7 min read

Jonathan Ogbonna

An estimated one billion people live with disabilities worldwide. As many as 25million Nigerians are living with various disabilities. They face many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society, the most unacceptable being stigmatization. People Living With Disabilities (PLWD), often do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, in critical areas of housing, transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. United Nations has observed that the right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

On January 23, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018,  following 9 years of relentless advocacy by disability rights groups and activists.

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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. The bill for the new law was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate joint committee in November 2016, and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law on January 23. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it.

Mr. Gboyega Alesinloye, a paraplegia polio survivor and public health worker, speaks on the several challenges People With Disabilities (PWDs) face in Nigeria (Theinterview):

Also, with the signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by Nigeria, the yearly IDPD has over the years become a major event being celebrated by the federal and state governments of Nigeria. It has continued to draw attention to the plights and needs for inclusion of PWDs.

He further stated, “Having lived, studied and fully benefited from the advanced system of inclusion in the US, even as a foreigner, I can tell you categorically that we are very far from doing enough as a country to empower and ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in Nigeria.”

However, International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD) stands by its conviction that a person is not inherently ‘disabled’…disability is NOT a feature of a person.  We say that people have health impairments: some of us need wheelchairs to mobilize; some of us need seeing-eye dogs; some of us need assistive technology – just like some of us need glasses to read; or medication to manage pain; or an inhaler to manage asthma. 

All people have different health impairments at some time in their lives.  The difference is that most of the time your health impairment doesn’t stop you from functioning, being included or participating in your community.

IDPWD exists to make sure that environmental and social BARRIERS are identified, and to help everyone to work together to overcome them. “We will never eradicate health impairments…but by overcoming barriers, then we eradicate disablement.” IDPWD

Nigerians living with disabilities have already demonstrated that there are abundant abilities in disabilities. We must urgently enhance their capacities and support them in setting their own priorities. Empowerment involves investing – in jobs, health, nutrition, education, and social protection. When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities.

While we expect the government to make and enforce laws that protect the rights and interests of those with disabilities, each of us as individuals must make frantic and conscious efforts to first recognize and respect the peculiar needs of every PWD.

This should begin from the deserved love and support from family members, respect as rights holders in religious settings, recognition as key stakeholders in development/partnership efforts and as wonderful and faithful partners in relationships and friendships. We should always show empathy towards every child, man, woman and aged PWD we come across every day, recognizing that they deserve to also have access to everything and everywhere we go as well as be happy, peaceful and free everywhere they go in Nigeria.

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