24th May, 2012
The harshness and disdain with which we treat people living with disabilities in Nigeria is condemnable and must stop. The absence of a law to protect our physically challenged compatriots even makes their case worse. Out of 36 states in the country, only Lagos State has enacted the Special People’s Law.
The law aims at safeguarding persons with disabilities against all forms of discrimination. It also ensures that people with disabilities such as the blind or the deaf are fully integrated into the society.
Many states have treated the issue with levity and even in Lagos State where Governor Babatunde Fashola signed the Special People’s Bill into law in 2011, the Office of Disability Affairs , ODA, which is meant to oversee the implementation of the law, is yet to be established.
According to statistics, over 20 million Nigerians are Persons With Disabilities, PWD.
The United Nations as well as international and local civil society organisations assert that people with disabilities are mainly stuck in squalor and face inequalities in access to education, healthcare, employment and social and community participation.
In Nigeria, more than 80 percent of people with disabilities live in low and middle income parts of the society. Among them are street youths and children who do not attend school but are used for alms begging.
Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse such as physical violence and rape.
It is disheartening that even basic sections of the Lagos State Special People’s Law are yet to be implemented. For instance, section 18(2) of the law says that at least one out of every ten seats in all commuter vehicles shall always be reserved for persons with disabilities. This is not implemented even in the government’s rapid transit buses known as BRT.
Section 20(1) says that a portion of every parking lot shall be marked and reserved for persons with disabilities. This also is not implemented in Lagos State.
Section 29(5) says that all employers of labour having staff strength of 100 persons and above shall have at least one percent of such staff consisting of qualified and competent persons with disability.
Section 22(2) says that it is an offence punishable with imprisonment to use any person with disability in begging for alms. This portion is yet to be implemented.
Virtually all the sections of that law are yet to be fully implemented and Lagos residents and public servants remain ignorant of the rights of persons with disabilities including section 24(6) which says that Town Planning Authority shall not approve public building plans that do not provide for facilities for access of persons with disability.
We agree with Mrs. Adedoyin Beyioku-Alase also known as Mama Deaf and President Deaf Women Association of Nigeria, that disability can happen to anyone, and that social exclusion, discrimination and injustice must be condemned by everyone.
We call on various legislative arms of government across Nigeria to enact and implement the Special People’s Law. It is the right and moral thing to do.
By enacting and implementing that law, Nigeria will be adjudged as practically showing concern for millions of people living with various disabilities in the country.
As Cassandra Whyte, Miss Deaf International who arrived Nigeria on Monday said, “many people see us as useless people. But we are great people, either here in Nigeria or all over the world.”
Let us help persons with disabilities achieve their potential and become the great people that they are.