PAUL OKAH takes a look at the plethora of issues persons living with disabilities (PLWDs) contend with, amid calls for domestication and implementation of the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 23, 2019.
The International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed on October 14, 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 43/3, which fixed December 3 for the celebration of persons living with disabilities (PLWDs).
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 15 per cent of the world’s population live with different forms of disabilities, while two to four per cent experience significant difficulties in functioning.
This global estimate for disability is on the rise due to population, ageing and the rapid spread of chronic diseases, as well as improvements in the methodologies used to measure disability.
Also, from available statistics, about 25 million Nigerians are living with different forms of disabilities, but always face physical, social and attitudinal barriers that exclude them from mixing effectively with other members of the society.
It is a common sight to meet PLWDs begging on the street corners, traffic light stops, seeking aid to cross the road, hoping for alms under the scorching sun or torrential rain on pedestrian bridges or even being sexually abused by caregivers and strangers.
Apart from discrimination, issues of lack of access to customized toilet facilities, embarrassment by airline staff and others in public infrastructure, formed the front burner of discussions during the PLWDs Day celebrated in Nigeria on Tuesday, December 3, with the theme: “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: Taking action on the 2030 development agenda.”
Despite the signing into law of the Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 23, 2019, a lot of issues have continued to plague PLWDs, leading to demands for domestication and implementation of the law in different states across the country.
Ability in disability
Ibrahim Yusuf, who earns a living selling mobile phone accessories at the Gwarinpa Pedestrian Bridge, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend said that his decision to start up a petty business and resist the temptation to take up begging as a profession is to prove to people that there is ability in disability.
“People readily use their disability as an excuse to start begging. It is very demeaning, discouraging and irritating to see people, especially the blind and lame, living on alms, instead of what they can earn for themselves. There is no amount of money you receive through begging that will be enough for your needs or even better than you earned it yourself through offering services.
“Even with my business, I have low moments. There are times we are molested and hounded by AEPB and other task force for selling in this bridge, but I prefer to be involved in my own business than depend on others for survival.
“Though, sometimes I get indirect alms from passersby who sometimes deliberately overpay for products or take pity on me by not haggling much. Government should just look into our plight and do everything necessary to provide basic amenities for us,” he said.
Similarly, a lame man, who identified himself simply as Peter, devotes much of his time sweeping the pedestrian bridge at Nicon Junction in Maitama District and has a side business of selling candies, told our correspondent, “My brother, I can’t kill myself, despite the fact that I have seen a lot in my condition. I grew up to learn that I became incapacitated as a result of poliomyelitis.
“I was not born a cripple, but I have come to realise that I cannot continually blame God for my condition because he knows better. Since I found myself in this condition, I have to make effort to help mankind in my own way.
“What I do is to keep the bridge clean. I sweep the length of it every morning before people can start making use of it. Many appreciative ones drop some money for me, but I don’t make it a rule to beg for alms.
“When I am through with sweeping the bridge, I display my candies for interested passersby and earn my living from there.”
Also speaking with Blueprint Weekend, Nathaniel Nnamdi, who sells sunglasses at Banex Plaza in Wuse II, said he hails from Anambra state, revealing that his disabled condition is a result of fatal accident that led to having his right leg amputated.
He said: “Under the sun or rain, I am always here for business. It pays to have your own business, since government is not doing anything for us. I studied up to the secondary school level and was doing very well in business until I had this accident that led to my condition.
“My family spent a lot to make sure that I am alive so I cannot ask God why because he knows best. Nevertheless, I will be grateful if I can get a wheel chair or anything that would aid my movement.
“I have to hobble to and fro at times in my crutches to move about and it is not particularly an experience to remember daily. Many times, I become down in spirit, but God has been faithful to me.
“Government should just help us to make sure that employment opportunities are available for people in our conditions. We didn’t bargain to be disabled and should not be treated as undesirables.”
Frustration of invisibly disability
In an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, a deaf man, Mr Thomas Uba, lamented that being invisibly disabled could sometimes be frustrating, because he looks the same, sounds the same, but his communication needs were different from others.
