On Saturday, Nigeria joined the rest of the global community in marking this year’s Day for People Living with Disabilities. The United Nations set aside the day in 1992 to draw the attention of the world to the plight of the physically challenged persons and to encourage a better understanding of their conditions. It is also to create a better awareness in respect of their rights, dignity and welfare as well as the benefits of integrating them into every aspect of life, be it economic, political and cultural.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is: “Transformative Solutions for Inclusive Development: the Role of Innovation in Fueling an Accessible and Equitable World.”
According to the World Health Organisation’s statistics, one out of every six people is afflicted by one form of disability or the other. In other words, the world is home to about one billion people living with disabilities. Nigeria accounts for over 20m of the population of disabled persons. However, this figure is conservative given their heavy presence in many parts of the country most especially those who roam the streets as beggars and destitute persons. This is aside from those that fake one form of disability or the other in order to earn a living owing to harsh economic conditions or joblessness.
Several factors fuel disabilities. Chief among them are wars, diseases, congenital complications, lack of access to healthcare, poor attention at old age and socio-cultural beliefs that frown at immunisations against childhood diseases like polio.
The good news in the country in 2019 was the signing into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari. The law provides social protection for persons with disabilities and a cover against any discrimination that they may suffer from. A National Commission for Persons with Disabilities is already in place with a full complement of members and Executive Secretary. It is domiciled in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development with the mandate to ensure that their education, healthcare and other social and economic rights contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are fully protected.
One striking provision of the law is the Prohibition of Discrimination and Harmful Treatment of the physically challenged persons. Any offender is liable to N1m fine for corporate organisations and N100,
000 for individuals or 6 months imprisonment or both. Also included in the bill is the provision on Accessibility of Physical Structures. It makes it mandatory for public buildings, roads, walkways and others to be constructed in such a way that a person with disability could access them like every other person without any hindrance or difficulty.
It is public knowledge that persons with disabilities, especially the ambitious ones have little hope of getting education, securing a job, having their own homes, families and raising their children, socialising or even exercising their civic rights during elections even though they defied all odds at the last presidential poll.
From primordial times, there has been a huge discrimination against people with disabilities which the bill set out to eliminate. It is these marginalisation and denigration of people with disabilities that have thrown up street begging as a means of livelihood and its attendant public nuisance.
But some physically challenged Nigerians have underscored the axiom that there is ability in disability. First to do this was the late Professor Bitrus Gani Ikilama who became a visually impaired graduate of physiotherapy. He rose to the apogee of his career and was head of the Physiotherapy Department of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) caught the revelation of according recognition to the physically challenged persons when it introduced Paralympic Games to injured servicemen and women in 1948 after the World War II. The scope was widened in 1960 at the Rome Olympics.
Nigerian Paralympians have proven to their compatriots over time that what an able-bodied person can do, a person with disability can do even better. They demonstrated this at the 2012 London Games and Rio 2016 during which they clinched several medals of all hues. Those accomplishments have helped in changing the perception of Nigerians about their conditions, freeing them from the bondage of self-pity.
With the commission in place, Nigeria has taken the right step towards achieving the 2030 global target set to turn around for the better the lot of people living with disabilities. It is hoped that they will enjoy all the rights and privileges accorded to their compatriots.