Education of Blind Persons in Nigeria – The Legacy of John Bush, MFR

In December 2005, John Bush, already 89 years old then, was conferred with Nigeria’s National Honour of Member of the Federal Republic, (MFR), for his work to improve the social and economic welfare of blind persons in Nigeria. The recognition and award was not a surprise to many Nigerians and British people who had known him for all he had done to bring succour to blind students and others who benefitted from his endeavours to ensure that visually impaired persons had access to education and could read their own books as published in Braille.

John was the only person who was surprised, pleasantly, obviously, with the National Honour conferred on him by Nigeria. He knew he had done a bit, but a national award, not even from the Queen of England but Nigeria, was something else. There was no doubt that he deserved the award. John could not come to Abuja to be personally decorated with the medal, but his long-standing friend, Danlami Basharu was there to receive the award on his behalf.

John Bush did not know the difference between black and white, and the way he spoke about Nigeria made people feel that he was a British-Nigerian man. Well, add Canadian to that, because he received his Canadian citizenship a few years ago, having relocated to Ottawa in 2009, with his wife, Sheila, to be close to their daughter Clarissa and they had many happy years together before Sheila’s death in 2015.

Sheila and John Bush

He wore Nigeria’s MFR ribbon tagged to his jacket to show the recognition he received for his love and duty to blind persons in Nigeria and he took photos of him with the award.

John Bush died on Thursday, April 29, 2021 in Ottawa, the Canadian Capital, aged 105. According to his daughter, Clarissa, he knew he was dying and was absolutely fine with it, having told several of his staff that this was the year he would go. ‘He just faded away very peacefully’, said Clarissa Bush.

For those who know the origin of Anglo-Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind and by extension, the ANWAB Centre for the Blind in Yaba, Lagos, the name John Bush is synonymous with the huge work it took to set up the organisation in the United Kingdom in 1994, with operations beginning in Nigeria in 1996.

The Association was founded in order to help alleviate the many obstacles facing blind persons in Nigeria.

ANWAB was first registered with the UK Charities Commissioners as a charity in December 1994 and later with the Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria, with one important objective being the provision of reading materials in Braille or audiotape and training in independent living for blind persons. The Association’s Centre commenced operations in October 1996 and through the transcription of textbooks into Braille, ANWAB has enabled many blind students to go to school, become gainfully employed and be able to move about independently.

John was the first Chairman of ANWAB UK and he spent his time and energy leading a team that helped to raise funds for the work in aid of blind persons in Nigeria, with the UK office operating out of 50 Peckarmans Wood, London and him working with other reliable volunteers like Rodney Little, Yemi Dada, Patricia and John Simpson who later took over as Chairman when John relocated to Canada.

John Bush was born in Norbury, London on 7th February 1916.

He was educated at Mill Hill School, where he excelled in Mathematics and sports, especially rugby, cricket and hockey. He was particularly outstanding in Mathematics and originally trained as an actuary, working for an insurance firm. On the outbreak of the 2nd World War, he was working for the Crown Life Insurance Company of Toronto, Canada and at the age of 23, he became manager of the English Branch, until he was called up for military service in 1940.

John Bush was with the Anti-Aircraft Regiment in England until 1944, when he was posted to India to join the invasion force to recapture Singapore Island from the Japanese and he also fought in Burma. He was promoted to the rank of Major before the war came to an end in 1945.

In 1947, after returning from WW II, he decided he would be a much better fit in publishing. He was recommended to and joined the firm of Victor Gollancz, where he worked for many decades, spending much of his time there as Managing Director and later, as Chairman after the founder, Victor’s death.  On retirement, John, in spite of his age was the driving force, running ANWAB UK as well as with several other charitable endeavours.

John Bush with his MFR Decoration

Apart from being instrumental in getting ANWAB off the ground in London, including registering it with the Charity Commissioners, as Chairman of ANWAB UK, he visited Nigeria several times to see how the work with the blind persons was going. His first visit was in March 1996, followed by others in October 1997, September 1998 and October 2000. His final visit to Nigeria was in November 2001.

Some of those visits lasted up to three weeks and apart from Lagos, he visited Abuja, Jos, Kano and Kaduna and he was at various schools and rehabilitation centres like Pacelli School for the Blind, in Surulere, Lagos, University of Jos, Gindiri Primary School for the Blind in Plateau State, Kano State Special School, and Mariri Rehabilitation Centre.

In spite of his age, he always sent us emails and tried to know how ANWAB was doing. When I became ANWAB Nigeria Chairman in 2007, I had to receive guidance from John and he was a man who took note of details and expected others to do the same.

We of the blind community in Nigeria commiserate with Clarissa and other family members and close friends. His was a life of love for people, particularly, the visually impaired. I know that members of Anglo-Nigeria Welfare Association for the Blind, ANWAB who knew him in the earlier times of the organisation will surely miss his zeal and the direct ways he made his points, while contributing to discussions and efforts to create better school and work environment for blind persons.

In ANWAB Lagos, people like Jean Obi, the first Chairman of ANWAB Nigeria, Danlami Basharu, the Director, Barbara Wey, the current Chair, and some of our staff like Cajetan Duru and Kola Adewale will remember John Bush as a determined man, who would go to any legal lengths to convince prospective donors and regulatory agencies to put in their bit to help raise the standard of living of blind persons in Nigeria.

Many blind students were able to go through school in Queens College and Kings College in Lagos, Federal Colleges of Education, (Special), Ijanikin, Lagos State and Oyo, Oyo State, the University of Lagos and other institutions, because of the efforts of John Bush, through his work in ANWAB, to ensure that their books and examination scripts were transcribed into Braille so that they can read the books on their own.

He will be sorely missed.

John Bush, MFR – 1916 to 2021. Rest in peace.

 

Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist, writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.

Ogie is the immediate past Chairman of ANWAB Nigeria.

 

One Comment on “Education of Blind Persons in Nigeria – The Legacy of John Bush, MFR”

  1. Oh dear what a beautiful life he led.May God rest his soul eternally.
    May I and everyone of us be remembered for good.
    Adieu Great one.

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