By Lanre Olagunju Lagos
Sir: The community of persons with disabilities will forever be grateful to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 into law.
By this singular act, Nigeria has been strategically positioned into the global awareness of disability inclusion development.
The provisions of the Act, if adhered to, will go a long way in ensuring social justice, equality under the law and the inclusion of PWDs in the society.
The law prohibits discrimination in public facilities which includes, transportation facilities; it also mandates that all service providers must make adequate provision for the physically challenged, visually impaired, hearing impaired and those with learning and developmental disabilities, albinism. Etc.
The Act gives a five-year grace period within which public structures and automobiles must be modified to be accessible for all PWDs. Approvals shall not be given to building plans that do not pass the accessibility test.
Government officials who approve a building plan that contravenes what is stipulated in the law shall either pay a fine of N1,000,000 or face a jail term of two years or both.
The law also clearly states that a National Disability Commission will be established with an executive secretary as the head, to monitor compliance and more importantly, address complaints of harassment, discriminatory practices against persons with disabilities.
January 23, the nation marked the first anniversary of its signing into law. Yet, there are no signs that the commission will be established anytime soon.
The year 2020 appropriation bill says nothing about making financial provisions for the commission, which implies that the commission saddled with the responsibility of providing guidelines, policy directives to ministries, departments and agencies can’t cater for the needs of PWDs.
We must be reminded that it is not the inability to see, walk or hear that is disabling; rather it is the lack of accessibility to key amenities and structures that proves to be the greatest challenge of people with diverse forms of disabilities.
The stigmatization and discrimination PWDs are faced within our society is largely a social issue, and only a sustainable social model can birth an inclusive society.
The commission, when established might reduce the collective approach to solving this challenge; other government agencies might have to lazily wait or look up to the National Disability Commission to drive the implementation of the Nigerian Disability Act.
Why can’t the Act make it mandatory for all ministries to have a special department that caters for the rights and dignity of Persons with Disabilities in their ministries?
As a nation, we might be able to record far-reaching achievements than settling up a commission that might be redundant after a few months.
According to the United Nations, 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability which is more pronounced in developing nations.
Out of this global figure, Nigeria accounts for about 10% of the global figure of people with disabilities.
According to the National Population Commission of Nigeria (NPC), it is estimated that 27 million Nigerians are living with disabilities, making the community of Persons with Disabilities the largest minority group in our nation.
To adequately cater to this community, the challenge of discrimination and lack of access requires a collective effort from government, relevant civil society organisation and more importantly the media.
The media must constantly engage strategies to raise awareness and change attitudes towards the physically challenged.
The organised private sector also has an enormous task because disability issues are essentially human rights-based and they have ripple effects on social and economic development.
As a nation, we can combine effort towards achieving an inclusive society same as it was done to gender discrimination, children protection and the most recent, HIV/AIDS.
It will require that we mainstream disabilities into our policies, processes and programs, that way, we can keep disability inclusion issues at the front burner so as to record phenomenal improvements.
Persons with disabilities can also be productive if we equip them with the right skills. Ministries and agencies across should embark on building the capacity of PWDs, and also design, and implement interventions towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their initiatives.
Skills such as ICT and entrepreneurship will go a long way in enabling them to develop healthy self-esteem, and in addition, keep them aware of their rights. With this, they can contribute meaningfully to the GDP of the nation.