On January 23, 2019 President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 into law after nine years of relentless advocacy by disability rights groups and activists.
According to the World Health Organization’s 2011 World disability report, about 15 per cent of Nigeria’s population, or at least 25million people, have a disability. Many of them face a number of human rights abuses, including stigma, discrimination, violence and lack of access to healthcare, housing and education.
Nigeria ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and its optional protocol in 2010.
Since then, civil society groups and people with disabilities have called on the government to put it into practice. 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.
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 for people with disabilities. The law also establishes a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
The commission is responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to housing, education, and healthcare. The commission is empowered to receive complaints of rights violations and support victims to seek legal redress amongst other duties.
The enactment of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act is only a first step in the fulfillment of Nigeria’s obligations under the CRPD. Authorities are expected to put effective measures in place for its full implementation to ensure equal treatment and participation of people with disabilities across Nigeria.
President Buhari recently gave impetus to the Act when he established the National Commission for Persons Living with Disabilities and the constitution of the executive members of the commission. He approved the appointment of executive members of the commission chaired by a former House of Representatives member from Kebbi State, Hussaini Kangiwa, while Abba Ibrahim from the North East was named the Executive Secretary. This is in line with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2019.
According to the provisions of 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.
The appointment is also “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.
As a newspaper, we hope that the commission, through its mandate, will ensure that the education, healthcare and other social and economic rights of the people with disabilities contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be upheld.
We commend the president for his courage in prioritising the rights of persons living with disabilities amidst other needs of the country at this time. Having established the commission, the president should ensure that adequate funds are made available for it to execute its mandate for the persons living with disabilities in Nigeria.
The President should also ensure that all states of federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) key into the programme of ensuring the protection of the rights of persons living with disabilities.
We are, therefore, calling for the domestication of the Commission In the states and the FCT as part of measures to end exclusion of this vulnerable population. It is necessary and important for state governments to enforce, domesticate and replicate the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities. We call on state governments to expedite action in domesticating the disability commission as further delay will amount to great injustice.
Also worthy of emphasis is the need to ensure that at least five per cent of all public appointments go to people with disabilities as stipulated in the law supporting the establishment of the commission.