Original Research

‘We only got Coca-Cola’: Disability and the paradox of (dis)empowerment in Southeast Nigeria

Okechukwu V. Nwokorie, Patrick J. Devlieger
African Journal of Disability | Vol 8 | a444 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v8i0.444 | © 2019 Okechukwu V. Nwokorie, Patrick J. Devlieger | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 October 2017 | Published: 25 April 2019

About the author(s)

Okechukwu V. Nwokorie, Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre (IMMRC), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Patrick J. Devlieger, Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre (IMMRC), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium


Background: Empowerment is the generic name for support services for persons with disability in Nigeria. In it, the elites of the society play leading roles. Special events such as anniversaries, Christmas seasons, wealthy people’s birthdays, investiture of new titles and campaigns before general elections often provide occasions for empowerment programmes.

Objectives: This article explores discourses of empowerment of persons with disability in Southeast Nigeria. We concentrate on the relation between local elites and the disability community and how it impacts our understanding of empowerment. Conceptualising empowerment as worldmaking, and disability as something that is ambiguous, we challenge the assumption that the aim of empowerment of disabled people is to improve their (disabled people’s) quality of life.

Method: This article relies on research data (collected between January 2014 and January 2017) comprising 72 interviews and participant observations from 27 persons with disability, and 13 social workers and senior government officials.

Results: We conclude that discourses of empowerment of disabled people frame disability as loss and tend to conceal the personal stories and survival operations of disabled people.

Conclusion: Empowerment discourses ironically provide the platform for local power elites to ‘ride’ to fame on the backs of disabled to extend their influence in society. In the current neoliberal environment of unequal access to opportunities, disabled people must ‘play along’ as a survival strategy. Our qualitative data provide opportunities to reflect on the tensions between the ‘local and the global’, thus indicating how disability issues intersect with other wider questions.


mobility disability; empowerment paradox; survival strategy; empowerment discourse; culture; empowerment; Igbo culture; local and global; power elites


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