Over the years, the need to defend the rights of people living with disabilities (PLWD) has been a cause of concern for many who had used every resources at their disposal to fight that anyone living with disabilities should be treated not with pity but with respect and given a chance to live like others who do not suffer the same fate.
The fight for justice and equality irrespective of physical condition was one that was spearheaded by organizations both governmental and nongovernmental organizations as well as activists based on the untold hardship encountered by PLWD in the course of their daily routine.
Many are stigmatized, discriminated against even by friends and family members and do not get equal opportunities as their contemporaries while many are hidden behind doors by their families, making many beggars and dependent on handouts from others.
This led to the revolution and advocacy for the promulgation of laws that can ensure that their lives will be comfortable as well as it can be while many law suits were filed by many activists to ensure that PLWD can attain their dreams without facing undue challenges in the society through provision of amenities that will aid their activities towards developing themselves to be responsible and independent citizens in the country.
Indeed, it is not too much to ask. Even the law is conscious of this; a
Charter of the United Nations provides for the inherent dignity and equal inalienable rights of all members of the human society as the bedrock of freedom, justice, development and peace globally though this seems not to be respected within many communities in Nigeria.
This is the reason that many activists have been fighting for a law that will aid the cause of PLWD since the inception of democracy. At the forefront of this fight is a legal practitioner, Daniel Onwe of Daniel and Sophina Chambers who had shown great passion and commitment to the cause of PLWD, as someone that had gone through similar challenges and understood their plights.
He had filed many suits against corporations that do not give considerations to PLWD and has continued to raise his voice on the need for the promulgation of a law that will cater for the needs of challenged people. Onwe is not a lone voice in the wilderness on this matter, there are many who have shown great commitment to this cause nationally.
The battle for this had been on for long. During the administration of former President Olusegum Obasanjo, a Bill aimed at providing for the comprehensive care for disabled persons in the country got passed to the the National Assembly and stakeholders were overjoyed that the battle was about to be won but this was not the case as the Bill called the Bill to Ensure Full Integration of Persons with Disabilities into the Society and to Establish a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Vest it with the Responsibilities for their Education, Healthcare, Social, Economic and Civil Rights was not passed into law by the president.
This continued through the sixth and seventh assembly and former President Goodluck Jonathan, also failed to sign the bill into law. Yet, they were undeterred, PLWD and their people continued to call for equal opportunity while they also tried to make something out of their lives to prove the point that they could make exploits in spite of their challenges.
One of such valiant warriors is a former homeless beggar; Mr Abdulsalam Kamaldeen Idowu who lived on the streets and by determination, hard work and a need to make life meaningful sponsored himself through school and become a lawyer and political science graduate, he was honoured on Tuesday following the adoption of a motion sponsored by the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila
The motion adopted was for the house to establish, by law, a Parliamentary Honours/Award System for recognition of extraordinary achievements by Nigerians to reward excellence and encourage citizens who had elevated the ideals of the Nigerian society.
Gbajabiamila expressed the believe that ordinary Nigerians that perform extraordinary feats like Abdulsalam while on the street as a beggar at Idumota Motor Park studied political science and law through determination should be celebrated.
Idowu, according to him, lost his two legs to polio at the age of three, lost his mother at the age of four, started primary school at eight and resorted to street begging to raise money to buy uniforms, books and to feed, begging for arms from primary through secondary school and was known on the streets of Lagos as a beggar.
And in a bid to satisfy the yearning of millions of PLWD in Nigeria, the eighth Senate reintroduced and passed the Disability Bill in 2016 and work is still on to ensure that it scales through all obstacles this time around. Part of the present Bill makes provision for the Prohibition of Discrimination and Harmful Treatment and any offender of this section is liable to a fine of N1million for corporate organizations or N100, 000 for individuals; and six months imprisonment or both. It also provides for accessibility to physical structures and makes it mandatory for public buildings, roads, walk-ways and others to be constructed in such a way that a PWD can access them like every other person without obstruction.
The bill further gives the right of first refusal on queues and emergencies PLWD and prohibits the act of using a person with disability for alms begging while it provides that they should be encouraged to participate in politics and public life.
