If all indices are correct, there is a glimmer of hope for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes on the steps being taken to give them a new lease of life.
The story of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria has always evoked emotions whenever it is mentioned considering the manner of neglect such categories of persons had suffered in the past. That is why the recent indication of the government’s readiness to allocate five per cent jobs to them both in public and private sectors is an awesome development even though it is long overdue.
Disclosing the federal government’s intention, the minister of labour and productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, while addressing a large crowd of PWDs at the 16th anniversary celebration of a private foundation in Abuja, assured them that the ministry would issue circular to all the ministries and parastatal to implement that policy “immediately.”To that extent, he said the implementation signals the inclusivity policy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Speaking in the same vein, the Ekiti state governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said his administration had signed into law the Disability Act which provided five per cent employment inclusion for them including the establishment of Disability Commission to manage the affairs of PWDs in the state, adding that “as far as the matter of PWD is concerned, there will be total inclusiveness in its implementation.”
Blueprint Weekend recalls that a little over a year ago, President Buhari signed into law the long-awaited National Disability Commission with the full complement of a chairman and members subsumed under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
The setting up of the Commission, after two decades of advocacy by notable Nigerians and civil society groups, it was learnt, marked a turning point in the lives of Nigerians afflicted by various forms of disability. The Commission, therefore, is to provide social protection and safeguards for persons with disabilities. It is also to serve as a life-net against any discrimination that they may suffer in society.
Part of the new Commission’s mandate is also to ensure that the education, health care and other social and economic rights of the people with disabilities contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are attained.
Statistics show that Nigeria has at least 20 million out of the total 200 million population of disabled persons all over the world. However, this figure is conservative given their heavy presence in many parts of the country most especially those who roam the streets as beggars and destitute.
Blueprint Newspaper editorial captures the main causes of disabilities to include wars, diseases, congenital complications, the lack of access to health care, poor attention at old age and socio-cultural beliefs that frown upon immunisations against childhood diseases like polio.
The new Act, salient aspects
A look at the disability Act shows that there is provision for the prohibition of discrimination and harmful treatment of persons with disabilities for which offenders are liable to N1 million fine for corporate organisations while individuals are to be fined N100, 000 or 6 months imprisonment or both.
Also, in the Act is the provision of accessibility for physical structures in public places. This, therefore, makes it compulsory for public buildings, roads, walkways and others to be constructed in such a way that any person with disability could access them like every other person without any hindrance or inhibition.
It is public knowledge that persons with disabilities, especially the ambitious ones, have little hope of getting education, securing a job, having their own homes, families and raising their children, socialising or even exercising their civic rights during elections. It is therefore correct to say that from times immemorial, there has been a huge discrimination against them which the act sets out to eliminate.
If given the opportunity, many PWDs can match those with normal lives; for instance, in paralympic games many of them have brought laurels to the country where persons without disabilities could not.
According to the editorial, “Nigerian paralympians have proved to their compatriots over time that what a person without disability can do, a person with disability can do even better. They demonstrated this at the 2012 London Games and Rio 2016 during which they clinched several medals of all hues. Those accomplishments have helped in changing the perception of Nigerians about their conditions, freeing them from the bondage of self-pity.
“These feats can be found in many areas, for instance, the late Professor Bitrus Gani Ikilama was the first visually impaired graduate of Physiotherapy in Nigeria and even rose to become the head, Department of Physiotherapy Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria.”
PWDs programmes’ hiccups
Despite PWDs’ feats, past administrations in the country made little or no efforts to accord them priority; according to a social commentator, Gbenga Ogundare, “Nigeria, with no fewer than 20 million people damaged in one way or the other is yet to fully include these set of people in its public spending, not to talk about floating a special tax regime to raise funds for their welfare.”
Speaking further, he said, “Funding had always been the excuse as the government would make noise louder, especially in these trying times when Nigeria’s oil fortunes are so uncertain.”
He said Nigeria earned N207 billion from crude oil and gas exports in the first half of 2018, but fell short of the N661.4 billion being targeted. These disappearing revenues, he noted, threaten the eighth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which covers minorities like the PWDs, promotion of inclusive sustainable economic growth and productive employment and decent work for all.
