By Sanni Onogu
Notwithstanding the principle proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations that recognizes the inherent dignity, worth and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, it is lamentable that a segment of the Nigerian society still live on the fringes as a result of disability.
It is an open secret that persons with disabilities (PWDs) often face untold hardship from day to day in the country. They are both discriminated against and stigmatized. Former President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz once said that PWDs are people with extra talents. Yet, they are often forgotten.
“When PWDs are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty. As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities they deserve,” he said.
The plight of PWDs in Nigeria in the country is further aggravated due to lack of appropriate laws to ensure their full social integration into society particularly through provision for their economic, social, educational, emotional and psychological needs. To bridge this yawning gap, a Bill to provide for the comprehensive care for disabled persons in the country was passed by the National Assembly during the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The passage of the Bill then was hailed by PWDs, advocacy groups and development partners as a step in the right direction. However, the bill titled: “A Bill to Ensure Full Integration of Persons with Disabilities into the Society and to Establish a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Vest it with the Responsibilities for their Education, Healthcare, Social, Economic and Civil Rights (Establishment, etc)” never received the assent of the former president required to make it a law.
Although, the 6th and 7th National Assembly also passed the Bill and sent it for mandatory assent, former President Goodluck Jonathan, either by omission or commission, also failed to sign the bill into law thereby putting the plight of over 19 million Nigerians who suffer one form of disability or the other in precarious circumstances.
However, in its efforts to ensure that the rights of 19 million Nigerians are not left in limbo, the 8th Senate reintroduced and once again passed the Disability Bill in June 2016. What is required for the Bill to be sent to the President for assent is the concurrence of the House of Representatives. It it is worthy of note that the recent passage of the Bill by the Senate has continued to excite PWDs in the country as their hope of the bill becoming law under this administration has again been rekindled by the Senate.
It could be recalled that a delegation of PWDs in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the Niger Delta region recently paid a thank-you visit to the leadership of the Senate for once again passing the bill. Senate President, Dr, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, while receiving the group said the swift passage of the disability Bill by the 8th Senate underscores the passion and burning desire of the the current National Assembly to ensure that all Nigerians are treated equally irrespective of their status in life.
Saraki said: “Let me give thanks to God for making this day possible because I remember that when you came earlier, we made a promise that we will ensure that we pass the Disability Bill as soon as possible and we thank God that with the support of everybody here, the 8th Senate has been able to fulfil that promise.
I want to assure you that by this prompt action of passing this Disability Bill, it will send a clear message across that all of us here as Senators and the entire National Assembly, do not believe that because of one disability or the other, you are any different from any other Nigerian. We will continue to fight to ensure that you have the same rights as any other Nigerian and that matters that concern you concern us; and that issues that concern you get prompt attention.”
To ensure the utilitarian implementation of the all encompassing provisions of the Bill, a Commission, as proposed in the Bill, would be set up to coordinate and implement the provisions of the Bill when signed into law. Chairman, Senate Joint Committee on Sports and Youth Development, Poverty Alleviation and Social Welfare, Senator Obinna Ogba, while presenting the report of the committee to the Senate in plenary, justified the importance of the Commission when he stated that the panel is not unaware of the fiscal policy of the present administration, “especially the need to reduce bureaucracy”.
He said the establishment of the commission has become imperative as it would give the disabled persons the desired recognition and protection. He said the commission is also envisaged to be modest and easy to manage. The main objective of the Bill, he said, is to enact a law for the social protection of persons with disabilities against any discrimination that they may suffer from and also to establish a national commission for the disabled persons that will be responsible for their education, healthcare, social, economic, and civil rights as contained in Sections 15 (Political objective), 16 (Economic objective), 17 (Social objective), and 33 (Right to life) both under the directive principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
He however lamented that persons in this category are daily confronted with several challenges, chief among which is marginalization and discrimination as a result of their impairment. He contended that without necessary legislation, the challenges which are widespread would be difficult to ameliorate or eradicate.
According to Senator Ogba, part one of the Bill, provides for Prohibition of Discrimination and Harmful Treatment and any offender of this section is liable to a fine of N1million for corporate organizations or N100, 000 for individuals; and six months imprisonment or both. Part three, talks about the accessibility to physical structures and makes it mandatory for public buildings, roads, walk-ways and others to be constructed in such a way that a PWD can access them like every other person without let or hinderance. Offenders here are punishable with a fine or imprisonment or both.
The bill also gives the right of first refusal in queues and emergencies to PWDs and condemn the act of using a person with disability for alms begging. Interestingly, the bill says PWDs should be encouraged to participate in politics and public life. Besides, the proposed law provides for the establishment of a Commission to oversee the full implementation of its provisions to the benefit of PWDs.
Section 33 (1) says: “There is established a body to be known as the National Commission for persons with disability (in this Bill referred to as “the Commission”) to be placed under the Presidency. It stipulates that there shall be a board which shall conduct the affairs of the Commission.”
According to Section 40 of the Bill, functions of the Commission shall include: “(a) to formulate and implement policies and guidelines as appropriate for the education and social development of persons with disability; (b) to prepare schemes designed to promote social welfare of person with disability and the estimate of cost of implementing such schemes; (c) to promote and uplift the general social well-being of persons with disability by encouraging the public to change their attitude toward person with disability;
(d) to ensure that not less than 5 percent of the work-force are qualified persons with disability; (e) to enlighten the public and encourage persons with disability; (f) to collect data and records on special education of persons with disabilities, which shall be a regular exercise so that the persons with disability are identified, and enumerated for planning and treatment; (g) to ensure that all facilities in each community across the country shall be built or modified (where and when feasible) to accommodate the special need of persons with disabilities;
(h) to ensure the monitoring, evaluation and realisation of government policy objectives on persons with disabilities; (i) to facilitate the procurement of scholarship awards for persons with disabilities up to university level; (j) establishing and promoting inclusive schools, vocational and rehabilitation centres for the development of persons with disabilities; (k) liaising with the public and private sectors as well as other bodies to ensure that the peculiar interests of person with disabilities are taken into consideration in every government policy, programme and activity;
(l) issue insignia of identification of persons with disabilities; (m) enforcement of compliance of public buildings codes and imposing necessary sanctions and make appropriate orders; (n) receiving of complaints of persons with disabilities on the violation of their rights; (o) support an individual’s right to seek redress in court, investigation, prosecution or sanctioning (in appropriate cases) the violation of the provision of this Bill; (p) ensuring research development and education on disability issues and disable persons; (q) to collaborate with the media to make information available in accessible format for person with disabilities; (r) procuring of aid devices for all disability types.”
It is however hoped that the efforts of the Senate at passing the Bill within its first year in office would be promptly complemented by the House ofRepresentatives to make the Bill ready for the President’s assent in the next few weeks. Completing work on the critical legislation and signing it into law would not only reassure PWDs in the country of their humanity, it will permanently break the near endless cycle of the disability legislation that has assumed the character of the proverbial Phoenix.
- Onogu is Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President