Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: Enabling the Disabled

editorial

Monday, December 03, 2012 was marked across the world as the day for persons living with disabilities. In Nigeria, it went without a mention by the government. Within the contemporary Nigerian society, there is little appreciation that disability is fundamentally an issue inexorably linked to and rooted in human rights. The common perception, held by policy-makers and the public at large, is that disabled people and disability issues are viewed in terms of charity and welfare. This is not so, and it is, to a large extent, responsible for the social exclusion of disabled people within the country.

In Nigeria, World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates put the number of people with disability at 19 million of the country's population. This figure is too large to be excluded from the policy framework of the country. The exclusion of this group, many of whom have brought honour and laurels to the country, especially in sports and the academia, manifest, primarily, because there is no legislation protecting people with disability against discrimination.

Two bills in the National Assembly sponsored by Hon Abike Dabiri and Senator Bode Olajumoke could not be promulgated into law in the sixth National Assembly. Secondly, there is no form of social protection for disabled people in Nigeria which exacerbates the level of poverty that they encounter. Also, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the lead government department for disability issues in Nigeria only treats disability issues on a charity/welfare approach. It, therefore, needs no gainsaying that for the vast majority of disabled people living in Nigeria, particularly those living in rural areas, there is no access to disability services even in enlightened communities like schools, religious centre and hospitals. We consider their neglect as an act of man's inhumanity to man.

The country needs to overhaul its transportation system in order to give disabled persons access to the service. For instance, there are no standard bus stops where disabled people could commute and the 'molue'-type system does not stop for to enable the disabled persons board and disembark. Disabled persons in Nigeria are denied job opportunities even when they are most qualified, accentuating their preponderance in the employment market. Some people ignorantly believe that the disabled need not work because of the trouble they will go through.

This is not so. There is ability in disability as they have proved over and over again. In terms of the architectural designs and construction of public housing estates and other community houses, they are inaccessible to the disabled people. It is a horror for the disabled people to use many public buildings such as schools, libraries and state offices. High rise buildings belonging to the government are built without lifts and ramps which can facilitate the movement of the disabled using these facilities. What make things worse are the negative attitudes of the general public towards disabled persons who treat them as mendicants and of no economic value.

We consider these misnomers and call on all agents of government to re-focus attention and priorities by giving life to persons living with disabilities. They are neither social misfits nor objects of pity. Rather these are our co-travellers on the planet earth. It has been empirically proven that persons with one disability or the other are naturally compensated with other gifts such as crafts, knowledge, wisdom and higher milk of human compassion. It would not be out of place to mainstream them and see them perform as public office holders or elected officials so that they can be better advocates of their plight. In fact, efforts at alleviating the suffering of these people are misdirected and people feel and argue that the disabled should not work, but be confined to institutions to be fed, clothed and catered for. Notwithstanding the good intention, it is still discrimination and which the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), frowns at.

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