As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the 2017 International Day of Persons Living with Disabilities, stakeholders have called on Nigerians and the government to fight discrimination against such people. Martins Ifijeh writes
On Saturday March 21st 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, the then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) pledged during a Town Hall Meeting in Lafia, Nasarawa State, to end discrimination and stigmatisation against physically challenged Nigerians if elected into office.
He said at the time, that with over 20 million Nigerians living with disability, there was no way he would abandon their welfare and interest if elected as President, adding that every obligation expected of a legitimate social contract in the Bill on Persons with Disabilities will be squarely tackled so that they will have a sense of belonging in his government and the society in general.
But fast forward to December 2017. President Buhari has served for two years plus, yet he has not fulfilled that cardinal campaign promise of signing the Bill of Persons with Disabilities passed for the third time by the Nigerian Senate in June 2016.
In fact, Nigerians living with disabilities have continued to lose their sense of belonging in the society, as growing stigmatisation and discrimination persist, living them at the mercy of what the society and government think of them.
Lending its voice to Nigerian Government's inability to provide an all inclusive government with persons living with disabilities fully integrated in the country, the Centre for Communication Programmes Nigeria (CCPN),called on President Buhari to as a matter of priority, sign the Disability Bill into law, an action he already promised he will do even before elected as President.
While marking the International Day of Disabled Persons in Abuja December 3, the Executive Director, CCPN, Mrs. Babafunke Fagbemi, said the PLWD in Nigeria have continued to face discrimination and are being excluded from enjoying social amenities.
Fagbemi noted that the bill which has now been passed three times but was not signed by the previous Presidents would have gone a long way in ameliorating the suffering of over 20 million people living with disabilities in Nigeria.
"This is a bill that would make life easy for millions of Nigerians; they also have inalienable rights with economic, social, educational and psychological needs to be met. One of the major challenges of the PLWD in Nigeria today is discrimination, many establishments do not want to employ them and they are treated as second class in the society.
"If the bill, as passed by the Senate is signed into law, it will offer social protection for PLWD against any form of discrimination. It will also establish a Commission that will ensure compliance with the provisions of the law for the benefits of the PLWD. Already, Section 15 (Political Objective) Section 16 (Economic Objective), Section 17 and 33 (Social and Right to Life) under the Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) has mandated these rights for every Nigerian.
"People can have physical disability in many different ways and it can affect anyone irrespective of social class or wealth. There are many people who have become physically challenged due to road accidents, polio or some other incidents beyond their control.
And of course there were those who were born with the condition. We must have human value and ensure we do our best to make life worth living for them," Fagbemi said.
She insisted that the bill through its various provisions including Prohibition of Discrimination and Harmful Treatment of PLWD, mandatory accessibility to physical structures in public buildings, roads, walk-ways will increase Nigerian's relevance in the international community when signed into law.
The International Day of Disabled Persons has been observed annually since 1992; it aims to promote the rights and well-being of the PLWD in all spheres of the society and seeks to increase awareness of the situation of the PLWD.
The theme for 2017: 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all' is built on the pillar of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda which pledges to "leave no one behind."
Fagbemi said: "We call on the government to fulfill Nigeria's obligation both to the citizens with disabilities and the international community by signing this bill into law. By doing this, everybody wins and over 20 million Nigerians are the better for it."
Disabilities, according to experts refer to the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, emotional, developmental, or a combination of these.
Experts say a certain disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person's lifetime. Disability is an umbrella term covering impairments, participation restriction, and activity limitations.
This implies that disability is a complex problem, reflecting an interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives or belongs.
It is in lending its voice to the growing neglect that a non-governmental organisation, Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC), called on religious leaders and other stakeholders to help end discrimination against persons affected by preaching and practicing disability inclusion.
The Executive Director of the organisation, Irene Patrick-Ogbogu, made the call at a sensitisation programme for religious leaders in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on the challenges that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.
According to her, most stigma and misconception about disabilities have some religious roots, and therefore urged religious leaders to disabuse the notion that disability is a punishment from God.
Irene said persons with disabilities were denied active participation in religious activities and showcasing of spiritual gifting because of their disabilities. "We decided that we target the religious leaders because most stigma and misconception about disabilities have some religious roots.
"This sensitisation programme is to interact and draw the attention of our religious leaders to the issues of stigma and violence against women and girls with disabilities and to forge partnership with them on how to address these issues from religious perspectives," she said.
The State Coordinator, Deeper Life Campus Fellowship, FCT, Timothy Olusola Aiyedun, said the programme was an eye opener which will reflect in the sermon of the preachers and change the perception of the church members towards people with disabilities.
Ahmed Abdulsalami, the representative of the Islamic Youth League, condemned discrimination against people with disabilities and called for their inclusion in religious activities. The programme is part of activities by Disability Rights Advocacy Centre to stop violence against women and girls with disabilities.
The President of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Miroslav Lajcak, while giving a speech to mark the 2017 International Day of Persons Living with Disabilities, said no nation should leave its citizens behind (including PLWD) as they strive to meet global targets. Adding that excluding them means violation of their rights.
He said the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations call for a people-centred approach to sustainable development. "In this spirit, I have put a focus on people at the core of my Presidency. If I look around this room it may appear that persons with disabilities are included and well represented.But outside these halls, the reality is quite different. Persons with disabilities are often disproportionately affected by poverty. They face discrimination and exclusion. Every day they face challenges that affect their lives; that hamper their ability to contribute equally to the life of our societies. This is not only a violation of their rights, it's a loss for our society and its diversity.
"This is why specific references in the targets of the 2030 Agenda and other development frameworks are so important. We need to make the empowerment of persons with disabilities a priority at both the global and national levels.
"Persons with disabilities must be included and participate in the crafting of development plans and policies. We must reflect their concerns and situations from start to finish, ensuring that they are both accessible and enabling," he added.