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Beyond establishing disability commission

By Editorial Board
27 December 2019   |   4:28 am
Is establishment of a national disability commission necessary an end or a means to an end as far as commitment to the welfare and security of the physically challenged people in Nigeria? Answer to this question is necessary to deepen understanding ...

Joint National Association of Persons Living with Disabilities (JONAPWD), Ekiti State chapter, has appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Disability Bill into law.

Is establishment of a national disability commission necessary an end or a means to an end as far as commitment to the welfare and security of the physically challenged people in Nigeria? Answer to this question is necessary to deepen understanding about what the physically challenged need to be proud as citizens of Africa’s most populous country. 

Often in our clime, persons living with disabilities (PLWDs) are looked at with disdain and disgust, which also affects our reasoning and dealings with them in the public space. This may not be unconnected with the culture that looks down on vulnerable people. 

Thus, over the years, collectively as a nation and individually as citizens, we have been discriminating against Persons with Disabilities; having not been very empathic with their plight sometimes because of some superstitious beliefs. This is a characteristic of an indecent society.

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 re-conceptualisation 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.

Hence, interventions should not only be at the individual level, but also at the societal level, which may account for why President Muhammadu Buhari recently assented to a bill, now known as the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.  

With this Act, Nigeria has keyed into global awareness of disability-inclusive development, as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) promotes the full integration of persons with disabilities in societies. The CRPD specifically references the importance of international development in addressing the rights of persons with disabilities. To date, 177 countries have ratified the CRPD, which carries the force of binding law. In recent years, an increasing number of bilateral donors have also developed disability policies to guide their international aid. Similarly, at the national level, the number of disability discrimination laws and constitutional provisions have increased significantly all over the world.

So, this is a victory for the long-sought law to deal with discrimination against PWDs in Nigeria. Specifically, in September 2018, World Bank reported that one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. This means that one-fifth of the estimated global total or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities. Out of this global figure, Nigeria accounts for about 10%; because during the 73rd UN General Assembly General Discussion of Agenda 28 on Social Development at the UN headquarters in New York, in September 2018, the Chairman of National Population Commission of Nigeria (NPC), Eze Duruiheoma announced that the Commission had estimated that no fewer than 19 million Nigerians are living with disabilities. Currently, it is estimated that 27 million Nigerians are living with disabilities, according to the Permanent Secretary, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Anna-Anetu Aliu.

Essentially, the Act protects the rights and dignity of PWDs in Nigeria; and parties in the Act are required to promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by PWDs and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law, which is necessary for inclusive development. 

The implication is that the country has committed to take all the necessary measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life. Thus, a little respite came for people with disability in Nigeria with this Act, as it is one route to dignity for some socially ‘‘excluded’’ Nigerians by 2030. Interestingly, disability is referenced in various parts of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which are partly related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the goals. Hence, out of the 17 Goals, five capture the inclusion of people with disability.

For instance, SDG Goal 4, is on inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities; Goal 8  promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work;  Goal 10 strives to reduce inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion;  Goal 11, working to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable; while Goal 17 stresses that in order to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, the collection of data, monitoring and accountability of the SDGs are crucial. 

However, achieving these goals goes beyond the Act, as the Act only shows that Nigeria has committed to taking all the necessary measures to ensure PLWDs enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.  This may account for why the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, proposed the setting up of a Disability Commission during the celebration of the 2019 International Day for Persons with Disability in Abuja. As such, she said that the first document she will submit to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) will be on ‘‘The establishment of a commission for people living with disabilities.’’

While Sadiya Farouq is commended for her concern and compassion for PLWDs, setting up a commission may be seen as an ‘‘Israelites journey to the promised land.’’ Furthermore, the Nigerian state cannot continue to ‘‘throw’’ commission at every issue with the attendant consequences of increase in the cost of governance.  Also, having a commission does not equate positive outcome for PLWDs, because the commission may be manned by those without passion and compassion.

Therefore, against the backdrop that the neglect of PLWDs is a social issue, it can be handled by setting up a special department or unit within the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development; Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (FMWASD) and other relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) instead of setting up a separate commission. There are weightier matters of governance beyond setting up of another commission that can complicate matters in the context of managing welfare and security of the physically challenged in Nigeria.

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