Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a chairman and executive secretary for the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD). JIBRIN BABA NDACE in this piece writes on what the initiative could do for persons with disabilities.
Disabilities and vulnerability are twin challenges that are confronting the world. Nigeria has its own share of these challenges. United Nations report indicated that over 500 million persons are living with disability worldwide.
Like other nations, and indeed the global community, Nigeria has been making effort towards addressing these problems.
While developed countries are far ahead in the implementation of various policies and programmes that is geared towards social inclusion of the vulnerable people, developing nations in Africa, and other continents are far behind.
Records show that, “The right of persons with disabilities to social protection is recognised by the 1948 Universal Declaration of HumanRights (UDHR), the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right (ICESCR) and, more specifically, the 2006, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 28 of the CRPD in particular recognises the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living and social protection, ensuring the enjoyment of both rights without discrimination on the basis of ability.”
While there have been efforts by successive administrations in Nigeria to develop policies that protect the rights of physically challenged or persons with disabilities, it is the recent concerted, robust and holistic approach by President Buhari in signing the bill to end discrimination against persons with disabilities into law in 2019, and appointing a chairman, executive secretary and other members in August 2020, that is considered as most definitive effort by any administration in the country. This definitive step by President Buhari served as a fillip to almost a decade consistent efforts by the National Assembly that passed the bill into law. The Bill focused on, ‘prohibiting all forms of discrimination on ground of disability and imposes fine of N1, 000, 000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for its violation.’
Speaking on the bill, then Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, disclosed that the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, guarantees the right to maintain civil action for damage by the person injured against any defaulter. The Act also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.
The Act also provides that: “Before erecting any public structure, its plans shall be scrutinised by relevant authority to ensure that the plan confirms with the building code; a government or government agency, body or individual responsible for the approval of building plans shall not approve the plan of a public building if the plan does not make provision for accessible facilities in line with the building code; an officer who approves or directs the approval of a building plan that contravenes the building code, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of at least N1,000,000 or term of imprisonment of two years or both; discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities and service providers are to make provision for the physically , visually and hearing impaired and all persons however challenged. This applies to Seaports, Railways and Airport facilities; the rights and privileges include education, healthcare, priority in accommodation and emergencies. Furthermore, all public organisations are to reserve at least 5 percent of employment opportunities for these persons.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and publicity, Femi Adesina, in a statement on the appointment of the Executive Secretary and composition of the Governing Council of the Commission revealed that the appointments were in fulfillment of the provisions in the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2019. The statement indicated that, “according to the Act, the Commission shall be headed by a Part-Time Chairman and six members who shall be persons with disabilities representing the geo-political zones of the federation subject to confirmation of the Senate for a four-year term of office in the first instance, and may be reappointed for a second term of four years and no more.”
“The executive secretary who shall be responsible to the Council for the implementation of the policies and administration of the daily affairs of the Commission, shall also be a person with Disability with five-year tenure in the first instance, and may be reappointed for a second term and no more.” While Hussieni Knagiwa, representing North- west is the chairman of the Governing Council, other members include: Oparaku, Onyejelam Jaja, South-east; Philomena Isioma Konwea, South- south; Omopariola Busuyi Oluwasola, South-west; Amina Rahman Audu, North-west and Abba Ibrahim, North-east.
The establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disability is evidently a welcome development in Nigeria’s drive towards creating social safety net through socially inclusive and citizen-friendly policies that recognises various disadvantaged groups. This is also coming exactly one year after the creation of Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. It is, therefore, clear that the existence of the new ministry, and determination of the pioneer minister, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, led to establishment of the Commission. What the formation of the Commission has shown is that even when there is political will on the part of the president, he requires a minister that understands his mandate as well as what is at stake on any policy direction.
Speaking on the take-off of NCPD, the minister said she had delivered on her promise. She stated this after of appointment of executive members of the Commission by President Buhari on Monday, August 24, 2020. The minister in a statement by her Special Assistant, Strategic Communication, Halima Oyelade, said: “Today is a very happy and fulfilling day for me as one of the vulnerable groups that are very close to my heart finally have a Commission and executives in place to cater to their needs, protect their rights and provide an enabling environment for them to maximise their potentials, thrive and contribute valuably to the society and the nation as a whole.
The minister, who disclosed that since her appointment in 2019, she prioritised seeing to the take-off of the Commission as a major agenda, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for accenting to the Act which provided for the establishment of the Commission. “His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, by approving the appointment of the executive secretary, Chairman and members of the Council of the Commission has once again, proved his commitment and desire to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups in Nigeria and ensure they enjoy their full rights and privileges as citizens of Nigeria.”
The Minister who congratulated over 30 Million Persons Living with Disabilities in Nigeria on ‘milestone,’ urged them to take advantage of the Commission for their benefit.
“I congratulate our brothers and sisters living with disabilities in Nigeria for the realisation of this worthy dream and encourage you to make use of the opportunity this Commission provides you to be united in the pursuit of yourbdreams of social inclusion.’
She also congratulated the new appointees who were charged with the responsibility of piloting the affairs of the Commission to do so with utmost sense of responsibility.
“I congratulate you heartily and urge you to consider it a privilege to serve as the first executive of the Commission and, therefore, put in your best to lay a solid foundation for the commission bearing in mind that the well being of over 30 million person living with disabilities in Nigeria largely depends on your actions and the way you discharge your duty.”
The minister who disclosed that the Commission will take off once the Senate confirms the appointments, outlined functions of the agency to include: “Formulation and implementation of policies and guidelines as appropriate for the education and social development of persons with disabilities, preparation of schemes designed to promote social welfare of persons with disabilities, promoting and uplifting the general well being of persons with disabilities by encouraging the public to change their negative attitude towards persons with disabilities.”
The establishment of Commission has further shown President Buhari’s commitment and political will to build an inclusive Nigeria in line with global best practices and in tandem with the needs of Nigerians. However, this bold step taken by Buhari led administration, which has been commended by local and international organisations, requires the commitment and support of all stakeholders.
Speaking, Mr. Fred Iroha, a person with disability commended President Buhari for the creation of the Commission. He said the creation of a Commission for people with disability marks a truly important day for the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Disability Commission in particular.
“I would like to extend my warm and generous thank you to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiiya Umar Farouq, the National Assembly, Organisations of Persons with Disabilities and to all our donor agencies that helped us get her today.”
Iroha who said the established of the Commission is only one part of the process, canvassed for concerted efforts to ensure that the Commission has the resources it need to effectively and efficiently manage cases of discrimination meted out against Persons with Disabilities.
As noted by social inclusion experts, achieving results require the federal government to be firm in its decision to ensure the success of the programme, which require sustained financing of the projects to be implemented by the Commission as well as dedication by local authorities in supporting the federal government; non-governmental organisations must also play their role in supporting the Commission by calling for transparency and accountability in the operations of the Commission.
The executive and Governing Council of the Commission have a responsibility as noted by the minister, to ensure PWD-interest driven leadership where every decision should be for the enhancement of its members and the achievement of an all-inclusive society.