LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

Legal Status Of People Living With Disabilities In Nigeria Vis-A-Vis The Status Quo

Introduction
If asked, who are the category of people that suffers most in Nigeria, I would say, twice, that they are people living with disabilities (PWDs). All over the world, there are over 1 billion people living with some form of disability.(1) Research has shown that due to Boko Haram insurgency, the North-East hosts the highest number of persons with disabilities in Nigeria.(2) People living with disabilities are the most vulnerable among all humans. They easily succumb to any form of inconvenience unlike every other person that is well upright. Majority of people living with disabilities live below the life standard of which a normal human being should live. This has been their lifestyles for long, most especially, in the Northern part of the country.

In time of hatred, people living with disabilities (PWDs) are those that suffer most, they have long been segregated from the society, even some families despise their children with disabilities. Even without economic recession or whatever, persons with disabilities are more likely to experience extreme poverty in Nigeria than those without a disability.(3) In view of the status quo of people living with disabilities in Nigeria, it is important to also check into their legal status. All human beings are equal in dignity and rights and the Nigerian 1999 Constitution forbids discrimination, but in reality, the highest form of discrimination and segregation are been done to people with disabilities, looking at their ways of life in the country. Thus, this writer examines the legal status of people living with disabilities and why the law has not been able to shield them from all forms of embarrassment. The writer also makes possible recommendations which could help in changing the lifestyle of people living with disabilities in the country.

Conceptual Clarification: Disability
A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).(4)


Because of the nature of this research, the writer is not going to dig deep into types of disability. However, it is pertinent to know that, a significant proportion of disabilities are caused by injuries including those which result from traffic crashes, falls, burns, and acts of violence such as child abuse, youth violence, intimate partner violence, and war and conflict.(5) This can be easily noticed as vast majority of people sitting on wheelchairs were not born with broken spinal cords. Majority of violent youths that engage in thuggery activities have also paralyzed significant parts of their body, such as eyes, harm, legs. This is also the case in the North-East where Boko Haram operates on a full-time basis. The Boko Haram attacks which has caused the death of thousands of Nigerians has also caused thousands people to be disabled. Nevertheless, this cannot rebuke the fact that people are also born with disabilities. Such as, deaf, dumb, cripple, albinism etc. Science has claimed that these birth defects may be caused by genetic problems, problems with chromosomes, or environmental factors. (6)

Legal Status of People Living With Disabilities (PWDs)
It is apt to reinstate without any ambiguity that, by reality of existence and by virtue of being born alive as a human being, PWDs also enjoy fundamental rights as rights that are inalienable. Regardless of the way they are been treated in the society, they also enjoy all rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.(7) These rights include and not limited to, right to life, dignity of the human person, personal liberty, freedom of religion, movement, expression and to own property and freedom from discrimination. All this rights are there to protect everyone including PWDs in the country and no one has the right to willingly take it away from anyone except as provided for under S. 35 of the CFRN, 1999 as amended. They also enjoy the benefits of the fundamental objectives of the government like education, security, good road, good health facility etc.

However, if all these rights work very well and people without disability are pleased with it, the rights still, cannot make life easier for PWDs. Despite the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, PWDs face wide-ranging human rights abuses including institutionalization, isolation, stigma and discrimination, and lack of access to health, education and employment opportunities.(8) In 1993, during the military regime, ‘Nigerians Living with Disability Decree’ was promulgated to make life easier for PWDs.(9) Despite that decree which should serve as a precedent for the democratic government, PWDs have been abandoned for years without any law to change their status and make life more easier for them. The democratic governments have failed for years to cater for the lives of over 25 million Nigerians living with disabilities. Hence, left them to swim in the pool of poverty, unemployment and discrimination.

Nigeria ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and its Optional Protocol in 2010.(10) Since then, civil society groups and people with disabilities have called on the government to put it into practice.(11) But lack of implementation or body that will implement certain law will surely make such law impotent. On January 23, 2019, 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.(12) It is important to note that Lagos state has made Special People’s Law since 2011 and which also established Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs.(13)

A careful study of the ‘Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018’ shows that the Act criminalized all forms of discrimination against PWDs and also criminalized inflicting any form on inconvenience on PWDs. Little breakdown of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 are:(14)

For an effective implementation of the Act, the Act establishes ‘National Commission For Persons with Disabilities’ with responsibilities to promote the well-being of PWDs, including their education by making available, scholarships for them, and also admonish the society to change their orientation against them.

