Next Level for Disability Law in Nigeria, By Hameed Oyegbade

The “Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, definitely was a milestone for those affected, and probably for all the citizens. At least, the over 25 million persons that are living with disabilities in Nigeria are happy with the passage and signing of a law aimed at reintegrating them fully back into the society.

The Act envisages the condition and limitations of persons living with disabilities and makes provision for their inclusion in the society: At least, as a succour to mitigate their emotional and psychological trauma. If the law is implemented, it would alleviate the suffering of persons living with disabilities to a great extent and, even curb the menace of using them as object of begging. It will also relieve relatives of this category of Nigerians from bearing the entire burden of catering for them all alone.

But it may not happen easily, as this law might just become one of those laws that are just there without being implemented. For instance, the law that prohibits discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS is just there and not implemented. That law provided that all places of work must develop HIV/AIDS workplace policy as a way of ensuring that the employers would not maltreat employees because of their HIV status. Up till now, if at all, it’s rare to see any workplace that has such policy.

The implementation of that law on prohibition of discrimination against persons living with HIV suffered serious setback because there was no push until recently that Lawyers Alert Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation took up the case of a man that was sacked by his employer because of his HIV status. Lawyers Alert dragged the employer to court and won the case; and the man, Mr X, was handsomely compensated. Perhaps, that employer should serve as deterrent to other employers that tend to behave in the same manner.

Another law that was passed that also faces implementation-challenge is the “Not Too Young to Run”. Despite the passage of this law, it was shocking that the percentage of young people elected in the just-concluded 2019 election was not commensurate with expectation in a country with huge population of youths.

Also, the Freedom of Information Act, up till now, has not been given the chance at implementation stage. There are several cases in court now on the application of the Freedom of Information Act. A human rights activist and member of Ondo State Civil Society Organisation, Martins Alo, took Ondo State Government to court over issues around application of Freedom of Information Act, and the case has been foot-dragging from High Court to Appeal Court and, now, at the Supreme Court with its fate hanging in the balance.

One then begins to wonder why the passing and signing into laws certain subjects, since such laws would not be implemented. Then, what is the essence of the legislative arm of government that gulps huge resources from the nation to service the legislators. And what’s the essence of government without laws, whereas the state exists due to the existence of the law. Why do we then have the judiciary, if the laws would not function?

This Disability Act is a litmus test to really know the seriousness and sincerity of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, “who is a disciplined law enforcer” given his military background, and who appears to be “a man of principle” and having a Pastor, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Professor of Law, Yemi Osinbajo, as Vice-President.

The stakeholders from various clusters in the disabilities community in Nigeria demand the immediate implementation of this Disability Act. At a recent strategy session facilitated by Department for International Development’s Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL), the stakeholders dissected the law and identified priority areas that require immediate implementation.

Prof Jubril Isah of Bayero University, Kano (BUK); Dr Adebukola Adebayo, Member, Governing Board, Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA); Mr David Anyaele, Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities; Mr Daniel Onwe, President, Lawyers Living with Disabilities; Irene Ojugo Patrick-Ogbogu, Executive Director, Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC) and Sulaimon Abdulazeez, Chairman, Kaduna State chapter of JONAPWD were among the stakeholders at the session. They unanimously agreed on five key areas for immediate implementation of the law.

The stakeholders commended the National Assembly and the presidency for gazetting the law. They urged President Buhari to set up a National Commission for Disabilities, without delay. They also appealed to the Federal Government to provide funds for the commission to be effective. They also emphasised the need by all stakeholders, including the media to create more awareness of the law so that every citizen would be aware of the existence of the law, and abide. The stakeholders charged all state governors to domesticate the disability law in their various states.

In conclusion, the persons living with disabilities are citizens of this country who deserve to live and function unhindered (within the ambit of the law), but they are at a disadvantage in most cases. Often, they are denied access and opportunities because of their condition. This necessitated the disability law, to reintegrate them back fully into the society and give them a sense of belonging. This will promote love among the citizenry, if well implemented. Therefore, I urge President Buhari and all those concerned, to please kindly take the Disability Law in Nigeria to the Next Level, by ensuring the immediate implementation of the law.

•Prince Oyegbade writes from Agunbelewo, Osogbo, Osun State.

Source News Expres

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