The persons with disabilites should be empowered to help themselves and their families
Nigerians with Disabilites got an unusual advocate during the week when Debola Daniel, son of former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, expressed concern over neglect of this vulnerable citizens in our country. “To be a Nigerian with disability is a lonely, scary, and isolated place. I have often struggled to articulate my Nigerian experience in a way people could understand,” Daniel wrote while sharing a recent experience of a concert he could not attend. “There’s never a place for you. Not in the infrastructure, not in social settings and increasingly not in society. It’s a feeling of constantly being made to act grateful for being included as an afterthought.”
We commend Daniel for speaking out for this neglected group. It is important for the authorities in Nigeria to begin to pay attention to a huge segment of our society. Besides the 2018 Act that compels the government to accommodate them in any major enterprise, Nigeria is a signatory to many international conventions that support equal opportunities for all their citizens. The United Nations defines equalisation of opportunities as “the process through which the general system of society, such as the physical and cultural environment, housing and transportation, social and health services, educational and work opportunities, cultural and social life, including sports and recreational facilities are made accessible to all.”
However, it remains unfortunate that persons with disabilites of our society are still discriminated against and face social stigma. From transportation which allows movement and interactions, through health, recreations and even educational services which can make them compete effectively, people with one disability or another are most often discriminated against and deprived of their rights. Everywhere and every day, obstacles are thrown on their paths.
In Nigeria today, persons with disabilites are most often denied employment opportunities and they are also subjected to discrimination and stigmatisation by both the society and the authorities. To worsen the situation, many are regarded by their families as a source of shame and treated as objects of charity. The few vocational training centres set up by government are ill-equipped and ill-maintained. Many end up in the streets as beggars while others turn to drugs and other socially unacceptable behaviour to generate income.
From the “Nigerians with Disability” military decree of 1993 which provides “a clear and comprehensive legal protection and security for Nigerians with disability as well as establish standard for enforcement of their rights and privileges” to the several efforts by the National Assembly in the past 24 years, the law is not the problem. The main challenge has been the attitude of Nigerians to the plight of this vulnerable group. Yet according to World Health Organisation (WHO) reports, there are as many as 25 million Nigerians living with one form of disability or another.
A recent news report clearly stated that about 98 per cent of public buildings in the country such as schools, hospitals, banks, even shop stalls, where some can make economic transactions, are still inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Yet persons pconstitute about 19 per cent of the population.
The government as a matter of policy must create a conducive atmosphere for social, economic, and political integration of persons with disabilites in our society. Even if old public institutional buildings cannot be modernised to accommodate them, new ones should be built in such a way that they provide access to the physically challenged. Attempts must also be made to open educational and employment opportunities so that they can compete and embrace life with more confidence. Persons With Disabilites in our midst must be empowered to help themselves and their families and contribute their bits to the growth and development of the society.