The Act criminalized all forms of discrimination against PWDs and also placed fine of ‘one million naira’ on a corporate body and ‘hundred thousand naira’ or six months imprisonment on an individual who discriminate against them. The victim of discrimination can also sue in civil capacity.

The Act made it mandatory for every public places to be accessible for PWDs, road, sidewalk, bridge etc. The Act also make it mandatory that before a public structure plan is approved, it must be in conformity with the building codes as not to inflict any unnecessary inconvenience on PWDs and also put a fine of ‘one million naira’ or 2years imprisonment or both on any officer who approves any public structure that’s not in conformity with the building code.

The Act allows any disabled person to notify appropriate authorities on any existing structure or environment which he has rights to access but due to his condition, he cannot access. And such authority must, with immediate effect take action to that effect, failure of which attract ‘ten thousand naira and five thousand naira’ for corporate and individual body respectively. Also with the option of six months imprisonment or both. The money is to be paid to the complainant(disabled) for each day of default.

In terms of transportation, Road, Sea, Railway and Airport, the Act make it mandatory for people or organizations in charge to provide easy access devoid of any stress for PWDs. Default of which attracts fine or imprisonment.

The Act makes it a crime to employ, use on involve PWDs in begging or parading them with the intent to solicit alms. Any person who violates this is also liable to a fine of one hundred thousand naira or six months imprisonment or both.

The access to education of PWDs is also guaranteed under the Act, and the Act made it clear that education of PWDs shall be free up to secondary level. The Act also provides for special facilities for the effective study of PWDs, this facilities also include teachers/lecturers that are good in that area.

The Act also provides for unfettered health facility for PWDs with free treatment in public institutions for those with mental disability.

Due to their vulnerability, the Act has made it compulsory for every organization to consider them first, either in queue or in term of risk. Failure of which attracts 50,000 or six months imprisonment or both.

The Act makes it mandatory for all public organizations to have at least, 5% of PWDs and also encourage their participation in politics.

The Act has charged the Federal Ministry of Information with the responsibility to make awareness regarding the rights, respect, and dignity of PWDs.

This Act is a welcome development as it lifts up the status of PWDs in the country. It will also make people aware of the risk and consequences involved in discriminating against PWDs. But it is so sad that effective implementation of laws in Nigeria cannot be fully assured due to the high rate of corruption which has became endemic in every public offices. It is also so sad that despite the great benefits of this law, out of 36 states, only 10 states have disability laws in Nigeria.(15)

Life and Experience of People Living With Disabilities (PWDs)
It is not an exaggeration to say; the life of PWDs in Nigeria is terrible. Though, there are laws, but the question is, how effective are these laws? It has always been the tools of the rich in the country.

Disabled people in Africa, including Nigeria, are usually extremely poor, often living in rural and other areas where medical and other services are scarce, or even totally absent, and where disabilities are not detected in time. (16) The reason for the high poverty rate among PWDs is not far-fetched; vast majority of them are not educated, the employment rate is so poor, if at all there is any reservations for them. Despite several laws in action, PWDs face different kind of discriminations every day, from almost everyone around them. Abuses and diabolic stories of the reason why they were born disabled are what they hear. Only few of them who are privileged to be born into rich families get support due to parental influence.

It is so pathetic how majority of disabled people result in begging on the roads in the North. It is even more worrisome that they are sometimes transferred to other part of the Country, like the South for this begging business. Most PWDs in the North have actually looked down on themselves due to lack of support from families. Some people will even refuse to give them money claiming that disabled people begging are lazy, I wonder what kind of job they have, that they didn’t offer them.

Sometimes, our opinions towards these people are wrong. In reality, most people living without any disability derail and later become internet fraudsters and criminals, this is just because most of them have no family support or they are poor and believe engaging in fraud is the only fastest way to eliminate poverty. And someone with disability whose parents are poor and receives no support from government might also think that, instead of him starving himself to death, he should start begging, at least, for sustenance. When talking of free access to education and good health services, the poor PWDs do not enjoy this, because there are no good health facilities in Nigeria. The outbreak of the Corona Virus exposed the country’s critically ill health system. Without regret, our health facilities are poor, the only reason why rich people seek medical attention abroad.

Education in Nigeria is something that no reasonable Nigerian will proud of. The condition of our schools are poor due to lack of proper funding, this has made education to be expensive. Good and fast education in Nigeria is expensive and special schools for PWDs are even more expensive. The special materials that are been used to teach PWDs is not something anyone could just afford, an ordinary pencil for the blind is 5,000. Also, not all our universities are suitable for people with disabilities. In fact, most of our universities lecture theaters are not accessible for persons on wheelchair, and persons using walking stick will have to undergo unnecessary stress and frustration while climbing the steps. All this, stress, expenses and unnecessary discrimination from students and teachers has made education more expensive for people with disabilities.

