By Cosmas Okoli
According to the latest estimates of the World Health Organization(WHO), the population of Persons with Disabilities is 15% of the world population.
If you apply this percentage to Nigeria’s population of about 160 million, the population of Nigerians with Disabilities will be 24 million. This population is more than the population of Togo (6.028 million), Sweden (9.378 million), Namibia (2.283 million) and Finland (5.364 million) put together which is 23.05 million. These figures are from the World Bank.
No Nation, no matter how well endowed, can achieve any meaningful development without carrying along such a significant population. When we as a nation, build infrastructures, formulate policies and implement them or carry on any developmental effort as if there are no Nigerians with disabilities, we are simply excluding about 24 million Citizens socially, economically and politically.
Unfortunately, we cannot wish this population away. This population must eat, have shelter, move about if only for the sake of moving about, go to hospital etc.
They are only excluded from contributing their quota to our National development, thus making them dependent on the rest of the society. Whereas, if we build a society that is accessible to all Nigerians, we will make it possible for persons with disabilities to contribute their quota to national development.
Despite the level of inaccessibility of our society, a good number of persons with disabilities have managed to distinguish themselves in their chosen career. Persons like Barr. Danlami Basharu an accomplished administrator, Cobams Asuquo, a renowned Music producer, Barr. Dan Onwe, a Lawyer, Dr. Mrs Uduak Ikpegbu, a senior registrar at the Lagos State University Teaching hospital, Alh. Umaru Al-Makura, the Governor of Nasarawa state, Prof. Chinua Achebe who we have lost to America because of the inaccessibility of our society, to mention but a few, one can then imagine what the contributions of persons with disabilities to our national development would be if we have a society that is accessible to all.
The only way we can ensure that we build a society that is accessible to all and unleash the potentials inherent in Persons with disabilities, is to ensure that their rights are protected through legislation. This is even more expedient, given the fact that our constitution failed to make any provision to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Our constitution did not even recognize that there are persons with disabilities in Nigeria. How can a Nation that is worth its salt, make a constitution with such grievous omission.
Thankfully, with the current constitution review effort, we have an opportunity to correct this unfortunate omission. I am aware that Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, supported by our development partners is making a contribution to the constitution amendment; one can only hope that our input will be favourably considered by the National assembly.
A country like Uganda, that has a robust legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, also has ample provision in their constitution for persons with disabilities. The Ugandan constitution for instance, has a provision that reserved 5 Parliamentary seats for persons with disabilities. This provision has ensured that persons with disabilities are represented in their parliament at all times. Little wonder why Uganda has gone far ahead of Nigeria in mainstreaming issues of disability in their national development.
If Nigeria as a nation is truly desirous to join the league of developed countries, we must ensure that we mainstream persons with disabilities through constitutional provisions and robust legislation. The Hope and Possibilities Ride will help put these issues in the front burner of national discuss.