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Persons with disabilities bill and the burden of presidential assent

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David-Anyaele

The National Assembly on January 30, transmitted for presidential assent, the bill protecting the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Six weeks on, the bill is yet to be assented to, fuelling speculations that it might suffer a rejection for a second time. JOSEPH ONYEKWERE in this report highlights some features of the bill and the frustrations of the group.

BEFORE the President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the disability bill waiting for his assent. The bill shares some striking similarity with the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), except that the PIB is yet to leave the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly. 

    Besides that, both bills have arguably acquired the unenviable record of the longest and most protracted bills to emanate in the Nigerian parliament. 

    The bill is christened: “An Act to Ensure Full Integration of Persons with Disabilities into the Society and to Establish a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Vest it with the Responsibilities for their Education, Health Care and the Protection of their Social, Economic, Civil Rights.”

    It is instructive to note that the bill which contains vital provisions for the integration of Person with Disability (PWD’s) is getting to Mr. President for the second time. He had refused assent to the bill when it was passed and transmitted to him by the 6th Assembly.

    This current bill has been before the president since January 30, 2015. What would it take to assent to a bill? Does it take as much effort and time as in flying to Sokoto for a campaign rally from Abuja or attending United Nations Convention is US? I doubt it! But to observe that the presidency has kept mum over the bill despite the increasing campaign from these vulnerable members of the society is dumbfounding.  

    For purposes of elucidation, here are some of the striking provisions of the bill. Part one, provides for Prohibition of Discrimination and Harmful Treatment. Any offender in this section is liable to N1m for corporate organisations or N100, 000 for individuals and 6 months imprisonment or both.

    Part three talks about the accessibility of Physical Structures. It made it mandatory for public buildings, roads, walk-ways and others to be contructed in such a way that a PWD accesses them like every other person without a hinderance or difficulty. Offenders here are punishable with a fine or imprisonment or both.

    The bill also give the right of first refusal in queues and emergencies to PWD’s and condemn the act of using a person with disability for begging. Interestingly, the bill says PWD’s should be encouraged to participate in politics and public life.

    In addition, the proposed law provides for the establishement of a Commission. Section 33 (1) says: “There is established a body to be known as the National Commission for persons with disability (in this Bill referred to as “the Commission”) to be placed under the Presidency. It stipulates that there shall be a board which shall conduct the affairs of the Commission. 

According to section 40, the Commission shall have the following functions: “(a) to formulate and implement policies and guidelines as appropriate for the education and social development of persons with disability;  (b) to prepare schemes designed to promote social welfare of person with disability and the estimate of cost of implementing such schemes;  (c) to promote and uplift the general social well-being of persons with disability by encouraging the public to change their attitude toward person with disability;  (d) to make available not less than 5% of the work force to qualified persons with disability;  (e) to enlighten the public and encourage persons with disability; (f) to collect data and records on special education of persons with disabilities, which shall be a regular exercise so that the persons with disability are identified, and enumerated for planning and treatment;  (g) to ensure that all facilities in each community all over the federation shall be built or modified (where and when feasible) to accommodate the special need of persons with disabilities;  (h) to ensure the monitoring, evaluation and realisation of government policy objectives on persons with disabilities;  (i) to facilitate the procurement of scholarship awards for persons with disabilities up to university level;  (j) establishing and promoting inclusive schools, vocational and rehabilitation centres for the development of persons with disabilities;  (k) liaising with the public and private sectors as well as other bodies to ensure that the peculiar interests of person with disabilities are taken into consideration in every government policy, programme and activity;  (l) issue insignia of identification of persons with disabilities; (m) enforcement of compliance of public buildings codes and imposing necessary sanctions and make appropriate orders;  (n) receiving of complaints of persons with disabilities on the violation of their rights;  (o) support an individual’s right to seek redress in court, investigation, prosecution or sanctioning (in appropriate cases) the violation of the provision of this Bill;  (p) ensuring research development and education on disability issues and disable persons;  (q) to collaborate with the media to make information available in accessible format for person with disabilities; (r) procuring of assistive devices for all disability types.”

    One of the promoters of the bill, Mr. David Anyaele, the Executive Director of Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is saddened by the development. According to him, it is disheartening that up till date, the PWD’s are still begging President Goodluck Jonathan to sign Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill into law after the National Assembly transmitted the bill to him since January 30, 2015. 

