Last week Thursday, December 3, 2009 was marked worldwide as International Day for People Living with Disabilities. Over one hundred countries met and ratified the United Nations (UN) convention on persons living with disabilities in 2007. As one of the signatories, Nigeria in that year adopted the convention, although it has not been domesticated yet.
A bill on the rights of persons living with disabilities has been passed by the House of Representatives. A similar bill has also been passed in the Senate.
In Nigeria, this year's day for persons living with disabilities was marked with a presentation of supportive items to a group of person living with disabilities by the Minister of Women Affairs and Social development, Hajiya Salamatu Sulaiman. Beyond this occasional presentation however, government at all levels in Nigeria does not seen to be proactive in matters that concern persons living with disabilities. If some of those categorized today as physically challenged had some reasonable access to proper medical care, perhaps, they could have survived the disease conditions that led to their becoming blind, deaf, dumb, lame or leprous.
Government should go beyond the annual ritual of distributing wheel chairs and other supportive devices to people living with disabilities as part of activities to celebrate the international day. There is need for government to domesticate, without delay, the provisions of the U.N. convention on disabled persons. Given the condition in Nigeria, persons living with disabilities are, more or less, on their own.
For instance, the interests of this special group of individuals are not properly catered for in our public buildings such as offices, schools, markets and hospitals. Most storey buildings in Nigeria today do not have alternative staircases in order to ease movement of persons living with disabilities. Where provision is made at all, hardly could you find a wheel chair for the public use of persons living with disabilities. Similarly, most public buildings do not have provision for separate toilet facilities for disabled persons.
Car parks are cited at long distances from buildings and as usual, without enabling facilities including wheel chairs, porters or guides being provided to ease the movement of persons with disabilities. While government at the federal level in Nigeria declared that thirty percent of all political appointments at that level would be reserved for women to fulfill gender obligations, no mention of any commitment has been made even in terms of employment opportunities to persons living with disabilities at any level of the three tiers of government.
It is important for government to create a friendly environment for persons living with disabilities who, for certain, did not become disabled out of their own choice. Government will do better if, in domesticating the U.N. convention, it provides free education and free medical care for this disadvantaged category of citizens. Free education and free Medicare can reduce the menace of street begging, especially in parts of the country where the social peril is endemic. Many of them go to beg for alms on the streets in order to get money not only for survival but also to meet with the cost of these essential services.
In the same way, government could exempt persons living with disabilities from any application or other fees payable by political aspirants for those from among them who decide to contest in elections. Disabled persons can also be economically empowered through government's entrepreneurial programmes that are specifically designed for them. Unless this group of marginalized Nigerians is adequately and mutually carried along, the success of the 7-poit agenda and Vision 20:2020 of the present administration may be hampered.
We call on both chambers of the National Assembly to harmonize their bills on persons living with disabilities so that with Presidential assent it becomes law without further delay. Government should as a matter of priority improve upon the healthcare delivery system in the country in order to forestall people with some "simple" cases from degenerating to disability; provide wheel chairs and similar facilities at bus stops, markets, hospitals and schools, and subsidize such facilities and devices that would make life worth living for persons with disabilities.