‘People with disabilities are also people with extraordinary talent. Yet, they are too often forgotten. When people with disabilities are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty — and people living in conditions of poverty are more likely to develop disabilities. As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities that they deserve”
– Paul Wolfowitz, a former World Bank President.
According to the United Nations Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” From time immemorial, the PwDs form the bulk of Nigeria’s community of beggars. Perhaps, because many of them are the destitute – poor, feeble, dependent and never-do-well – they rely heavily on handouts from the rest of the society.
In recent years however, we now have many PwDs who are educated, enlightened, cosmopolitan and high net worth individuals. From the rank of these elite PwDs came the strident voice for change. There are now many Disability Persons Organisations. Some of these DPOs are managed by able-bodied persons while many others are run by the PwDs themselves. Examples of these are the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Cedar Seed Foundation, Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria, Centre for Disability Rights and Development, Voice of Disability Initiative, Deaf Resource Centre, Child Care Trust, National Association of the Blind, Hayat Foundation, Albino Foundation and the umbrella body, Joint National Associations of Persons with Disabilities.
Scholars are of the view that disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty due to limited access to education, employment, medical care, nutritious food, and accessible environment. Other causes of disability are trauma, genetics, disorder, malnutrition, environmental hazards, natural disasters, traffic and industrial accident, civil conflict and war. According to the World Bank and World Health Organisation report 2011, there are about one billion persons with disabilities in the world; 80 per cent living in developing countries. It is estimated that only five per cent of adults with disabilities are literate while more than 98 per cent of Children with Disabilities have no access to preparatory and elementary education. Depending on the context, living conditions and the definition of disability used in a given country, 15 to 20 per cent of the population has disability issues. In Nigeria, there are an estimated 25 million PwDs. Perhaps, due to the eight-year long acts of insurgency in the zone, the North-East hosts the highest proportion of persons with disabilities and the South-West the lowest proportion.
There have been numerous efforts on the part of the Nigerian government to ameliorate the sufferings of the PwDs. According to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Nigeria signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol on May 28, 2007 and October 27, 2008 respectively. The Convention seeks among other things: “To promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” On July 14, 2010, Nigeria signed the International Labour Organisation Convention on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of (Disabled) No. 159 of 1983. This Convention makes provision for employment of persons with disabilities without discrimination.
December 3, 2017 marks the silver jubilee of the observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The annual observance of the IDPD was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 47/3 in 1992. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness on the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. In the course of celebrating this 25th edition, I was privileged to attend two dialogue sessions by the DPOs in Abuja. The first was the media dialogue on Nigeria Disability Bill organised by the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities on December 5. The second was the National Dialogue on Disability Rights and Inclusive Development in Nigeria organised by Cedar Seed Foundation in partnership with JONAPWD, Centre for Democracy and Development and CCD last Monday, December 18. While the first event was primarily meant to educate journalists on the imperative and importance of the Nigeria Disability Bill, the second event has a rainbow coalition of participants from both the government and non-government sector.
At the second event were eminent personalities including the wife of the Governor of Kogi State, Amina Oyiza Yahaya Bello, whose Hayat Foundation is working with the state House of Assembly to pass the Disability Bill come 2018. There was also Dr. Cally Cussons who has transformed himself from a Very Ordinary Disabled Person to a Very Very Important Personality working as a consultant to multinational organisations like Shell, governments, International Development Agencies like UNIDO, MDAs, private companies, groups and individuals.
What does the Nigerian community of PwDs want? According to one of them, Lois Auta, who is also the Executive Director of Cedar Seed Foundation, “It is important to note that a majority of persons living with disabilities lack access to information, and largely unaware of their rights. The concomitant effect is that their rights are abused on a daily basis by the governments, private sector and other citizens, with no remedies. They also lack access to public infrastructure, public policies, employment, education, transport systems, ICT infrastructure, housing, health care delivery and the electoral system largely excluded the PwDs. Conversely, the Nigerian society continues to view disabilities issue from a social welfare perspective, merely confining PwDs to individuals seeking for just basic needs of life. But truth be told, we are tired of the charity model. We want the social model where we can enjoy our full rights as citizens through inclusive policy process. We are simply asking for all barriers hindering us from living a productive life to be removed. As individuals, we have all our stories of triumphs and defeats as PwDs. We are living witnesses to how social, economic and political barriers have impacts on our abilities to harness our potentials in life.”
It is saddening that while eight states including Lagos, Ekiti and Plateau have all passed the Disability bill, two Presidents have twice refused to assent the Nigerian Disability Bill as passed by the National Assembly while ongoing efforts since 2015 seem to have been stalled after the harmonisation committee of the National Assembly adopted the Senate version on December 6, 2016. The bill has been declared missing and should urgently be found and resent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent. That is the least expected of the All Progressives Congress government of change.