a job; I gave him the same answer. I reminded him that he didn’t ask how I got to his office in the first place. And that he did not ask how I attended primary and secondary schools, so I assured him that the same means through which I attended both schools will be the means with which I will come to work every morning. He looked at me and laughed. He handed me over to the Company Secretary who he instructed to give me a letter of appointment as Telex Operator. So I picked up a job as a Telex operator in 1983.
Anytime news comes from outside, I would pick up the news and edit it before sending it to the news desk. The Head of News started asking questions to know details about me because he said I was doing a good job. At a point he made official request that I be moved to the newsroom and I went to join the news desk. I moved from being a telex operator to becoming News Assistant.
After six months, my performance became very outstanding so the head of news further moved me to join the editorial team and he made recommendations that I be promoted from Grade level 4 to 6. At that point, I told them that I needed journalism training that will enhance my performance. But they said there was no money. As God would have it, I saw an advertisement in newspaper advertising for news reporting course in the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos. My boss was sceptical but I said to him if people are living in Lagos I will live in Lagos too and attend that course. They said there was no money but I told them that I was going to sponsor myself with my salary and come back and work for the radio house.
That month, I travelled to Lagos on my own. When I got there I was taken to Ogba where the school was located. One Titus Oguleye helped me then when I showed him my admission letter. He took me to the director, and I completed the course successfully which lasted for three months, and mark my word, in spite of my disability as others go out for news reporting, I also went out to get news stories. I lived in the NIJ compound for the duration of the course living with a security man, one Mr. Adeleye. He was so good to me that he even brought his daughter and asked me to marry her but I was not ready to marry then. I do not know where I can locate him just to say thank you.
When I came back, a new General Manager had been appointed in the person of one Mr. Mohammed Hamzat Okorejor. When I got to the newsroom, he was there. So the GM asked a staff, referring to me; ‘who is this man’? They told him he just came from Lagos after attending a training programme. He asked why I did not go to Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria training school and I told him that I was told there was no money for training. He laughed. He asked whether I was ready to resume duty or whether I needed one week to relax. I told him I do not need it that I was ready to start immediately. After two months I was moved to the National Desk where I was in charge of any story that would be sent to the network in Lagos. After six months the GM came to me one day and said that I have paid my dues. He also asked what I wanted, I told him nothing. When he asked where I came from and I told him, he said he married a girl from my place and he knows my people are strong-willed people. So we became friends.
Did he eventually send you to FRCN training school?
No, I was not able to go but then I was reporting for FRCN though still a staff of Bauchi Radio Corporation. I was manning the national desk. I was sending stories to network. So every day you hear Fred Manjack on the radio and I became popular. There was somebody I felt would have been instrumental to my progress, General Abutu Garba, he was the Military Administrator of the state then. One day he sent a pilot car to pick me up from the radio house. When I went he was so busy and I had some stories to send, because I am supposed to be on network by 4pm. So I told the Pilot to return me to the office and that was how I missed that opportunity. But then, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Bauchi chapter was organsing a four months training in conjunction with University of Jos in advanced news writing and editing, so I went. After the training, I was advised by the director of the newspaper where I did my industrial training to go back and do a diploma programme because he was impressed by my performance. When I approached my office again they said there was no money, so, I paid my school fees for the programme with my salary. I attended and passed the diploma programme. But before I went, I was already promoted from Grade level 6 to grade level 8. Somebody was on grade level 4 before I left but when I came back, the person who I left on grade level 4 was already on grade level 10. I wondered how come because I left this man on grade level 4, and there was no certificate whatsoever to justify the rapid promotion. They told me I can now teach him the job. I said no, how can I teach my senior? If I am teaching him I must give him orders and I can’t order my senior. That became an issue because they insisted but I stood my ground. They said they have already sent my recommendation for grade level 9, because even at grade level 9 he would still be my senior. So, after I got my grade level 9 I left Bauchi Radio Corporation in 1994 and joined FCDA on the same grade level. Later, there was a petition against Gen. Jerry Useni, then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, that he has been employing people without due process. About 95 of us were affected. I wrote to him and requested that even if people are going, I should be exempted because of my disability which is not good for the labour market at the time. But that did not work. We were all laid off and I stayed without a job for three good years. And NUJ Abuja chapter was taking care of me. In 1998, the then Managing Director of New Nigerian newspapers saw me at the NUJ Press Centre and told me he had been looking for me. He gave me the opportunity to work with New Nigerian newspapers.
Which beats were you covering then for the New Nigerian newspapers in Abuja?
I was covering about four beats then – NNPC, Labour, Education and Health. After four years there was a new management in the New Nigerian newspapers. The new management said they want to reorganise the newspaper, and they said I should move to Kaduna in 2001 and at that time there was serious crisis in that city. At the time my wife just put to bed because I got married in 2000. So I said I cannot move to Kaduna and management’s position was that if I cannot move to Kaduna I should resign. I went to Prof. Jerry Gana, the then Minister of information and Communications, and told him what was happening. The minister called his Permanent Secretary, who said they can give me a job but not in my grade level. The Permanent Secretary said they can only give me Grade Level 6 because that is what the ministry can afford at the point in time. So, I took the offer on Grade Level 6 because my wife and my child are there without direction. It was Grade Level 6 that they gave me in Information and Communications ministry.
What grade level were you on in New Nigerian Newspapers?
I took grade level 9 in New Nigerian Newspapers even though I was expecting grade level 10. However, today I am on grade level 10.The discrepancies that happened made it difficult for me to adjust and plan my life very well, and I have one year to go. I was born February 23 , 1957. By February 2017 I will be 60 years old, and then I’ll retire from the civil service.
