Disability is a physical or mental impairment that is perceived to limit one or more major life activities of an impaired person. While this appears a direct definition, Nigerians have ascribed various definitions to disability in different terms, concluding that persons with disabilities are abnormal persons who are offered mainly medical and charity gestures.
Over the years, persons with disability in Nigeria have been marginalized in all spheres. These discriminating tendencies have deprived them of the basic opportunities entitled to every citizen thereby infringing their fundamental human rights.
As victims of negligence, this category of people have gained global attention constituting a social group that is vulnerable to societal discrimination. Yet this has only compounded their tormenting experiences.
They are generally dispossessed of physical structures, employment opportunities, and leadership positions, improved educational facilities resulting to socio-political inequality, social stigmatization, and high level of illiteracy, open discrimination, insecurity, and exclusiveness resulting to high dependency on others without disability.
There have been cases of Nigerians deprived of employment opportunities, admission into schools, getting political appointments, etc. because of their disabilities with a confirmed report stating that Persons with disabilities constitute only about 3% of the work force.
According to a report of the National Baseline Survey on Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria, 50% of PWDs had no schooling whatsoever and the use of necessary assistive devices by PWDs was limited and inadequate, consisting mostly of walking sticks, crutches, braces, walkers, and hearing aids. The main sources of assistive devices for PWDs across the nation were family, friends and PWDs themselves. Begging for alms was the most prominent source of their subsistence.
World Health Organization reports that over 20 million Nigerians are living with disability which makes them the largest minority group in the nation.
The Disability Bill seeking to provide succor to PWDs in Nigeria has been faced with a yoke of assent such that it has failed to be accented in two successive administrations after passage in the 6th and 7th assembly. This only goes to show the level of commitment to the plights of PWDs.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the previous assemblies have showed consideration by passing this bill in accord for the executive to assent.
As enshrined in the Fundamental Rights provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended in January, 2011. ‘‘Every Nigerian citizen is entitled to be conferred with equality of rights, obligations and Opportunities before the law, the recognition of the sanctity of the human life and the maintenance and enhancement of human dignity’’.
Many developing countries in the world are availed with inclusive disability rights legislation and policy regimes where disabled people are involved at all levels in the society and not left as odds and tools for charity.
Unfortunately, this bill has often been compared to the petroleum industry bill, PIB that has remained with the national assembly since the 6th assembly and yet its significance if passed cannot be over emphasized.
The 6th National Assembly passed this bill on the 28th of September 2010; a lot of bills have been prioritized above bills like this, in a government that preaches full inclusiveness of the masses, the idea of humanity first is not inclusive of disabled Nigerians, they are seen as disabled first before human beings.
More often than not, policies to take beggars off the street have gained much attention because they constitute nuisance such that it has become a nightmare for state governors in the case of Kaduna State. A major occupation of PWD is alms begging how then do the government want to get them off the streets without a law that allows their rights to be upheld?
It is pertinent to note that, anyone could be disabled either naturally congenitally through unforeseen causes, accident or as one goes into old age.
Emphatically, 7th National Assembly on January 30th 2015 barely six months to the end of the assembly harmonized and sent the bill defending the rights of Persons with Disabilities for presidential assent that proved abortive.
On the 12th of July 2016 the 8th Senate passed the same bill for final reading; however with the travails of persons with disability and the burden of assent by previous administration, the timely passage of this bill has again awoken the wishes of PWDs whose greatest desire is for this bill to finally become law and ensure their full integration into the larger society.
‘‘With what the 8th Senate has done today by passing this bill for its third and final time in the Red Chamber, it is my hope that this National Assembly can finally break this jinx by getting it passed by the House of Representatives and assented into law by Mr. President” Senate president, Bukola Saraki stated shortly after the passage.
This hope means everything to over 22milliion disabled Nigerians whose believe their ability has been dashed and relegated as victims of negligence and an apparatus of charity. This bill for its worth seeks to provide for the establishment of a National Commission for persons with disability to cater for their education, health care while protecting their social economic and civil rights. It will also check and outlaw all forms of discrimination against them and put in place measures that will address their condition.
Disability is not Inability and there is ability in every disability in the words of Khang Kijaro Nguyen “Able does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less able.”
CYNTHIA FERDINAND U.