On the 23rd of January 2019, there was a prayer meeting held by People Living with disabilities at the unity fountain of Abuja. About 50 people gathered to pray for assent on a bill that in their belief would lead to good radical changes in their lives. A bill that promises better inclusion and organisation, for a populous demographic (about 10.5%) in Nigeria to be a part of their country and its development, a bill that looks like the right call for a government that wishes to enhance the lives of its citizens. That the proponents of this bill had to resort to such desperate measures shows how much these class of citizens have been so far neglected.
Although S.14 subsection (b) and (c) of the Nigerian constitution declared that “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”: and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this constitution” ; 19 million Nigerians living with disabilities have been crying out for almost a decade for something that is guaranteed as theirs by the law.
Fortuitously, the Disability Bill was finally passed into law on the same day a desperate appeal was made to supernatural forces for intervention.
Whether the supernatural forces exerted influence on the government or the government figured 19 million votes can contribute to their remaining in office especially with elections just two months away, Nigeria has now joined other nations who already have protections for their disabled populace guaranteed by law.
This law means that it is illegal for all people and institutions to discriminate against people living with disabilities, It means that current and future buildings now have to be Disability friendly, it means that discrimination is prohibited in public transportation, and service providers (including road makers) must make provision for all types of disability. It means that People living with disabilities (PLWDs) now have a priority in law when it comes to education and healthcare with a mandate on employers to reserve 5% of its employment opportunities for this group.
For many, it is a day where justice though long delayed was finally served, and the light of hope burned like the sun. A seat has been made for a group of people who have felt hidden to come and have a say in governing and development, a move that will hopefully benefit society as the individual contributions of PLWDs will likely enrich all spheres of life and national progress.
The enactment of this law could be likened to being given a spot on the starting line, it is now up to the newly created National Commission for Persons with Disabilities to fight for the implementation of this bill to become.
That there is an abundance of laws in Nigeria that should have corrected a lot of the problems the country still fights today is proof that just having laws is not an automatic guarantee, and this is the caution that should guide this new commission as it sets to facilitate the implementation of the law. There would be a need for advocacy on many levels and promotion of unity between multiple agencies to hold people, corporations and state actors accountable to the provisions of this act. The commission has a huge behavioural change challenge, a reorientation of the peoples of Nigeria campaign to change their perception of Persons Living With Disabilities.
Ghana enacted their own disability protection laws in 2006 but there has been very little change to the situation of PLWDs 13 years later. In one of their central regions, Kumasi, studies show that only 40.5% of its buildings are disability friendly. People living with disabilities are often regarded as unproductive and incapable of contributing in a positive way to society. Many PLWDs in Ghana are still in the vicious cycle of poverty and more work and funding is needed to create the society the law set out to produce.
Ghana is a cautionary tale that the road ahead would be far from easy, but hopefully, the example of other nations like the United Kingdom, where there has been a great improvement in the quality of life experience by PLWDs should ignite courage and perseverance. An in-depth study of such countries policies should prove useful to the newly established commission to map out a blueprint to follow, that would make Nigeria a place where people living with disability are fully included in the shortest amount of time.
Mahatma Gandhi once said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”, and the enactment of this bill can be seen as a step in the right direction by the government.
It is up to us citizens as our vigilance of how this law is implemented would keep these matter a going concern because building a strong inclusive nation is a job for all citizen.