By Jerome, Uneje Mary
Since the advent of HIV and AIDS in Nigeria in the early 90s, it is estimated that over 3 million people are either suffering from the scourge or lost their lives . 2.5 million Children have been made orphans amidst other damning statistics. People Living Positively (PLP) often suffer untold hardships, discrimination and even stigma. This discrimination takes place mostly at work places, places of worships, neighbourhoods and other social units. The media is awash with stories of employment termination, marriage refusal at worship places, forced tests been conducted on suspected persons amongst other forms of discrimination. “HIV/AIDS related stigmatization and discrimination remain a big challenge threatening the fight against the epidemic and the achievement of Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria.
Experts and pundits alike in the HIV/AIDS sector have always claimed that the most effective and efficient measure that will address and put paid to the issue of discrimination and stigmatization of PLP in Nigeria is the passage of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law. This however had been a running battle between Civil Society, PLPs versus Government Officials responsible for the passage of the law. This culminated in a Civil Society/PLP protest at the national assembly in Abuja 2013.
The signing of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law by the present administration of President GoodLuck Jonathan is relevant, important and most of all commendable. This newly signed Law is committed to stopping all forms of stigma and discrimination against People Living Positively. The law also makes provision for the prevention of discrimination and also access to healthcare services. It also seeks to protect the rights and dignity of People Living with HIV and AIDS. The importance of this law cannot be overemphasized enough.
As a Pro-Human Rights Organization, we at Lawyers Alert have always been involved in the clamour for the passage of the law both at the state and the federal level. This is to enhance the protection of the rights and privileges of vulnerable persons based on their health status. We therefore, wholeheartedly support and commend the signing of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law.
As commendable as this has been, a lot still needs to be done. Experience has shown that laws in Nigeria are always passed but hardly implemented neither are there adequate measures put in place for their implementation. This sad situation negates the essence of such laws. We therefore, hope that this law will not suffer the same fate given the stiff challenges faced during the struggle for its passage. In the light of the above, we therefore emphasis on the need for proper implementation of the law across the country.
There is also need for the passage of the law across all the federating state assemblies. This is necessary as some states fail to replicate or domesticate laws that have been passed at the federal level for reasons best known to them. An example of such is the public procurement act of 2007 of which only a handful states have so far domesticated.
Most of all, there is a strong need for the law and its provisions to be made available in a simple and easy to comprehend language to the people. The passage of a law is one thing and its understanding by the people is another. Both are two sides of a coin. Where a law is neither understood nor made available by and to the people, such law is bound to fail on arrival. Therefore there will be a strong need for government to make the law available to the people in a language and manner that will be most understood by them.
The media, civil society and other relevant stakeholders are hereby enjoined to contribute immensely to the widespread and assimilation of this law to the people especially at the grassroots where there is ignorance and widespread of HIV/AIDS.
In conclusion, the signing of this law is a huge contribution towards the reduction and consequent elimination of all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. We therefore, commend the government for such a noble and courageous act. We also hope that our recommendations will be adequately implemented so as to ensure that the spirit and the letter of the anti-discrimination HIV/AIDS law as signed will lead to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against people living positively.
Jerome, Uneje Mary is the Program Officer, Lawyers Allert