Senate Passes New Disability Bill

David Mark, Senate President

After several years of foot-dragging, there is now hope for legal protection of the rights of persons with disability in Nigeria. The Senate has recently passed a law which prohibits discrimination against persons with disability

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Apr. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

FOR many Nigerians, the 2012 Olympic Games in London is a memory they wish could be erased. The country’s contingent to the global sporting event performed woefully as they failed to win a single medal in any sport.  When the competition ended and the Nigerian athletes prepared to return home, the country’s hopes for medals hanged on the shoulders of disabled athletes representing it at the Paralympic games.

Some paralympians at the London games
Some paralympians at the London games

The paralympic game is the sporting event held after the Olympics and strictly for disabled athletes. The Nigerian disabled athletes did not disappoint. In the same sports where able-bodied athletes failed to shine, Nigerian paralympians raked in medals. They redeemed the country’s battered prestige by winning six gold medals, five silver medals and two bronze medals.

On their return home, each of the medal winners got cash rewards and a national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger MON. The reward was a clear expression of gratitude to the nation’s physically challenged citizens, many of whom had frequently complained about not being appreciated in the country.

Beyond that, it is common knowledge that persons with disabilities in Nigeria  have become destitute owing to societal neglect. Most of them are usually seen across streets and major roads in many parts of the county begging for alms in a desperate attempt to survive and make ends meet.  Other than the risk they face on the road, many people with disabilities also encounter varying degrees of embarrassment in public places. In a country where they are no adequate plans to cater for their interests, disabled persons in most cases have to rely on able- bodied people for help.

Yakubu Adesokan won a gold medal for Nigeria
Yakubu Adesokan won a gold medal for Nigeria

For instance, John Okafor, a physically challenged person who uses clutches, always finds it difficult to conduct his banking transactions because he is not allowed to bring his clutches into the banking hall. As a way out of his predicament, Okafor usually carries out all his transactions from outside the bank via the help of others who, sometimes, cannot be absolutely trusted.

Similarly, Temitope Afolabi, a physically challenged student who sits on a wheelchair, usually finds it difficult to attend all her lectures because some of the lecture rooms are located upstairs. Afolabi depends on some “Good Samaritans’’ who offer to carry her up the stairs and when there is no one to help out; she just forgets about the lecture. These two scenarios aptly depict the plight of many Nigerians who have physical disabilities.

Current statistics reveal that there are more than 22.5 million persons with various forms of disabilities in the country. Despite the large number of disabled persons in the country, many still believe that the government has not done much for this group of citizens. Lots of disabled person are still not considered for employment even when they are qualified. But now, it appears that there is hope in the horizon for them as some of the issues affecting them are now being given the deserved attention at the National Assembly.

Just recently, the Senate has passed the “Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill, 2014.’’ The Bill, which seeks to cater for the interests of persons with disabilities, and provides for the establishment of a commission for them, was sponsored by Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman.

Senator Adamu Gumba
Senator Adamu Gumba

It also aims to address issues relating to the perceived discrimination of persons with disabilities in the country. Under the new Bill, a national commission is to be established for persons with disabilities and empowered to look after the education and health of persons with disabilities as well as protect their socio-economic, civil and political rights. It also prescribes a fine of N1 million for corporate bodies that flout the law and N100, 000 or six months’ imprisonment or both for an individual who contravenes the law.

The bill’s passage came after the presentation of the report of the Senate Joint Committee on Sports, Social Development and Women Affairs by Adamu Gumba, its chairman. Gumba said during the bill’s presentation that over 10 per cent of Nigerians had one form of disability or the other. “Over 10 per cent of Nigeria’s population is said to be disabled by sheer providence or accident and these people are daily confronted with several challenges. One of the most prominent among these challenges is the gross marginalisation of the people, occasioned by their discrimination on the basis of their infirmity. Therefore, one would agree that without the necessary legislation, the challenges which this set of people encounter would be difficult to overcome,’’ he said.

During their deliberation on the bill, many Senators had pointed out the need to retain a clause in the original version of the bill which calls for a transitory period of five years within which all public buildings and structures should be made accessible to persons with disabilities. The bill states that anyone who approves or directs the approval of a building that contravenes the building code will be liable to a fine of N1 million or two years’ imprisonment or both. The joint committee also amended Clause 30 of the bill, which stipulates that five per cent job vacancies should be reserved in all public organisations for persons with disabilities.

The committee took into cognisance the fact that some organisations might have only two employees and, therefore, amended the clause to read that any organisation, which has up to 50 employees, should reserve five per cent slot for people with disabilities.

Some disabled persons at an event in Abuja
Some disabled persons at an event in Abuja

Reacting to this new development, some of the persons with disabilities stress that the bill’s passage is a welcome development, as it would look after their well-being.  Paul Ihekwoaba, the President of Global Hope and Justice for the Less Privileged, a non-governmental organisation, said in a recent interview that the passage of the bill was a welcome development, even though it was long overdue.

He, however, stressed that the bill would be incomplete and would not serve any useful purpose unless pragmatic efforts were made to set up the proposed national commission for persons with disability.

“The persons with disabilities should be assisted to participate in the election process; we will not compromise on the bill because our future lies on it. The bill is very important because it would give us a legal framework to address the issues of survival. It will provide a good environment for us to live and contribute to the socio-economic growth of our country,’’ he added.

Abubakar Ishaku, a disabled person in Abuja said it is important for the president to sign the bill into law in the interest of all disabled persons in the country. “The simple truth is that we cannot physically force Mr President to sign the bill into law; yet, we urgently need this law in the interest of all disabled persons in the country.”

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