Bridging the gap between the able and disabled Nigerians
Sir: Over 19 million Nigerians live with one form of disability or the other, with more than 80 per cent of them living in the rural areas of the country. In every region of the world, in every country, persons with disabilities often live on the margins of the society, deprived of some of life’s fundamentals.
Persons with disabilities have little hope of getting education, securing a job, having their own home, creating a family and raising their children, socialising or even exercising their civic rights during elections. Persons with disabilities make up the world’s largest and most disadvantaged minority.
From time immemorial, there’s been a huge discrimination against people with special needs; there is an extent to which the generality of the society wants to relate with disabled men and women. The domino effect of this marginalisation is an increased rate in street begging. This has become an occupation as some people with disabilities have decided to venture into begging full time as a means of livelihood, it’s saddening that these men and women roam the streets begging for food, money and clothes.
For effective and efficient governance, the government must ensure that Nigerians (able and disabled) enjoy their civil rights as enshrined in the constitution, to feel a sense of belonging and enjoy the dividends of democracy just like an ordinary citizen.
There should be an Act to ensure full integration of persons with disabilities into the society and also to establish a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities which should be vested with the responsibilities for their education, health care and the protection of their social, economic, civil rights.
It is worthy of note that the bill (Persons with Disability Bill) which contains vital provisions for the integration of persons with disability failed to get signed into law during the sixth and seventh Assembly
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 N1 million for corporate organisations or N100, 000 for individuals and six months imprisonment or both.
Part two talks about the accessibility of physical structures. It made it mandatory for public buildings, roads, walk-ways and others to be constructed in such a way that a person with disability accesses them like every other person without a hindrance or difficulty. Offenders here are punishable with a fine or imprisonment or both.
The bill also gives the right of first refusal in queues and emergencies to PWDs and condemns the act of using a person with disability for begging. Interestingly, the bill says Persons With Disability’s should be encouraged to participate in politics and public life.
In addition, the proposed law provides for the establishment of a Commission. Section 33 (1) says: “There is established 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.
One of the many great points scored by the Eighth Senate under the leadership of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki was the signing of the Persons With Disability Bill into law. If this bill is assented to by the President, it will radically transform citizens living with disabilities in Nigeria and this will eventually lead to equality.
• Saka Olawale can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org