Speaking on the situation and the battle to have the disability Bill passed into law, Daniel Onwe expressed dissatisfaction on how difficult it had been for their welfare to be taken care of, adding that it is disgusting that the government deemed it fit to pass laws protecting the right of animals but doesn’t think it is necessary to protect people with disability.
“It is shameful that while the Federal Government has passed laws for protection of animal rights in Nigeria, it is still reluctant to pass a law for the protection of over 25 million Nigerians with disabilities. Successive Presidents, including Obasanjo, Yar Adua and Goodluck Jonathan had the bill transmitted to them for assent but woefully failed to assent to it. When the current National Assembly came on board, the whole procedure began afresh. In October, the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) invoked the Freedom of Information Act and wrote the National Assembly demanding full disclosure of the status of the bill.
“The Office of the Speaker wrote back and stated that – the bill went through third reading and passed by the House of Representatives on June 9, 2016 and Senate on July 13, 2016. The two chambers are to jointly constitute a conference committee to harmonize the versions passed by the two chambers. The House of Representatives side of the Committee is headed by Hon Orker-Jev Emmanuel. Only recently, it has been speculated that the bill is actually missing in the National Assembly”
And in the seeming stagnancy of moves to get the disability Bill passed into law and the continuous dashed hopes of people living with disabilities, many has advocated that individual states make efforts to get the required legislation in place.
One of such people is Adedigba David from Abeokuta, Ogun State while expressing his thoughts on legislating towards right for disability stated that in line with common practice in developing countries, whether in Africa or other part of the globe, where people with disabilities encounter a plethora of attitudinal, institutional and environmental barriers that impede and militate against their active social inclusion within contemporary society, the scenario is worst in some rural communities where it is the common belief that disability is as a result of some lineage curse.
“Therefore, disabled people are commonly perceived as being totally “dependent”, “helpless” and “in need of charity “. Such strong and commonly held beliefs reinforce some of the structural factors that fuel the mutually negative symbiotic relationship between poverty and disability. Consequently, disabled people in Nigeria, particularly those living in rural areas, find it extremely difficult to even complete primary education, not to talk of being opportune to be gainfully employed, while their counterparts in the urban areas are on daily basis deprived of common rights of an average citizen in the society.
“Beyond the shores of the nation, disability is increasingly being acknowledged as a human rights issue and indeed members of the disability movement see disability rights as the last liberation struggle. In view of this, the recent United Nation (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in January 2007, and subsequently many countries have passed their own (domestic) disability rights laws in their respective domains. Some of the most comprehensive disability legislations exist in developed countries, such as United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada and developing ones like South Africa, Pakistan amidst others
“Interestingly, the African Giants’ Disability bill which has enjoyed numerous setbacks in the hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly since the year 2000, got the attention of the Abubakar Bukola Saraki -led eighth Senate through Senator Francis Alimikhena from Edo North Senatorial District who re-sponsored “the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill, 2016” which was passed on Wednesday, 13th July, 2016 having scaled through first and second reading in October and December, 2015 respectively, prior to the above, it had suffered approval in the past administrations even as the 6th and 7th National Assembly sessions played their legislative role perfectly.
“Sympathetically narrating the situation of the disables, the National Coordinator of the Association of Indigenous People with Disabilities (AIPD), Dr. Joseph Ify Chikunie once stated that there are over 25 million Nigerians who suffer from one physical deformity or the other, with over 3.5million of them having difficult challenges of moving around.
“Dr.Chikunie, a physically challenged and renowed varsity Don, who declared that people with disability needed the protection of government to promote equal opportunities for all people, insisted that the physically changed who consists of over 30 per cent of the nation’s population must be engaged and trained for worthy causes instead of being encouraged to be beggars on the streets of the nation as presently being experienced,” he said.
According to him, it is in view of this that the Ogun State House of Assembly initiated the People with Disabilities Law, 2007, a 22-part Bill delineated HB 12/OG/2017, to completely eliminate all social and cultural practices-tending to discriminate against and dehumanise the disabled.
He described this development as a “Ogun Standard achievement” considering Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s stance to immediately give assent in fulfillment of the request of stakeholders present at the public hearing who prayed for the passage and assent of the long awaited-bill.
As PLWD eagerly await with bated breath the success of the Bill being passed into law after getting the presidents assent, many continue to wonder whether indeed the battle is finally over.