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Before the physically challenged boycott elections

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A report the other day that people living with disabilities have been so frustrated by official maltreatment that they had threatened to boycott the 2019 general elections is yet another pointer to lack of commitment to inclusive social policy in the country. It is quite unfortunate.

Despite the enactment of the 1993 disability law to ensure social justice and inclusivity of people with disabilities in various spheres of human endeavour in Nigeria, it appears that disability has not been an important issue on Nigeria’s developmental agenda. No doubt, that is the reason the Special Persons Association of Nigeria (SPAN) is now demanding for social justice, even on electoral issues in the country that is set to mark two decades of unbroken democracy in the country.

This is worrisome because persons living with disabilities make up a part of Nigerian’s population and for holistic development as no society will be fully developed if it is not able to include persons with disabilities. Therefore, in this 21st century, people with disabilities should be accepted as equal partners in development and included as full participants in all development activities. The lessons from the 2016 Olympics speak to this view.

During the  2016 Summer Olympics Nigeria left Rio de Janeiro with only a bronze medal won by the men’s football squad, scoring a 3–2 triumph over the Hondurans; while Paralympics Team Nigeria claimed 58 medals.  Drawing from this case, our national development will not be achieved without including the disability dimension (rights and needs) in every aspect of development agenda, because it is acknowledged that without drawing from the full potentials of all the human resources in a country, development will be impaired.

Although the term disability is complex and controversial, because it is a multi-dimensional concept with strong cultural influences, as such may be approached through a charity, medical or social model. The charity model is the oldest approach and views people with disabilities as the unfortunate or victims of circumstance, whom society must care for as a moral responsibility. In the same vein, the medical models of disability view it as a physical, mental, sensorial and psychological deficiency embodied in an individual that limits a person’s activities.

However, the social model represents a truly radical reconceptualisation of disability and says that society disables people with impairments by its failure to permit inclusive participation of people with disabilities. Disability thus arises from complex interactions between health conditions and the context in which they exist.
Thus, interventions are not only at the individual level but also at the societal level, which may account for why the Special Persons Association of Nigeria (SPAN) has now decided to stand up and demand fair treatment from the government; threatening that they would boycott the 2019 elections, if government failed to tackle their physical needs.

According to SPAN president, Princewill David, the government does not support them unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world. In his words, “We have supported thousands of Nigerians with no government support, which shows that we are highly neglected.” The SPAN arrowhead, further argues that Nigeria is not a safe place for disabled persons. “It is so glaring that in this part of the world, we beg for our rights and sometimes they still don’t come to us,” the physically challenged association head noted.

Obviously, the SPAN is displeased with government’s laxity over the affairs of persons with disabilities in Nigeria and is therefore demanding that the disability law of 1993, which states that government organs and authorities shall take into consideration, the special needs and requirements of the disabled persons, be respected.

That they physically challenged people have to protest for attention is shameful because Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted 13 December, 2006 by the UN General Assembly, which entered into force on May 3, 2008. Since it entered into force, the Convention has served as the major catalyst in the global movement from viewing persons with disabilities as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as full and equal members of society, with human rights.

The Convention protects the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities; and parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.

As of October 2018, it has 162 signatories and 177 parties (172 states) including Nigeria. This means that Nigeria has committed to ensuring and promoting the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. The implication is that the country has committed to take all necessary measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life, which accounts for the disability law of 1993.

The extant law recognises that persons with disability need special services, special institutions, for cure and/or rehabilitation or social assistance and permit inclusive participation of people with disabilities because they are different.

Notwithstanding, it does not seem that the Nigerian state has any master plan or strategy for addressing the barriers persons with disability face that limit their access to education, employment, housing, transportation, health care, rehabilitation and participation in activities such as politics. A major verifiable indicator is the lack of access or special facilities for them in many public places in the country. Therefore, SPAN may be correct to argue that economic and social exclusion is a reality for their members.

Addressing the inequalities between people with disabilities and people without disabilities in all strategic areas of development needs specific initiatives to enhance the empowerment of people with disabilities. Therefore, appropriate disability-specific strategies are needed to make mainstreaming operative because a physically challenged child who cannot access special toilet himself/herself and is paralyzed on a wheel chair cannot benefit from education even if the school is fully accessible, has well-trained teachers and a child-tailored, flexible curriculum. Also, a disabled adult who is illiterate, has low self-esteem, hardly any life experience and no access to essential assistive devices such as crutches, cannot take part in discussions organised by political parties.

Furthermore, if a document has been produced in braille, but the blind members of the disability community have never been introduced to braille, they cannot participate. So basically, mainstreaming cannot be effective unless at the same time, measures are taken to provide basic rehabilitation, prevention of impairments worsening, necessary assistive devices, aids and equipment.

So, for the dignity of human persons and social justice, equity and inclusivity, people with disabilities should enjoy equitable access to the benefits resulting from development activities. Besides, national development activities should promote non-discrimination and equal opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in every facet of life — civil, political, economic, social and cultural. People with disabilities should enjoy access to the built environment, transportation, information and communications infrastructure so that they may be full participants in all aspects of life and enjoy the full range of human rights.

Achieving social inclusion for people with disability requires a comprehensive policy. So, as a signatory to the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Nigerian state should walk the talk by mainstreaming disability into its policies as has been done with gender, because in 2006, Nigeria came up with a National Gender Policy, which has helped keep the issue of gender in the front burner, even though gender disparity is still a common place. Against the backdrop of this precedence, Nigeria should ‘confront’ disability and give it attention as is being done to gender discrimination, children protection, HIV/AIDS, and humanitarian crisis, by having a programme of action, based on the 1993 law to address disabled people’s concerns in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that disabled people benefit can have remarkable sense of belonging.

Furthermore, the Federal Government should mandate Ministries Departments and agencies (MDAs) to design, launch and implement interventions towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their initiatives. Similarly, the organised private sector should follow suit, because the issue of disability is not only a question of human rights but is also a matter of social and economic development.

Meanwhile, relevant civil society organisations have a major role to play in raising awareness and changing attitudes towards physically challenged people. They should embark on building capacity of disabled persons to enable them develop life-skills, self-esteem, and an understanding of their rights. This period of nation re-building is also the time political parties should rejig their manifestoes and programmes to include their agenda for the physically challenged people in the society.


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Princewill DavidSPAN
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