By Ifeyinwa Onochie
The National Population Commission of Nigeria (NPC) has estimated that no fewer than 19 million Nigerians are living with disabilities. This population has as its major challenge issues of stigmatization, discrimination and resultant unequal treatment in all spheres. This is evident even in access to physical spaces/building either public or private which truncates not just physical access but also access to opportunity and resources.
According to a definition from equalityhumanrights.com, “equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. It is also the belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability.”
Disability in Africa and across the world, is viewed in most instances as associated dependency and inability to perform basic chores. People exhibit pity for Persons With Disabilities when in actual fact their impairment makes little or no difference to their abilities.
Nigeria efforts in negating these issues and the realization that disability is in the mind and the need to negate discrimination, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018. This development in Nigeria is good news. This means we will begin to see less and less people living with disabilities suffer discrimination from point A to B in this country. Furthermore, the Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on ground of disability and imposes fine of N1, 000, 000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation. Equally heart-warming is that the Act also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons living with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.
This means curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, wider doorways and corridors. This also means that building plans of any public structure under construction since the President’s assent of the Act shall be scrutinized by the relevant authority to ensure that the plan conforms to the building code.
Furthermore, with this Act, discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities, and service providers are to make provision for the physically, visually and hearing impaired and all persons howsoever challenged.
We are finally stepping into the visions of our forefathers for, unity, peace and progress. However, there is dire need for our government to pick up a magnifying glass and look into these vast NGOs that claim to cater to the people living with disabilities in Nigeria.
According to Miss Faith Yaasa, a disability Rights activist, the question right now is: “are all the foreign aid monies collected being used to really support the people they claim they represent and collect for? What happened to awareness campaigns to sensitize the general public on matters affecting Persons With Disabilities? What about the economic empowerment of Persons With Disabilities through realistic and achievable programs that impact the society positively?” This is the right time to take a stand and put a stop to the incessant injustice and crimes committed against physically challenged citizens is the message Miss Yaasa engaged with us at Lawyers Alert when she stopped by our office this week.
Lawyers Alert cannot agree less.