By Editorial Board
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq’s recent announcement of the take-off of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) should be heartwarming.
The minister’s announcement followed President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the composition of the NCPWD Governing Council and appointment of Dr. Hussaini Kangiwa, the Executive Secretary of the commission as chairman.The take-off of NCPWD is a signpost of social inclusion scheme of the government because Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) constitute one of the vulnerable, marginalised, disadvantaged and excluded groups in Nigeria. It is also an indication that the Federal Government has commenced implementation of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, also known as the National Disability Act.
Under the Act, the rights and privileges of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) include education, healthcare, priority in accommodation and emergencies; while all public organisations are to reserve at least 5% of employment opportunities for PWDs, which means the nation will draw from the full potentials of all the human resources in the country.
The Act also provides a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified to be accessible and useable by people with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs. Again, the Act specifies that henceforth, before erecting any public structure, the approving authority should not approve the plan of a public building that does not make provision for accessibility of facilities in line with the building code. Approving a building plan that contravenes the code attracts a fine of at least N1,000,000.00 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both.
The Act, therefore, ensures social justice and inclusivity of PWDs in various spheres of human endeavour in Nigeria as discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities. Besides, service providers are to make provisions for the visually and hearing impaired and all persons challenged. This also applies to seaports, railways and airport facilities.
Essentially, the Act protects the rights and dignity of PWDs in Nigeria; and parties in the Act are required to promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by PWDs and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law, which is necessary for inclusive development. Thus, this Act Nigeria has keyed into, global awareness of disability-inclusive development, as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) promotes the full integration of persons with disabilities in societies.
Achieving this requires having a multi-sectoral strategy for addressing the barriers PWDs, which limit their access to education, employment, housing, transportation, health care, rehabilitation and participation in activities such as politics.
Furthermore, the Commission should work closely with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the full participation of PWDs during elections as part of efforts to deepen democracy in Nigeria. This is against the backdrop that INEC has already pledged to enhance greater participation of PWDs in elections with the provision of support materials such as magnifying glasses at the polling units during elections, transcriptions of voter education materials to braille and others to ensure their full and effective participation in the electoral process. However, producing documents in braille, while the blind members of the disability community have never been introduced to braille will not change their situation.
Also, poor access to many public facilities including the polling booths may also limit PWDs. Basically, mainstreaming cannot be effective unless at the same time, measures are taken to provide basic rehabilitation, prevention of impairments worsening, necessary assistive devices, aids and equipment. So, to enjoy the full range of human rights as contained in the Act, PWDs should have access to education, built environment, transportation, information and communications infrastructure for them to be full participants in all aspects of life.
Ipso facto, addressing the inequalities between PWDs and people without disabilities in all areas of development, needs specific initiatives to empower the PWDs. Therefore, appropriate disability-specific multi-sectoral strategies are needed to make mainstreaming operative, because a physically challenged child who cannot access special toilet himself/herself and is paralysed on a wheelchair cannot benefit from education even if the school is fully accessible, has well-trained teachers and a child-tailored, flexible curriculum. Also, a disabled adult who is illiterate has low self-esteem, with hardly any life experience and no access to essential assistive devices such as crutches, cannot take part in discussions organised by political parties.
Essentially, achieving social inclusion for PWDs requires a comprehensive policy, which recognises that they need special services, special institutions, for a cure and/or rehabilitation or social assistance that permit their participation because they are different.
So, the Nigerian state should walk the talk by mainstreaming disability into its policies as has been done with gender, because in 2006, Nigeria came up with a National Gender Policy, which has helped keep the issue of gender in the front burner, even though gender disparity is still a commonplace. Against the backdrop of this precedent, Nigeria should confront disability and give it attention as is being done to gender discrimination, children protection, HIV/AIDS and humanitarian crisis, by having a programme of action, based on the 2018 Act to address PWDs’ concerns in all political, economic and societal spheres so that these special people can have a remarkable sense of belonging.
Furthermore, the Federal Government should mandate NCPWD and other relevant Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to jointly design, launch and implement interventions with verifiable indicators aimed at promoting the rights of PWDs. Similarly, the organised private sector should follow suit, because the issue of disability is not only a question of human rights but is also a matter of social and economic development.
Again, the NCPWD should use a participatory approach in handling the affairs of PWDs and carry them along in the planning and implementation of policies for them to have a sense of belonging in the society; and also empower them to be self-reliant.
Meanwhile, relevant civil society organisations, particularly the media, have a major role to play in raising awareness and changing attitudes towards physically challenged people. They should embark on building the capacity of PWDs to enable them to develop life-skills, self-esteem and an understanding of their rights.
This period of nation re-building is also the time political parties should rejig their manifestoes and programmes to include in their agenda PWDs. This way, people with disabilities would be accepted as equal partners in development and included as full participants in all development activities such as politics.
Therefore, for the dignity of human persons and social justice, equity and inclusivity; national development activities should promote non-discrimination and equal opportunities for PWDs to participate in every facet of life — civil, political, economic, social and cultural.
In addition, the President and the National Assembly should ensure that the budget of the NCPWD features in the 2021 appropriation to avoid financial hiccups in the take-off of the Commission.
So, it is hoped that the executive members of the commission will protect the rights of PWDs and provide an enabling environment for them to maximise their potentials, thrive and contribute valuably to the society. This way, our country will be in synergy with the global vision of development and build a just society devoid of discrimination.