Dr Samuel Ankeli, Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Disability Matters, in this interview with BODE OLAGOKE laments the treatment of physically challenged persons in Nigerian among other issues
Can you let us know some of your achievements since your appointment?
Before my appointment, I was an activist for People Living with Disability. I was one of their national officers. So, where I currently find myself is not just historical, but a challenge for me to set a standard for People Living with Disability. I have been able to create an understanding within the governance structure in issues of disability. In the past, things were done without consideration for people with disability, but now, public attitude is changing.
I have also constantly engaged the media who are our strongest partners in reaching all parts of the country on issues of disability. I have had several audiences across Nigeria and have gone round as many states as are physically possible to interact with their governments to see how they can include our people in their administrations. You see, the greatest challenge has been including people with disability in development. All the years gone by, when things were being planned, we were not remembered. We are always an afterthought. Right now, we are trying to see that at the level of planning, we are included.
That is what I have been trying to do from the level of the President to other leaders across the country we have tried to make them change their attitude toward us. So, the difficult in persuading somebody to demand your right is no more there. Just seeing my face and hearing my voice, you know that this is one group that we need to remember during planning. Also, I have been able to build confidence in people living with disability to be able to speak out.
I am working on a memo to see how the President can give us weaver so that a good number of our people can be absorbed into the federal civil service to make up for, that deficiency. For those who cannot be employed in the federal, government system, the state government will take over. In the private sector, I have also gone to a lot of organizations that employ large workforce and they confessed to me that before now, they have been negligent, but they have picked up. So, the corporate social responsibility that they normally offer, I want it translated into employment.
For those who don’t have education, but have skills, I have designed specific work for them. In agriculture, we have discussed with some technical partners and are working out the final scheme.
For shoe making, I can assure you that the best shoes you wear in this Centre are made by PWD, but they do it at their micro level.
Of course, you know that government cannot do it all alone. I personally believe in partnership.
Are you saying that the physically challenged are better placed now than before and what will it take to build the para stadium we are talking about in Abuja?
I am not an architect. My own is to mobilize resources and attention. I have the experts and I have given them that assignment to go and raise N25 billion for me so that we can work and improve the lives of PWDs in sports. Talking about the lives of PWDs, yes, there is a marginal increase in their quality of life. If for nothing else, the confidence that Nigerians now repose in us is a morale booster.
What is the extent of work in the disability bill at the moment? We learnt that the bill is with the President who has not signed it?
It is not with Mr President. The bill has been passed four times by the National Assembly. In 2010, the bill was passed by both houses of the National Assembly and harmonised. I was in the harmonization committee, but the then President did not sign it till they left office.
This time, I am part of those who gave the assurance and I have consulted with the party leaders to impress it on the National Assembly to bring out the harmonized bill which has been passed by both chambers. We are waiting for the harmnisation so that it will be transmitted to the President and I can assure you that the President is waiting to sign it into law and we will have a National Commission for Disability Rights coming into existence.
How satisfied are you with the level of participation by PWDs in the social intervention of the government leading to giving the vulnerable people N5000 monthly stipend.
I have raised that issue with the party chairman. Our participation is not encouraging and it is not to the level of my satisfaction and I have discussed that with the party. Just give me a little more time to work on that. If you look at the level of social injustice, I think that disbursement should actually begin with us-Persons with Disability. I accept that I am part of the government and I am saying that which has been done concerning disability is not enough because I am not satisfied and I am doing all that is my best to increase the participation.
There are lots of PWDs around Abuja selling one item or the other on the streets to earn a living instead of begging for arms. Unfortunately, often times they are victims of harassment by Abuja Environmental Protection Board. What are you doing about this?
The law does not discriminate against able or disable persons. I will not support lawlessness and at the same time, I will not support idleness and street begging. It is our desire to have some structures and special markets for them. I am already talking with the administration of the FCT and very soon, things will be resolved. So, please help me educate them, because you are disabled does not guarantee you to break laws and I don’t want any of them to be manhandled. It is a dynamic thing, but let us balance the pendulum.
Some people living with disability have said that this government has not done anything for them. What is your message to such people?
I am happy that they can speak out now and that is part of the change. Before now, who was talking, but now, they are talking for themselves. That’s the beauty of democracy and development. For them to speak out, something is happening. There is a commission in Lagos taking care of their needs and if it is not meeting their demands, they have a right to voice out. I cannot take care of the whole nation at once from this office. Some issues are better addressed at the level where they are. It is only when it goes beyond that level that I can intervene. I advised them to speak out whenever you are not treated well as a Nigerian.