He said, “People naturally gravitate away due to not knowing how to communicate with me and this led to the initial unintentional shrinking of my social group. Initially, I fought so hard against being deaf; I did not want to be deaf.
“It was a whole new world for me and unfortunately there was very little support I received. This led to my shying away from social events as most people found communicating with me very annoying and stressful.
“It was so hard to communicate in a large group within a noisy setting and I became depressed and lonely because I did not want to be a burden to anyone. But after about five months of becoming deaf, it became apparent that my wife and my children needed a proper way to communicate and we all went to learn sign language interpretation.’’
Access to sanitary facilities
During a roundtable meeting on mainstreaming disability in Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) organised by Toilet Pride, an Abuja-based NGO, Chairman Nigeria Association of the Blind, Mr Obinna Ekujereonye, called on the federal government and other relevant stakeholders to provide effective accessible toilet facilities for disabled persons in the country in order to effectively improve their lives of people.
“We don’t have any support. We cannot access the types of toilet we are using both in public and private places.
“We need the types of toilet that even those on wheel chairs and other persons with disability can easily have access to, so we are calling on government and other relevant stakeholders to provide such facilities in the country,’’ he said.
Also speaking, the Team Leader, Toilet Pride, Mr Chukwuma Nnanna, said that the aim of the meeting was to create awareness and the need to include persons with disability particularly on WASH programmes and that the organisation was using the medium to commemorate World Toilet Day, which is also celebrated every December 3.
“We are trying to create a platform where we can work effectively on sanitation and to see how we can make WASH facilities more inclusive for persons with disabilities in Nigeria.
“My NGO and other relevant organisations are committed in ensuring that persons with disabilities are protected and that their needs are provided at all times,’’ he said.
Similarly, on December 3, 2019, Medical Director, National Orthopaedic Hospital, Dala (NOHD) Kano, Dr Mohammed Salihu, called on NGOs, development partners and well-meaning Nigerians to support the rehabilitation of spinal cord patients in the country, revealing that the rehabilitation of people living with disabilities, especially of spinal cord patients, was becoming a challenge for the hospital to manage alone.
He said managing spinal cord patients required a lot of resources; hence the need to support the patients and provide capacity building for the personnel that would be working in the centre, adding that PLWDs found themselves in that situation without planning for it, so they deserve support from Nigerians.
Salihu said some NGOs have been supporting the hospital in the rehabilitation of amputees and commended the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for supporting the rehabilitation of amputees in the hospital, but appealed to the organisation to also support spinal cord injury patients.
“The statistics of spinal cord injury, as a result of accidents, is alarming; we received 4,000 individuals this year. The thing with spinal cord injury cases is that, if they don’t present them to hospital early enough, the injury becomes permanent and irreversible and it can lead to permanent disability.
“So, this group of people needs a lot of support and rehabilitation. They have found themselves in that level by accident and it can happen to anyone. Therefore, we need to rally round all our disabled and give them maximum support, for them to be part of the society.”
Enforcement as panacea
Also, on December 3, 2019, the President Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN), Mr Daniel Onwe, called for full proper enforcement of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.
In a statement jointly signed by its president and secretary, Messrs Daniel Onwe and Gaius Ogah, respectively, ALDIN reiterated its call for enforcement of the recent disability legislation to improve the lives of PLWDs, stating that court actions were not necessary in ensuring compliance with provisions of the law.
He said: “Persons with disabilities have, in diverse forms, been deprived of rights fundamental to the existence of every human, and have been characterised by poverty, low self esteem and low life expectancy, in spite of their enormous potential.
“Legislation has become the most veritable instrument for correcting the disadvantaged stead of persons with disabilities and equalising their opportunities.
“Other countries of the world have, through the relevant pieces of legislation, bettered the lives of persons with disabilities and, by so doing, made their societies better places for everyone.
“It is expected that the President takes the necessary steps toward enforcement of the Act, such as the immediate constitution of a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD). This commission will spearhead the implementation of the Act.
“Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government have the immediate duty of reserving five per cent of their labour force for qualified persons with disabilities in line with the Act. The Act has come to stay and should be implemented to the letter for the good of Nigerians.
“It is the reasonable expectation, therefore, that Nigerians would willingly comply with the provisions of this Act, considering the good things it holds for everyone.”
