By Dayo Adesulu
A remarkably depressing sight on the streets of Lagos and many other cities in Nigeria is the number of people living with disability begging for alms. Sadly, its pervasiveness has also influenced the perception of some Nigerians about persons living with disability.
In some quarters, they are seen as the destitute, poor, feeble and dependent individuals who rely on handouts from the rest of the society for survival. However, in actual sense, disability should not pose a hindrance to any human in attaining great feats in life, when equality is regarded as a fundamental ethos in access to opportunities.
Persons with disability can contribute significantly to the socio-economic development of the nation when they are supported and accorded fair treatment in the society. For a nation like Nigeria with high population of persons living with disability, the question to ask is who looks after them? Who empowers them to be all that they can be?
These questions should trigger some national evaluation as the world commemorates the International Day for Persons with Disability.
The 2006 population census in Nigeria revealed that an estimated 3,253,169 people, which was about 3% of the total population of 140 million at the time, were living with some form of disability. The global report on disability published by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank in 2011 put the number of PwDs in Nigeria at 25 million indicating an increase from the 2006 figure in spite of interventions from the Federal government, NGOs and members of the corporate world.
The study actually submits that 3.6 million of the PwDs in Nigeria had very considerable difficulties in functioning. So who looks after them?
Scholars are of the view that disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty due to limited access to education, employment, medical care, nutritious food, and accessible environment.
However, there is something significantly interesting about this population as captured by the former World Bank president Paul Wolfwitz, which can remain untapped when they are treated less. He said, “People with disabilities are also people with extraordinary talent.
Yet, they are too often forgotten. When people with disabilities are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty and people living in conditions of poverty are more likely to develop disabilities.
As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities that they deserve.” This statement makes a case for why the nation and every well-meaning Nigerian – individual and corporate – should collaborate to ensure that PwDs in Nigeria are empowered to break the barriers placed before by the society through negative stereotypes.
It is encouraging to note that some organisations are already doing well in this regard. MTN Nigeria, through its social investment vehicle, MTN Foundation, since 2009 has been a strategic partner to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in providing support to persons living with disabilities through various programmes that seek to make life better for this huge population. Records show that over 20,000 have benefitted from the Foundation’s Disability Support Project, (MTNF-DSP), which is aimed at improving accessibility and functionality of persons with disabilities through the provision of mobility aids and appliances.
MTN Foundation has also provided 833 undergraduate scholarships to blind students in public tertiary institutions and with over 291 graduands under the Scholarship Scheme for Blind Students, while some of the graduands have also being provided employability training to increase their employability after school. Similarly, over 100 young persons with disabilities have undergone skill acquisition programme and benefitted from a micro credit scheme under the MTN Foundation Skill Acquisition Project, and 1,500 hearing aids have been provided to 896 hearing impaired persons under the Hearing Aid Support Project.
These and many more are the initiatives the Foundation is executing across Nigeria to make life brighter for PwDs in the country, working closely with relevant government and non-governmental agencies.
In addition to the Federal Ministry of Women and Social Development, MTN also partners with other specialised agencies and NGOs like Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Cedar Seed Foundation, Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria; Centre for Disability Rights and Development, Voice of Disability Initiative. Others are Deaf Resource Centre, Child Care Trust, National Association of the Blind, Hayat Foundation, Albino Foundation and the umbrella body, Joint National Associations of Persons with Disabilities.
The MTN Foundation’s strategy should also serve as a model for other corporate bodies on how to improve the plight of persons with disability in Nigeria through collaborative effort. There is no gainsaying the nation needs to do more to support the over 20 million Nigerians living with disability. It is a task that cannot be left to the government alone; it is one that requires long-term commitment from the private sector.
As we commemorate the International Day of Persons Living with Disability, it is imperative to evaluate the state of PwDs in Nigeria and join hands with individuals and corporate brands to break the many barriers before this talented population and ensure a society that promotes equality for all men regardless of their status.
Whilst one would expect other corporate entities to identify with PwDs in Nigeria, it is only appropriate to commend MTN Nigeria for the immense work they have done through the MTN Foundation. The impact of these interventions will truly go a long way in changing the narrative about persons with disability in Nigeria