But I am going without a home neither here in Abuja nor in the village. Even the three bedroom bungalow I managed to build in the village has been eroded by flood. It is a three bedroom bungalow, but erosion has cleared it. It is very pathetic. After serving my country, I cannot remain in the FCT after retirement and I cannot go to my hometown because the house I managed to build has been washed away by flood. So I have to cry to the world for help.
What does your wife do for a living?
She is a full time house wife.
How many children do you have?
I have four children.
How old is your first child?
He is sixteen. He is now in SS III (Senior Secondary school III). He will be writing WAEC very soon but given the situation on ground I doubt if he will write because there is no money. Let me tell you, the money that was given to me two days ago has finished because I had to settle my landlord. A good Samaritan just gave me a two bedroom flat at One-Man Village, Maraba to live in with my family. He told me he cannot let me go into the cold that any time I have money I should pay up. So, with this and all other problems I have to contend with, I can tell you I am a walking corpse.
You are a walking corpse? Why did you say that?
If a man comes out to tell you he is a walking corpse, it means he has problems that is way beyond him; problems he cannot surmount. I say that because the problems I have today, if somebody will open me and see the deluge of problems, the person will run away. You see, I am supposed to have travelled to the village to see the extent of damage to my house there, but I have no money. I don’t have. My brothers will be calling come and see your damaged house. And I would say I am coming, just I am coming, that is what I have always told them.
Apart from your first son in SS3, where are your other children?
The second one is in SSI, the third one is SSII, and the last one is in Primary 2. That is how they are. They are in public schools; where will I get money to send them to private schools?
How is their school fee?
The only person that has the opportunity of going to a better school is the first born. He attends Baptist High School. Just two weeks ago, they called me to say they have increased their school fees from N42, 000 per term to N63, 000. I asked whether one can pay in installments. The man just laughed and said that cost of items is high. I said fine and good. So before he goes now I will look for money. At my age should I be begging? Is it because I am a disabled person that I should be begging? This is supposed to be the time I should enjoy some comfort. That is what I am saying. I hate begging with a passion. Go to Tanzania, disabled people do not beg – Tanzania, a smaller and poorer country than Nigeria. Go to Uganda, disabled people are kings. You do not see them on the street begging. They have things to do. The government takes good care of them. Here, we have policies that don’t work. Honestly, I recall one thing, If Mohammed Abubakar, the first Social Worker I met in life was alive, I will recommend that this person be given the responsibility to take care of disabled people, because the way he attended to me the first time I met him, it was as if he was my brother.
So how will you describe the plight of disabled people in Nigeria?
Apart from those that are fortunate. Fortunate in the sense that they get government employment and work in places like NNPC, and CBN, because I know there are about two that work with the CBN. There was one that came to me one day in a Peugeot 406; his own car. Why should I not have a car myself? There is no reason why I should not have a car myself because I have worked for over 30 years.
Do you have a bicycle?
This is my bicycle (pointing to his wooden walking stick). My wooden walking stick is my bicycle, my car and my aeroplane. So in a scenario like this I ask this question: where are the Dangotes of this world? Where are the Atikus of this world? Where are the Asiwajus?
Maybe it is because they think you do not have electoral value for them…?
I do not have electoral value for them? Are my children not going to vote? Are my brothers not going to vote? Even me, I go to the polling station to vote during election, and I also talk to people to vote for my candidate, and I am a good talker, a convincing talker for that matter. Due to what happened during the last election, today some people do not want to see me because I said Baba should come to rule this country. If you go to my office and mention Fred Manjack, they will say; “that Buhari man, leave him.” Some of them say I should be enjoying now, but when they see me inside the rain now, they say; “good, that is the change you wanted.”
So, do you regret campaigning for President Buhari?
No, I do not regret anything in my life. The only thing I regret is that government has no programme for people like me, and it is causing me a lot of heartbreak. Let me tell you something, about a month ago, I went to see the man they call Senior Special Assistant to the President on disability matters. I had a letter for the President but the man bluntly told me that the President cannot take the letter. The President cannot take a letter from a disabled person?
Why did he say that? Was the letter not typed?
It was typed and well arranged. I cannot be rough about something that is meant for the president. I am a communicator so I should know how to go about presenting letters. He said the president cannot take it and I do not know why. I met him in his office not that we met in a beer parlour for him to say it is not official. He told me that instead, I should go back and write three letters, one to the minister I am serving, second to the minister of my ministry, third to the minister of FCTA. I wrote all these letters till date none has been replied. The acknowledgment copies are there showing that the letters have been received but nobody has acted on them.
What was in the letter, and are you confident that if the letter had gotten to the president you would have gotten a reply?
This letter was written when I lost my house through a court process. We were living in one big house in one-man village. I owed half a year and was preparing to pay for the year that I was in, suddenly the landlord went to court that we should vacate his house. I was surprised, no notice, nothing, just vacate like that….
Were you a weekly tenant or a yearly tenant?
Yearly. He went and got a three-week notice from a kangaroo court. So I left the house.
On a final note, what do you want the government and indeed Nigerians to do for you and for people in your shoes?
I will appeal to the Nigerian government to come out with laws that are workable – workable in the sense that you do not bring out a law and then pay lip service to it. When I was coming here, I had checked- where was I going and if I get here how can I enter the house? If there were no lifts what would I have done? In other countries of the world it is not like that. That is one. Secondly, government should, when appointing people that will take charge of the affairs of the people with disability, look very well. How humane is this person? How good is this person? If these things are done and humane and good people are appointed to take charge of people with disabilities, we would not have any problem in the country.