Immigration and physically challenged applicants
It is appalling that while some countries are referring to People with Disabilities (PWDs) as ‘People Living with Determination, aimed at giving them hope for inclusive development, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), is promoting their exclusion from recruitment.
This came to the fore, through a recent circular by Al-Hassan Yakmut, the Secretary, Civil Defence, Correctional, Fire and Immigration Services Board, the Federal Government organ in charge of the paramilitary services.
The circular barred persons with speech impediment (stammer/dumb) or have gross malformation of teeth, from applying for superintendent, inspectorate and assistant cadre positions in the ongoing NIS recruitment. Also barred from applying, are persons with defective eyesight (squint eye, crossed eye, one-eyed and total blindness), knocked knees, bent knees, bow leg, k-legs, flat foot, limb legs, bent arms/deformed hands/fracture and those suffering from obesity.
Furthermore, it excluded people with amputation of any part of physical body, hearing impairment (deaf), hunched back, medical challenges, and any other physical deformity not mentioned.
This labelling, stigmatisation and discrimination are unimaginable as they negate the spirit of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018; which was recently passed under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. The passage of this law implies that Nigeria has committed to taking all the necessary measures to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.
The Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on ground of disability and imposes a fine of N1, 000,000.00 for corporate bodies and N100, 000.00 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation. Again, under the Act, all public organisations are to reserve at least five percent (5%) of employment opportunities for PWDs, which means the nation will draw from the full potential of all the human resources in the country.
So, it is worrisome that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHADMSD) that is to see to the well-being of PWDs; and human rights focused NGOs, have kept mute as they are yet to speak out against the circular on NIS recruitment that excluded PWDs.
As for NIS and individual or corporate bodies, it is important to realise that nobody chooses to be born disabled or in the course of life deliberately becomes disabled. Hence, as an organisation, NIS should be more charismatic and compassionate; and have a way of managing human resource of all categories, instead of discriminating against PWDs.
The NIS should look beyond physical and consider competence, because everyone is uniquely endowed. As such, there are attributes in people that should be discovered and maximised. For instance, NIS may not put someone with speech defect at the front desk; some may be encouraged to do artificial surgery. Again, some could be good in research and psychoanalysis; and should be deployed as appropriate. Essentially, PWDs should be encouraged and assisted to succeed – even Aristotle and Charles Darwin were known as stammerers, and they were outstanding persons.
Other examples of outstanding PWDs in world history abound. They have been outstanding because they are not discriminated against, rather they have been given the opportunity to self-actualise. One of such persons is Charles F. C. Ruff, a former White House counsel to President Clinton, who was known as one of Washington’s most influential lawyers and who played an important role in events from Watergate to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment. Mr. Ruff, who used a wheelchair because of an undetermined illness he contracted in the 1960’s in Africa, became best known to the public for his full range of rhetorical and legal talents; and skillful defence of Mr. Clinton during the impeachment trials.
Similarly, Nicholas James Vujicic popularly referred to as Nick Vujick, is an Australian Christian evangelist born with an extremely rare congenital disorder known as Phocomelia, which is characterised by the absence of legs and arms; is a painter, swimmer, skydiver, motivational speaker and has a net worth in millions of dollars.
The above examples show that this NIS policy of exclusion instead of inclusion is a negative paradigm in a country that is difficult and challenging to people. It is a show of lack of love for a neighbour, which we have displayed over the years in our dealings with PWDs. We have been discriminating against PWDs and looking at them with disdain as exemplified in the NIS circular on recruitment. We have not been empathic with their plight, perhaps because of superstitious belief and the culture that looks down on vulnerable people, which is a characteristic of an indecent society.
Hence, relevant civil society organisations, particularly the media, have a major role to play in raising awareness and changing attitudes towards physically challenged people. They should continue to promote the rights and dignity of PWDs in Nigeria; and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law, a necessity for inclusive development. This way, people with disabilities would be accepted as equal partners in development and included as full participants in all development issues such as employment.
Meanwhile, NIS should not increase the suffering of PWDs. Rather, it should ensure social justice and inclusion of PWDs in its human resource, as discrimination against them is prohibited in the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018. Again, NIS should recognise that there is ability in disability; so long as there is personal determination. Hence, NIS should not ‘weep’ for PWDs, but give them opportunities.
Furthermore, for social inclusion, there is the need to have a comprehensive policy for PWDs. As such, the MHADMSD should work with relevant Ministries Departments and agencies (MDAs) to jointly design, launch and implement a programme of action, based on the 2018 Act to address PWDs’ concerns in various spheres, particularly in employment, so that they can have a remarkable sense of belonging. This will promote the dignity of human persons and social justice, equity and inclusiveness.
This way, our country will be in synergy with global vision of development; and build a just society devoid of discrimination, for some socially ‘excluded’ Nigerians by 2030.