*As polio survivors embark on tricycle ride to Abuja
By Uduma Kalu
LAGOS – Persons with disabilities and eminent Nigerians have urged President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the Persons with Disabilities Bill which has been sent to him since 2010 by the National Assembly.
The appeal came from eminent Nigerians including Senator Bode Olajumoke, Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr Sam Amuka and Sector Commander of Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Lagos Command, Mr. Charles Akpabio, who was represented.
The request was made yesterday at a media round table christened ‘Hope and Possibility’ at Golden Tulip Hotel, organised by the Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre, MAARDEC.
Chairman of the event, Mr. Sam Amuka, noted that the head of the centre, Mr. Cosmas Okoli, is a national figure who has proved that his life and physical disabilities are not a handicap.
Amuka said Okoli’s curriculum vitae, activities and aspirations were a wonder, adding that Okoli is “a great credit to this country.”
In support of MAARDEC, the Vanguard publisher said the newspaper will partner with the centre to realise its project. As part of these efforts, Okoli is to become a Vanguard columnist.
Olajumoke hails Okoli
However, Chairman of the centre’s board of directors, Senator Olajumoke, while extolling Okoli as an inspiration to many, urged support for him (Okoli). Olajumoke said the campaign should not be a one man affair and that the disabilities bill, which he sponsored, was harmonised by the National Assembly in 2010 and sent to the President. It has been awaiting Presidential assent since then. “The media should put pressure on the president to assent it,” the senator said.
President of the centre, Mr. Cosmas Okoli, told the gathering that the group wanted Nigeria to domesticate the United Nations, UN, version of the bill. “The schools, public buildings should be made accessible to us. The buildings and roads are not constructed to our advantage. The walkways of the roads do not have ramps. So, we are forced to use the same roads with vehicles. The Senate’s bill was sponsored by Olajumoke and the House of Representatives’ by Abike Dabiri. The bill has been sent to the President for assent. We urge him to assent to it,” he said.
As part of this campaign, Okoli said three physically challenged, including himself, will embark on a month long ride from Lagos to Abuja with manual tricycles covering a distance of 1, 349 kilometres. The riders will be accompanied by three able bodied cyclists, FRSC officials, security agents, trumpeters, medical personnel, caterers and bicycle technicians and sanitation personnel. Eighty persons would be on the entourage. The riders will cover about 75 kilometrs a day. At each stop, they will camp at convenient pre- arranged locations on the route with courtesy calls on state governors on the route. Starting on November 4, Okoli said the team will arrive Abuja on December 3 and is expected to be received by President Jonathan. The route will be from Lagos through Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Anambra, Ebonyi, Benue, Nasarawa states and Abuja.
The arrival of the team, the sports administrator said, is planned to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with the theme ‘Removing Barriers to create an inclusive and accessible Society for all’.
Asking Nigerians to support the campaign which will gulp N70 million, the MAARDEC boss itemised the objectives of the ride to include promotion of the legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities in Nigeria, which he said make up 22 million of the population. Their members suffer unimaginable social exclusion, he explained.
According to him, though few states have legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, most of the states and the Federal Government do not, adding that the states that have, have not done much to implement the law.
The ride, he said will promote the immunisation of children against polio and other preventable childhood diseases. It will also promote safety on Nigerian roads in partnership with FRSC.
The centre, Okoli said, plans expansion of its operations to meet the mobility need of Nigerians with disabilities in all states. And that through the ride, the centre will seek the support of various state governments which Okoli said will enable the centre to realise its operations and functions.