By: Emmanuel Ikhenebome
According to the United Nations (UN), more than one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the over 7 billion people in the world live with some form of disability; of which 80 per cent live in developing countries as Nigeria. Though, there is no specific number of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in the country, 2018 data of Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey clearly showed that an estimated 7% of household members above the age of five and 9% of those in 60 years and above find it difficult to hear, see, walk, comprehend, communicate or even care for themselves.
Consequently, the federal and some states government took vital steps to address the needs of PWDs. The most important step came in January 23, 2019 when President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.
The bill came after many years of struggle and advocacy by activists and disability right groups to end in the discrimination and stigmatization persistently faced by PWDs, rippled by lack of access to basic social services and economic opportunities. So far, only 10 states have domesticated the act with the enactment of disability laws; they are Anambra, Bauchi, Ekiti, Lagos, Kano, Jigawa, Kogi, Ondo, Plateau and Kwara.
In Edo state, a disability bill was sent to the house of assembly in 2011 for onward passage into law. The Bill never reached second reading where it could have been debated, before it was later jettisoned by the state government. While the bill never saw the light of the day, PWDs in the state continue to wallow in their undeserved predicament without a law to protect their human dignity.
However in November 2018, after receiving a committee report ‘on the integration of physically challenged persons into the workings of Edo government’ at the Government House, governor Godwin Obaseki stressed the need for a governance structure to monitor the implementation of policies that would make life meaningful for persons with physical disabilities.
Governor Obaseki maintained, “as a society, we should show concern and empathy for the most vulnerable persons and among this category are persons with physical disability”, assuring that “we will ensure that all of our programmes will have components for persons with special needs”.
Barely two years after, precisely in May this year during the inauguration of ‘PROJECT HELP’ by Network for the Advancement of Persons with Visible Disabilities (NAPVID), Obaseki disclosed that his administration will formulate and send a new disability bill to the house of assembly after the constitution of State Executive Council (SEC).
According to the governor who was represented at the event by permanent secretary, ministry of social development and gender issues, Mrs Dorcas Idehen, the disability bill sent to the house by the previous administration, “was riddled with inconsistencies”.
He said: “It is on record that the initial bill that was before the Edo State House of assembly was riddled with inconsistencies that would further hamper the interests of persons with disabilities”, maintaining the proposed bill will not only address the concerns of the PWDs, but will also strengthen institutional frame work that would see to proper response for the group.
In October, he formally constituted his cabinet with the swearing-in of 11 commissioner nominees, which set the stage for the long awaited disability bill formulation as earlier promised at the ‘Project Help’ event. Also, the appointment of Mrs. Maria Edeko as commissioner for Social Development and Gender Issues further give greenlight for a new Bill. The disability community anxiously await the good news from Edo SEC, considering Edeko’s laudable feat during her time as Edo FIDA chairperson, where she advocated and defended the rights of women and children in the state, amongst who were people living with one form of disability or the other.
It is on this note, most especially as the world set to observe this year’s International Day of Disabled Persons, it has become expedient for the governor’s message to mark the global day (on December 3rd) contains plans to send the disability bill to the house of assembly latest by December 31st 2021, to truly prove the Obaseki-led administration’s commitment to the rights and well-being of PWDs in all areas of development in the state.
For instance, the education of PWDs which is the bedrock of their development and sustainability has not been given the needed attention by the government. Findings, according to a needs assessment report of special schools across the state revealed that, the learning institutions have inadequate staff and special education specialists to serve the population as well as dearth of teaching and learning aids in accessible formats to support the learning needs of enrolled pupils and students.
The needs assessment survey conducted by NAPVID in July further revealed that distance and poverty negatively affect the enrollment and turn out of children with disabilities in school. Also, special schools in the state lack hostel facilities, even as poor access to healthcare contributes to multiple disabilities among some children with disabilities. Again, the insecurity quagmire that has bedeviled our nation has not spared PWDs as there are disheartening reports of vandalism and robbery of the limited facilities in these special schools.
Whatever recommendations as contained in the NAPVID’s report, only a law, no policies and programmes can guarantee its implementation especially as it concerns adequate security for the special schools because domestication of the disability Act in Edo would bring about the establishment of a commission for special persons in the state that will be responsible for their needs, like access to quality education, housing, and healthcare. Also, the commission will be empowered to among other duties, receive complaints from PWDs of their rights violations and assist victims to seek proper legal redress.
Persons with disabilities need economic security backed by legislation. PWDs anywhere in Nigeria deserve equal opportunities; they ought to be able to compete on equal terms with others, to enable them showcase their potentials to the overall development of Nigeria.