Since the passing into law of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, by President Muhammadu Buhari, after nine years of relentless agitations by rights activists and persons living with disabilities, Nigerians had looked forward to the full implementation of the law with a view to giving persons living with disabilities every opportunity to exploit their potentials.

With over 25 million persons with disabilities in the country, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2011 World Disability Report, the passage of the Act was a watershed in the political history of Nigeria, in spite of the foot dragging before the Act saw the light of day.

Recall that Nigeria first ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and it’s Optional Protocol in 2010. Again, in 2011 and 2015, the National Assembly passed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2009, but former president Goodluck Jonathan declined to sign it into law.

Even though the bill for the new law was eventually passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate joint committee in November 2016, it was further delayed till December 2018 before it was presented to President Buhari for his assent.

The Act seeks to addresse the challenges faced by many persons living with disabilities, who mostly suffer from human rights abuses including stigmatisation, discrimination, violence and lack of access to housing, healthcare and education.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions, including fines and prison sentences, on those who contravene it. It also stipulates a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures and automobiles to make them accessible and usable to persons with disabilities.

The recent election of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-makura as senator-elect for Nasarawa South Senatorial District, will present a test for the Senate because for the first time, a person living with disability has been elected into the hallowed Red Chamber. Will the Senate comply with the tenets of the Act by removing any discriminatory tendency that could possibly hamper Al-makura’s efficiency?

Governor Al-makura, though a person living with disability, has performed far beyond other governors of the state who may not necessarily have one disability or the other. Al-makura brought unprecedented development to Nasarawa State in spite of the fact that he has hearing impairment. Not only that, he championed the cause of persons living with disabilities, emphasising on inclusivity. He ran an all-inclusive government, accommodating people from diverse ethnic groups and cultures across the country. Al-makura appointed an Igbo man as special adviser.

This is indeed a litmus test, when considered against the backdrop of the role Al-makura played in making the Act come into fruition. Aside of being the national grand patron for the association of persons with disabilities, Al-makura, in December 2011, led Nigerians living with disabilities, under the umbrella of the Joint National Association of Persons Living with Disabilities, to the National Assembly to protest the refusal of then president Goodluck Jonathan to sign the bill into law in 2010.

The then governor, while on the protest to the National Assembly, lamented that ‘people living with disabilities do not enjoy equal opportunities with other Nigerians.’ Now that Al-makura is going to the Senate, what urgent steps will the institution take to accommodate the senator-elect and ensure compliance with the stipulations of the Act? This is a moral burden on the Senate, whether it will turn the screws on one of its own or muster the will to do what is right.

Another window of opportunity for the Senate to comply with the dictates of the Act is in the offing, with the recent zoning of the position of the Senate Leader to the North Central by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Al-makura was the only governor under the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) who, alongside other political parties, metamorphosed into the APC. Throughout his eight-year tenure, he conducted himself in the most astounding way, in spite of being a person living with disability.

Though the zone is blessed with ranking and equally capable senators, making Senator-elect, Al-makura, Senate Leader in the 9th Senate, will definitely make a statement in the collective bid for inclusiveness and sense of wellbeing for persons living with disability in the country.

The Senate could make a statement towards the domestication of the Act by making Al-makura, Senate Leader, a person living with disability, who has however demonstrated his leadership capabilities, not only in Nasarawa State, but the country at large, when he was saddled with national assignments, which he discharged effortlessly and remarkably well.

– Abare writes in from Lafia, Nasarawa State.