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Lawyers with disabilities sue for equality

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Irked by what it termed societal discrimination, the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN), visited the National Industrial Courts President, Justice B. B. Kanyip and other Judges, to complain about the high level of marginalization meted on the disabled in the society.

The group’s President, Daniel Onwe ESQ, prayed the court to intervene in every matter that affects the disabled.

In his presentation, Onwe posited that the disabled Lawyers and others in the socity are usually not put into consideration in the scheme of affairs.

He went on to give instances, citing conditions that need to be addressed.

Read his full statement below:

AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF ASSOCIATION OF LAWYERS WITH DISABILITIES IN NIGERIA (ALDIN), DANIEL ONWE ESQ. ON ALIDIN’S VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT AND JUDGES OF THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT.

The President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria,

My Lord Hon. Justice B. B. Kanyip

The Hon. Judges of the National Industrial Court,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN), we wish to express our profound gratitude to the President and Judges of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for granting us the privilege of this meeting. We cannot make the mistake of taking this kind gesture for granted.

We joyfully congratulate My Lord on his well-deserved appointment as the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. This is a calling by the God Almighty for a special assignment in time like this. It is our earnest prayer, that My Lord will be used by God to bring unparalleled glory to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. And God will specially strengthen, protect and endow my Lord for this crucial assignment.

As our name implies, ALDIN is the umbrella association of Nigerian lawyers, both at home and in diaspora, who have one type of disability or the other. Our objective is to champion the cause of persons with disabilities generally, and in particular, lawyers with disabilities, in the practice of their profession. In other words, we strive to actualize level playing fields for lawyers with disabilities, particularly in the legal profession.

READ ALSO: Disability inclusion, instrument for empowering PWD

The existence of our organization is necessitated by the fact that persons with disabilities are usually not put into consideration in the scheme of affairs in the society – hence their interest usually comes as an afterthought. For instance, public buildings are usually constructed with steep flight of steps, without considering that there are people on wheelchairs and crutches who would need to access those buildings. The modus operandi in our society does not contemplate that there are blind, deaf and other persons with other disabilities who would requires peculiar format of communication. Therefore, persons with disabilities are abandoned to their fate.

Our Courts of justice are neither just nor fair to persons with disabilities. Court buildings and environment are very inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities who come to the courts, either as counsel or litigant are face with untold hardship, and this could be very demoralizing. Persons on wheelchairs, for instance, can only access most courts by crawling on the floor or being carried in the hand like babies. There are several blind persons who have defied all odds to become lawyers, but the courts seem to close its doors to them as the basic assistive facilities to cater for their peculiarities are conspicuously absent.  We have deaf persons who have taken their destinies in their hand to go to school and trained to become lawyers. And then they face a brick wall in the profession, as there are no sign language interpreters provided to communicate with them in the Courts and other relevant fora. My Lord, we think this is unfair, unjust an unequitable.

Fortunately, the National Industrial Court has a peculiar jurisdiction to promote equity, fairness and international best practices. It would be equitable, fair and just to create a level playing field for persons with disabilities in the buildings, environment, practice and procedures of the National Industrial Court. Creating level playing fields for persons with disabilities has now become a global trend. And Nigeria cannot afford to be an exception. In essence the National Industrial Court has so much role to play in upholding the rights of persons with disabilities in Nigeria.

The National Industrial Court is the Court constitutionally vested with exclusive jurisdiction in matters related to labour, employment, unfair labour practices, international best practices in labour, and disputes arising from discrimination.

In the exercise of this special jurisdiction, may the National Industrial Court  always be mindful of the undeniable fact that persons with disabilities are always victims of covert and overt discrimination in the labour market; the labour environment and practices are most unfair to persons with disabilities. For instance, how can we explain the case of persons with disabilities, who scales through all recruitment interviews and tests, and possess the essential competences for the job in question, only to be denied employment just for the reason that they are persons with disabilities? What do we call the situation whereby a lawyer on wheelchair is faced with practicing in courts with sharp flights of steps, but without suitable elevators or ramps? How can the lawyer with disability be crawling in and out Court and still  fairly compete with other lawyers for patronage?

Vanguard

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