Tax revenue, he advocated, should remain one major source to look to in order to upscale the surge of PLWDs. “Funding the SDGs is an economic and ethical imperative with major implications for taxation as countries need to raise more revenue in an equitable way.”
Expressing similar concerns about the need to fund the aspect of the SDGs that concern PWDs, the IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, noted during the February 2018 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) meeting in New York that the entire international community needs to eradicate tax evasion and tax avoidance.
This reporter’s investigation showed that tax avoidance and evasion plague developing economies where their tax-GDP ratio is low compared to the developed economies.
She said in Nigeria, the ratio is 6.1 per cent lower than Ghana’s and Egypt’s at 16 per cent, Morocco is at 22 per cent and South Africa is at 27 per cent; Norway stands at 54 per cent.
Still writing on ‘Solving Financial Exclusion of PWDs,’ another commentator, Oludayo Tade, said despite several policy interventions by the government, PWDs continually suffer unpleasant experiences in accessing banking services.
“They are excluded by disability-unfriendly structures and are made to endure exclusionary financial services, yet constitute an untapped goldmine for banks to retain a sizable share of the banking market and grow their organisations. “Underestimating the buying power of the population of person with disabilities in Nigeria would be to the detriment of operators,” he said.
While making reference to the Martin Prosperity Institute, he said the purchasing power of people living with disabilities is expected to exceed $1trillion in the United States by the end of 2021.
“This is a possibility for the Nigerian economy, if embraced, but why should we drive the financial inclusion of PWDs?”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over one billion people globally have one form of disability or another with 190 million of them within 15 years and above bracket.
It noted that, “In Nigeria, there are about 25 million PWDs and close to 40 million persons are financially excluded. The Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System PLC reported that there are about 124.85 million bank accounts opened in Nigeria.
“Out of these, 45.57 million are dormant. What this tells us is that there is a largely untapped market of PWDs by banks and not doing so affects the life chances of this underserved vulnerable social group who operate at the margins of financial inclusion.”
While people with disabilities in urban centres face financial exclusion, the experiences of their counterparts in the rural areas which house over 50 per cent of Nigerians is better imagined than experienced. Therefore, capturing PWDs in formal financial services would make them save, invest, access loans and contribute to the growth of the economy, according to experts.
To address the problem of disability-unfriendly structures, there are calls that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) must ensure that banks’ architectural designs are disability-friendly such that their financial services accommodate all forms of disabilities.
With an estimated 25 million persons with disabilities in Nigeria, about one in every eight Nigerians have at least one form of disability, says Ode Uduu, a concerned citizen.
He said, “Most common of these disabilities are visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical impairment, intellectual impairment and communication impairment.
“Disabilities could be caused by preventable diseases, congenital malformation, birth-related incidents, physical injury and psychological dysfunction. Although statistics are scanty about the demographic distribution of disabilities in Nigeria, available literature suggests that there are significantly more women with disabilities than men in the country and that due to the insurgency in the North-east, the region hosts the highest number of people with disabilities in the country.”
In spite of the fact that many disabilities are preventable, Uduu said the significantly high number of people with disabilities in Nigeria is disturbing.
“For instance, the increasing growth in the number of PWDs has been directly linked to the lack of medical facilities in the country. Arguably also, disabilities resulting from insecurity, violence and even accidents are so common in Nigeria.”
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 10 aims to reduce inequality by promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of everyone including persons with disabilities. Report however reveals that social protection for PWDs is still relatively weak in the country.
According to Uduu, while successive governments often claimed that it had implemented measures towards enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of PWDs, the Act which was given life recently had been lying dormant until right groups gave voice to it through several advocacy measures.
World Bank’s Report
According to a World Bank report, poverty may increase the risk of disability through malnutrition, inadequate access to education, poor health care, unsafe working conditions, polluted environment and lack of access to safe water/sanitation.
“Disability may also increase the risk of poverty, through lack of employment and education opportunities, lower wages, and increased cost of living with a disability. Global awareness of disability-inclusive development is increasing.
“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) promotes the full integration of persons with disabilities in societies while specifically referencing the importance of international development in addressing the rights of persons with disabilities,” the report indicated.