The recent signing into law of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) 2018 Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari, after its passage by the National Assembly is commendable. The struggle to protect persons living with disabilities came to the fore when the issue took an international dimension leading to countries, especially in the developing world, enacting laws to address it.
These laws aim at removing barriers for persons with disabilities in the areas of customer service, employment, built environment, transportation, information and communications. We recall that the enactment of the law was facilitated by a well-coordinated campaign including protest march, massive media engagement and inter-faith prayer sessions.
It was a long-drawn and coordinated campaign that spanned close to 18 years. The immediate past two National Assembly Sessions passed the bill, two successive presidents declined assent to it. The Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability and imposes a fine of N1,000,000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation concurrently. It also guarantees the right to maintain civil action for damage by the person injured against any defaulter.
Furthermore, the law provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs. Similarly, its provisions also makes it mandatory that “before erecting any public structure, its plan shall be scrutinised by the relevant authority to ensure that the plan conforms to 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 accessibility 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 a term of imprisonment of two years or both”.
According to the act, discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities and service providers are to make provision for the physically, visually and hearing impaired and all persons howsoever challenged. This applies to seaports, railways and airport facilities. Of course, prior to the signing of the bill, there had been calls on government and other relevant stakeholders to put in place measures that will help mitigate the sufferings of the persons living with disabilities.
It is pertinent to recall that Nigeria had earlier signed and endorsed the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. The Convention seeks among other things, “To promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”
Nigeria is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation Convention on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled No. 159 of 1983. This Convention makes provision for employment of persons with disabilities without discrimination. Taking all these treaties into consideration and having regards to the fact that the Disability Act has been given the needed push through the president’s assent, we hope that its effective implementation will restore the pride and dignity of the estimated 27 million persons living with disabilities in Nigeria. We propose that the process of implementation must necessarily include a firm commitment on the part of the government to actualise the terms of all the treaties.
While lauding the Legislature and the Executive for making the law possible, we urge them to ensure a dutiful implementation of the Act. One of the ways of promptly kick-starting the implementation of the law, in the opinion of this newspaper, is for the government to establish a National Disability Commission.
As the nation celebrates this law, we are constrained to point out that Nigeria is not lacking in people-centred laws like the Disability Act. However, the snag has always been that of implementation. Consequently, the struggle is not over yet. Relevant stakeholders ,including non-governmental organisations that championed the passage and assent of this laudable law must up their ante and brace up for the second phase. Indeed, the next phase is that of sustained campaigns for its implementation and mass awareness so that persons living with disabilities can be informed of the existence of the law and how to seek redress in the event of a breach.
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