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 over 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 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 would also offer relief to relations of this category of Nigerians who bear the entire burden of catering for them.
But it may not happen easily and 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 not being implemented. That law provides 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 nongovernmental organisation, took up the case of a man who 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. The punishment to that employer served as deterrent to other employers who tend to behave in the same manner.
Another law also facing implementation challenge is the ‘Not Too Young to Rule’. Despite the passage of this law, it was shocking that the percentage of the youth that got elected in the just concluded 2019 elections was not commensurate with the 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, dragged the Ondo State Government to court over issues around application of the Freedom of Information Act and the case has been foot-dragging from High Court to Appeal Court and now at Supreme Court with its fate hanging in the balance.
One then begins to wonder why such laws were passed and signed since they cannot be implemented. What then 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 when 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 what about the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN.
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 the Department for International Development, DFID’s, Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn, PERL, the stakeholders dissected the law and identified priority areas that required immediate implementation.
Professor 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 and 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 Buahri to set up the national commission for disability without delay. They also appealed to the Federal Government to provide fund for the commission to enable it become effective. They also emphasised the need for 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 by it. 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 disadvantage in most cases and are often being denied access and opportunities because of their condition. This disability law was necessitated by the desire to reintegrate them 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 its immediate implementation.
Oyegbade, a journalist, wrote from Osogbo, Osun State