Teacher canvasses support
On December 3, 2019, at an event held at the Comprehensive Special School in Lafia, Nasarawa state, the School Head, Mrs Baerbel Jaja, said that the physically challenged had potentials to do great things when properly guided.
She, however, noted that the education and empowerment of pupils with disabilities was expensive, hence the need for support from all stakeholders, saying that the vision for the establishment of the special school was to create a model school for the persons with disabilities.
She said the school currently needed intervention funds to the tune of N100 million to provide basic facilities, instructional materials and assisting technologies and vocational skills training centre.
Jaja said that the school enrolled 468 persons within the three sections of the school namely: multiple disorder, visual impairment and hearing impairment.
She added that the school had a teacher to four pupil ratio in view of the special needs and appealed for the support of the vulnerable people living with disabilities.
…Blind lecturer too
At an event to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities organised by the House of Representatives, a lecturer from the Department of Special Education, Bayero University, Kano, Prof. Jibrin Diso, who is visually impaired, said there still existed a “huge deficit inclusion” in the country and called for implementation of laws that favour PLWDs.
“In spite of the several legislations seeking to confer protection and inclusion for persons with special needs at national and sub-national levels, we have remained grossly underserved and too often discriminated against.
“A cursory gaze at our education system, which is the cornerstone of transforming the individual citizen into a veritable human capital, the needs of persons with special needs are seldom considered. The few, like me, who manage to scale through, do so at their own peril,” he said.
Senate tasks FG on Act
On December 4, 2019, the Senate urged the federal government to fully implement the provisions of the Discriminaton Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.
The upper chamber also urged the Ministry of Works and Housing and other government agencies involved in infrastructure and public buildings to adopt codes and standards that were user friendly to PLWDs.
The call followed the presentation of a motion sponsored by Senator Istifanus Gyang (PDP-Plateau North) during plenary, entitled “International Day of Persons With Disabilities and the State of Persons With Disabilities in Nigeria”.
Moving the motion, Gyang said that observance of the day for PLWDs seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration and mainstreaming of disabilities in every aspect of human endeavour.
He said: “While Nigeria ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and its Optional Protocol in 2010, it was only on Jan. 23, 2019, that President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018. This followed nine years of relentless advocacy by disability rights groups and activists.”
The lawmaker further said that with the law in place, PLWDs were still challenged by accessibility and participation in Nigeria, saying the day serves as an opportunity for the nation to applaud the contribution of PLWDs in nation building in all sectors, especially in the para-Olympic sports.
After a voice vote by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, the resolutions were unanimously adopted by the senators.
FG to establish commission
Encouragingly, on December 3, 2019, the federal government said it is set to establish a National Commission for PLWDs to enhance inclusiveness and enable them contribute their quota to national development.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, stated this in Abuja in a keynote address at an event to celebrate International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPWDs).
Farouq said that disability had been identified as both a right and development, pushing it to the front burner of national development, even as she thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for assenting to the Act after 18 years of long struggle.
“The Act provides for the full integration of PWDs into the society. It aims at establishing a National Commission for PWDs that will be vested with the responsibilities for the education, health, social, economic and civil rights of PWDs. My priority will be to ensure that the Commission for PLWDs is established in the country,” she said.
Earlier, the minister inaugurated a 12-man Nigeria People’s Disability Parliament to mark the International Day of PLWDs in Abuja.
“Part of the celebration is the inauguration of the Nigeria People’s Parliament for persons with disability. This will enhance their visibility in the scheme of affairs in the country and a voice to air their thoughts. I believe this will be the beginning of good things to come to persons living with disabilities in Nigeria,” she said.
The members of the parliament include Rasak Adekoya (Speaker), Rebecca Kwayama, Umar Cayyanu, Janet Mohammed, Aver Akighir and Sunday Ajiya, Peter Terver, Toryem Sedoo, Vivian Onyadufu, Ekeleme Ugochukwu, Mrs Amaka Peterside and Mrs Ifeoma Ohue.
The parliament had their first sitting where issues relating to inclusiveness and the need to be given a chance to contribute to national development were deliberated.