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World Disability Day and Disability Issues

Disability affects more than one billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population, 80% of whom reside in developing countries like Nigeria, according to the United Nations.

Over 27 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, reportedly live with various forms of disability.

Stigma, prejudice, violence, and a lack of access to health care and education are just some of the obstacles that many of these persons face.

Every year, on the occasion of World Disability Day, governments, legislators, and the general public are reminded of the importance of raising public awareness of the rights of people with disabilities.

Equally crucial is the need to promote and uphold such rights and perspectives, particularly in order to achieve full and equal involvement in all aspects of social development.

On January 25, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, which had been fought for by the PWD Community for many years.

Consequently, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities was founded to ensure that PWD’s enjoy all of the same rights and privileges as other citizens. Discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited under the enabling law, and violators are subject to penalties. In addition, there is a 5-year transitional time for making public buildings, structures, and transportation accessible and useable for individuals with disabilities.

There was no statute in Nigeria that adequately protected the rights of PWDs prior to the president’s signature on the so-called National Disabilities Bill.

Thus, for a period of 20 years, successive governments endeavoured but failed to alter the narrative.

While the National Assembly and the Presidency have been commended for finally breaking a decades-long jinx, the likes of Ibrahim Daniel, the leader of the PWD community in Kogi State, believes that this marginalized group of Nigerians should also be considered for leadership positions.

“We, the PWD community, have taken a step beyond where we were before now,” he said. However, as we all know, change is a slow process. We are also looking at the possibility of persons with disabilities being appointed into political offices. There is not a single person with a disability in the National Assembly today, which constitutes discrimination on our part.”

According to him, the fact that PWDs lack some physical characteristics such as eyes, ears, and legs “does not mean their brains are not working.”

PWDs have repeatedly cited the many obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals.

Employment opportunities are among the many dreams that are often dashed.

Public facilities are not accessible to people with disabilities in the first place. With regard to the National Disabilities Act (NDA), how likely is it that in the next 2 or 3 years most of these public buildings will have been adapted to meet the NDA’s specifications?

President Buhari may have paved the way by establishing Nigeria’s first disability commission, but PWDs in the country fear that the commission would be perceived as a place of ‘confinement.

As Mr Daniel of Kogi State puts it, “it is agreed that PWDs may bring [their] issues to the commission, but it is discriminatory not to allow them to work in other government establishments in the same way that their able-bodied counterparts work in our Commission.”

Under-representation

Lious Auta, the chairperson of the Network for Disabled Women, argues that women with disabilities were more likely to face discrimination.

According to her, women and girls with disabilities have been under-represented and excluded.

“When a deaf girl is raped how can she share her story and when a woman like me on a wheelchair is raped how do I run?”

As for Ubong Udoh, who is visually impaired, people with disabilities have progressed past the era of charity and should be valued for their abilities.

“In some countries, if you want to cross the street, you simply lift your white cane and drivers will immediately stop to allow you to pass… That is what we wish to see here. There are others who believe that because we are blind, our education must be inferior to that of others. In reality, we are well beyond needing a job based on charity.

James Lalu is one of the most influential figures in the PWD community. He is the  Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

According to Mr Lalu, who has a speech impairment, the commission since its formation has worked efficiently with MDA’s to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy “every advantage and right like other citizens”.

He applauds some tertiary Institutions for beginning the process of making their facilities more accessible to those with disabilities.

According to him, “Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, and the University of Ilorin, engineers have started working to create their [institutions] accessible to those with disability.”

Mr Lalu also believes that the Commission can make education more appealing to those with disabilities, describing it as their “portal to employment.”

“Section 18 of the Act provides free education to members of the disability community throughout primary and secondary schools. We are currently collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Education to ensure that this is properly implemented. “In addition, the Commission will begin large Scholarships programs in Tertiary institutions for persons with disabilities next year to support them because they are suffering,” said the Disabilities Commission’s boss.

Additionally, he announced that the commission recently “developed some prototype curriculum for an introduction into the disability and inclusive development, which is expected to take off in Nigerian universities as general studies knowledge for all students, regardless of the field of study, in order to enable them to understand the perspectives of persons with disabilities.”

Only recently, the UN reiterated a clarion call, urging countries worldwide to learn from the experiences of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and advocate for more meaningful investments in the socioeconomic building blocks that will help them overcome barriers on a daily basis, everywhere.

This, in essence, is a narrative that served as the foundation for this year’s topic, ‘Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era.’

Writing by Hadiza Abdulrahman; Editing by Tony Okerafor and Saadatu Albashir