Disability Act in Nigeria: Going Forward
At least, the 25 million persons that are living with disabilities in Nigeria under the auspices of Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities (JONAPWD) are happy with the government over the passage and signing of a law aimed at reintegrating them fully back into the society. The “Discrimination against Persons with disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 definitely was a milestone for those affected and probably all the citizens.
The Act envisages the condition and limitations of persons living with disabilities and makes provision for their inclusion in the society at least as succour to mitigate their emotional and psychological trauma. If the law is implemented, it would alleviate the suffering of persons living with disabilities to a great extent and even curb the menace of using them as object of begging and also relief the relations of this category of Nigerians from bearing the entire burden of catering for them all alone.
But it may not happen easily and this law might just become one of those laws that are just there without being implemented. For instance, the law that prohibits discrimination against persons living the HIV/AIDS is just there and not implemented. That law provided that all places of work must develop HIV/AIDS workplace policy as a way of ensuring that the employers would not maltreat employees because of their HIV status. Up till now, if at all, it’s rare to see any workplace that has such policy.
The implementation of that law on prohibition of discrimination against persons living with HIV suffered serious setback because there was no push until recently that Lawyers Alert Nigeria, a non-governmental organization took up the case of a man that was sacked by his employer because of his HIV status. Lawyers Alert dragged the employer to court and won the case and the man, Mr X was handsomely compensated while that employer served as deterrent to other employers that tend to behave in the same manner.
Another law that was passed that also face implementation challenge is the ‘Not Too Young to Rule’. Despite the passage of this law, it was shocking that the percentage of the youth that were elected in the just concluded 2019 election did not commensurate with the expectation in a country with huge population of youths.
Also, the Freedom of Information Act, up till now, has not been given the chance at implementation stage. There are several cases in court now on the application of the Freedom of Information Act. A human right activist and member of Ondo State Civil Society Organization, Martins Alo dragged Ondo State Government to court over issues around application of Freedom of Information Act and the case has been foot-dragging from High Court to Appeal Court and now at Supreme Court with its fate hanging in the balance.
One then begins to wonder why the passing and signing the laws since such laws would not be implemented. Then, what is the essence of the legislative arm of government that gulps huge resources from the nation to service the legislators. And what’s the essence of government without laws when the state exists due to the existence of the law. Why do we then have the judiciary if the laws would not function?
This disability Act is a litmus test to really know the seriousness and sincerity of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari who is a disciplined law enforcer, given his military background, and who appears to be a man of principle and having a lawyer, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a professor of Law, Yemi Osinbajo as Vice President.
The stakeholders from various clusters in the disabilities community in Nigeria demand the immediate implementation of this Disability Act. At a recent strategy session facilitated by Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) recently, the stakeholders dissected the law and identified priority areas that required immediate implementation.
Professor Jubril Isah of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Dr. Adebukola Adebayo, Member, Governing Board, Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA), Mr. David Anyaele, Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Mr Daniel Onwe, President, Lawyers Living with Disabilities, Irene Patrick, Executive Director, Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC) and Sulaimon Abdulazeez, Chairman, Kaduna State chapter of JONAPWD were among the stakeholders at the session and they unanimously agreed on five key areas for immediate implementation of the law.
The stakeholders charged the national Assembly and the presidency to ensure gazetting of the law, establish the national commission for disability, provision of fund (budget) for the commission to be effective, create awareness for the law and domestication of the law at the state level across the state of the federation.
In conclusion, the persons living with disabilities are citizens of this country who deserve to live and function unhindered, (within the ambit of the law) but they are at disadvantage in most cases and are often being denied of access and opportunities because of the condition. This necessitated the Disability is law to reintegrate them back fully into the society and give them sense of belonging. This will promote love among the citizenry if well implemented.
Oyegbade writes from Road 14, Ifelodun Community, Agunbelewo Area, Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria.