There are an estimated 25million Nigerians living with one form of disability or the other and over 80 per cent of these Nigerians is in the rural areas with no federal government programme targeted at People Living with Disabilities (PLWDs).
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by state parties in March 2007. Nigeria ratified the convention on September 24, 2010, with its optional protocol. Since the country is yet to put in place an appropriate legislation for the domestication of the provisions of the convention. Nigeria has also not met its reporting obligations to the committee established under Article 34 of the convention requiring the country to report every two years the extent of its implementation of the provisions of the protocol.
Several moves made under successive administrations since 1999 to pass the Disability Bill did not yield much result. However, the 8th National Assembly has showed determination to pass the Bill and push it for signing into law by President Muhammadu Buhari. The bill was passed on November 22, 2016, by the Senate and on May 18, 2016 by the House of Representatives. The bill is to ensure full integration of disabled persons into the society. It will establish a national commission and take responsibility for their education, healthcare, social and civil rights. It also provides for prohibition of discrimination and harmful treatment of disabled persons. The bill provides for accessibility of physical structures, making it mandatory for public buildings, roads, walkways and others to be constructed in such a way that a PLWD accesses them like every other person without hindrance or difficulty. The provisions of the bill give PLWDs the right of first refusal in queues and emergencies and condemns the act of using a person with disability for begging. PLWDs should be encouraged to participate in politics and public life.
Sadly since the passage of that bill, there is uncertainty over its transmission to the President for his assent. Nigerians living with disabilities and others who are concerned about the precarious situation of the disabled are disappointed that the bill has not yet been signed into law. Following the uncertainty about the whereabouts of the bill, many PLWD groups and non-governmental organisations have been calling on the National Assembly to transmit the bill to the President for his assent.
It is important to point out that this law, when it becomes operational, will enable people living with disabilities to participate fully in the political process, including offering themselves as candidates for elective positions. With what is happening in Nigeria, could Franklin Roosevelt have been a president if he were from this part of the Universe? As President of the United States of America, he ruled his country and the world from a wheel chair for years during the turbulent times of the Second World War. A food for thought for those who think that being physically challenged is a death sentence.
This newspaper is concerned that the condition of the PLWDs in Nigeria is deteriorating daily due to exclusion and discrimination by both state and non-state actors in policies and programmes aimed at improving the life of Nigerians.
In our opinion, it is time the country secured a legal framework that protects its citizens from human right abuses, especially for people living with disabilities. We are appalled that the country is yet to enact a law to protect these special needs citizens as is obtainable in even less endowed countries of Africa, let alone developed economies. However, it is not too late to reactivate the process.
With the rising number of persons with disabilities due to insurgency, terrorism, road mishaps, polio, stroke and many other disabling diseases, the time is ripe indeed for the country to have a holistic law that protects and addresses the needs of the disabled. That is exactly what the Disability Rights Bill is meant to achieve. And that is why we appeal to the conscience of all involved in making the law a reality to expedite action on the processes so as to give this group of Nigerians a sense of belonging. We call on President Buhari to assent to this very important bill in a way that will emphasise its relevance as a vehicle for relieving the disabled of the challenges they face as the try to cope in a social setting that did not factor in their peculiar and special needs. Let us make Nigeria an inclusive society like the rest of the civilized world by having Disability Rights Law.