    His words: “Recall that President Goodluck Jonathan told the 66 UN General Assembly on Wednesday September 21, 2011 in New York that ‘in order to demonstrate his government commitment to human rights, Nigeria recently ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’. This convention provides that parties to the treaty shall adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. 

    “It is worrisome to recall also that President Jonathan in 2011 denied assent to this same bill, which compelled us to start afresh from the National Assembly making the Nigerian disability bill to suffer the highest gestation period in the global history of disability legislation making.”

    He said that if signed into law by President Jonathan, the law will radically transform citizens living with disabilities in Nigeria. “I strongly believe that if President Jonathan could sign Anti HIV Discrimination Act that protects less than 4 million Nigerians living with HIV, he should also sign the disability bill that is designed to protect more than 19 million Nigerians living with disability with more than 80% of them living in the rural areas of the country. President Jonathan is a Christian.    The book of Proverbs 31 v 8 -9 states as follows: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ I call on President Jonathan to sign Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill into law”, he appealed. 

    For Daniel Onwe, director, Legal affairs at the Disability Policy Advocacy Initiative (DPAI), the core determinant of the voting pattern of the Nigerian disability community in this election will be the Nigerian Disability Right Bill which is currently awaiting the assent of the President. 

    In his opinion, every person with disability in Nigeria is sentimentally attached to this bill. “It is one thing that every person with disability anywhere in Nigeria can readily connect to. No doubt, this administration has comparatively done well in involving persons with disabilities in affairs of the nation. For instance, a person with disability sits on the board of SURE-P and National Council on MSME respectively. Also, six persons with disabilities were at the National Conference”, he noted.

    He however, asserted that nothing can compare to a law that would have a wholesale impact on the lives of persons with disabilities. His words: “This bill was passed, but not assented to, under the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. It has come before President Jonathan for the second time now. Persons with disabilities have employed various tactics to actualise the assent to this bill. They have lobbied, demonstrated and even litigated. 

    “It is worthy of note that other African countries are ways ahead in legislating for persons with disabilities.  Uganda for instance, has no fewer than six different legislations covering different aspects of lives of persons with disabilities. Kenya’s legislation for persons with disabilities was enacted as far back as 2003. Ghana passed the “Persons with Disabilities Act” in 2006.

    “It is imperative that Nigeria enacts a disability law not just because of her giant status in Africa, but also on the strength of the fact that she has not only signed unto, but has also ratified, the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Consequently, by virtue of Article 4 (1)(a) of that Convention, Nigeria undertook to adopt all legal and administrative measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the convention. 

 Thus, enactment of Nigerian Disability Rights Act will fulfil Nigeria’s undertaking under the said Convention.”

    Onwe added that although the President has promised to assent to the Nigerian Disability Rights Bill, reports from the disability community have it that persons with disability desire to have the bill assented to before the election date. He said that if the bill is assented to as promised by the President before the election date, it is most likely that persons with disability would vote for the President en masse, with the attendant sympathy votes of others. “On the other hand, should the disability bill remain un-assented to till the election, persons with disability may feel betrayed and may cast their votes the other way in protest, or even abstain from voting”, he declared. 

    Optimistically, the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, who sponsored the bill had earlier promised that President Jonathan would sign the bill into law.

    Speaking through his media aide, Michael Jegede, in Abuja, Abatemi-Usman, said Mr. Jonathan had shown much concern about the wellbeing of the disabled people and that he was optimistic that the president would have no option other than to give his assent to the bill, because of the benefits it would confer on the over 22 million Nigerians living with one form of disability or the other.

    He said: “Though, Mr. President fails to sign the bill after it was passed by the sixth National Assembly, I am confident that he would not hesitate to give his assent this time around.

    “It is clear that Mr. President is very much concerned about the welfare of the disabled persons as part of his transformation agenda. The only way he can further show his commitment towards addressing the plight of these people who are disabled by sheer providence or accident is to sign the disability bill into law.”

    The lawmaker who represents Kogi Central Senatorial District said it had become imperative for Nigeria as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on rights of persons with disabilities to have a legal framework/legislation in place that would prohibit discrimination against the disabled and ensure their full integration into the society.

    However, whether hopeful Abatemi-Usman and others like him would be proved right or not depends on President Jonathan in whose table lies the joy of the vulnerable.



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