UNESCO reported that 90 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.(17) This is due to lack of efficient support from government. If a government can use millions of naira to support and sponsor repentant members of a group that has killed and disabled thousands of Nigerians, I wonder what makes it difficult for them to also cater for their victims and people living with disabilities. It is right to say that 90% of PWDs in Nigeria are extremely poor without education, good health facilities, and employment, due to the negligence of the government, and its inability to fully implement the Law it enacted and lack of proper awareness.

Conclusion
The vulnerability of PWDs and their inability to participate fully in social, economic and political life has been the major problem facing them. The reason for this are lack of good education, health facilities and government support which has caused majority of them to be extremely poor. The Federal Government of Nigeria signed into law, Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act which criminalized all forms of discrimination and unnecessary hardship against PWDs. The law has blessed PWDs with a lot of privileges and opportunities that are needed for them to live a better life. But it seems to the writer that, majority, if not all PWDs are still living in the opposite of what the law has blessed them with.

Recommendations
In order to uplift the status of PWDs in Nigeria;
There is need for Federal Government and State Governments to make full implementation of the laws so as to close the gap between the legal status and the opposite life which PWDs live.

There is need for proper and effective awareness of the rights of PWDs in line with the Provisions of Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act, 2018. Thus, everyone should be aware of the risk in wrongly dealing with PWDs.

The Government should also make education free at all levels for PWDs and they should be considered first before any other person. This will not only make life easier for them, it will also encourage the poor among them. The government should build more public special schools that will be fully funded as to make access to education easier for them.

Health is wealth, there should be free access to hospitals for PWDs and our hospitals should be well equipped with all the necessary equipment’s. Health practitioners should also not be reluctant in attending to PWDs. For someone who is not disabled, seeing a Doctor or specialist at general hospitals is so difficult and the way some of the workers neglect patients is worrisome. The way and manner in which health practitioner’s deal with PWDs should be strictly regulated with penalties involved.

Vocational training and seminars should be organized for PWDs from time to time. This will gradually create enlightenment among them. The employment rate of PWDs should also be strictly implemented.

References

  1. World Health Organization, ‘Disability and Health’ (1 December 2020) https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health accessed January 1 2021

2. Grassroots Researchers Association, ‘They Called Us Senseless Beggars: Challenges of Persons with Disabilities in North-Eastern Nigeria’ p5 https://www.grassrootresearchers.org/challenges-of-persons-with-disabilities-in-north-eastern-nigeria/ accessed January 1 2023.

3. Rosa Maria M. and Varalakshmi Vemuru, ‘Social inclusion of persons with disabilities in Nigeria: Challenges and opportunities’ (29 September 2020) https://blogs.worldbank.org/nasikiliza/social-inclusion-persons-disabilities-nigeria-challenges-and-opportunities accessed January 1 2021

4. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, ‘Impairments, Activity Limitations, and Participation Restrictions’(16 September 2020) https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability.html accessed January 1 2021

5. World Health Organization, ‘Injury-related disability and rehabilitation’https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/disability/en/accessed January 1 2021

6. John P Cunha: ‘Birth defects fact’ https://www.medicinenet.com/birth_defects/article.htm accessed January 1 2021

7. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) CAP C23, LFN 2004; Chapter II

8. Ibid p46 n2

9. Ibid p43

10. Anietie Ewang, ‘Nigeria passes disability rights law’ (25 January2019) EJTL https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/25/nigeria-passes-disability-rights-law accessed January 2 2021

11. Ibid

12. Ibid

13. The Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs, EJTL https://lasoda.lagosstate.gov.ng/ accessed January 2 2021

14. Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018

15. Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh, ‘PWDs want domestication of disability act in all states’ The Guardian (Lagos, 17 March 2020) https://www.google.com/amp/s/guardian.ng/news/pwds-want-domestication-of-disability-act-in-all-states/amp accessed January 3 2021

16. Ibid p17 n2

17. Ibid p19

ABOUT THE WRITER:
Ridwan Sulaiman Adeshina is a 200level law student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He also has Diploma in Law from the same Institution. Adeshina loves writing a lot, including poem. He likes making research and engage himself in academic discussions. He also loves traveling and meeting new people. His free time are best used writing or reading academic books. He could be reached through;
Email: [email protected] or 08067325945

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