By Kevwe Ebireri, Abuja
As the International Day of persons with disabilities is marked globally today, there has been a renewed call for President Goodluck Jonathan to sign into law the Persons with Disabilities Bill passed by the National Assembly since March.
Coming together under the auspices of the Cedar Seed Foundation, persons with disabilities in Abuja and its environs, converged at the old parade ground to stage an advocacy walk, demanding full inclusion and participation in employment opportunities, education, healthcare facilities and other services that would make their lives meaningful
Chief executive officer of the foundation, Lois Auta, said if signed into law, the bill will ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected as it addresses most of the challenges facing the group.
“If signed, the bill will help in giving us our rights, by reserving some percentage of employment opportunities for us in all organisations and if you refuse to do that, we have the right to sue you to court. For example, banking halls should be accessible to us,” said Auta.
The Persons with Disabilities Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly nine months ago, makes it a crime for any individual or corporate organization to discriminate against persons with disabilities either in terms of employment or making public offices inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
The bill which was sponsored by Abike Dabiri-Erewa seeks to ensure full integration of Nigerians with disability into the society and eliminate all forms of discrimination against them.
It provides that “persons with disabilities shall have the right to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open”.
Section 60(1) of the Bill states that “No employer or his agent or purported agent shall discriminate against a person with disability in any manner whatsoever and in particular but not limited to: (a) a job application procedure”.
In order to ensure easy access for people with disabilities to promotion like their able counterpart, the bill further prescribes that workers with disability must not be denied to promotion, advancement, transfer or training, or to any other benefit associated with employment.
It also recommends that every public office buildings should create special parking spaces, special stair cases and lifts for the disabled, among several other provisions.
The bill prescribes punishment for offenders ranging from prison term or payment of fines as the case may be.
While President Jonathan delays in giving life to the bill, persons living with disabilities in Nigeria continue to have their rights trampled upon, as they are treated with less dignity and respect, almost like second class citizens.
Some manage to rise above the tide of discrimination, compete favourably with able-bodied persons and live a successful happy life, but many others find it more difficult and live a sad, dependent life with low self confidence and worth.
The financial secretary, Cedar Seed Foundation, Rose Daniel, spoke to icirnigeria.org about how difficult her growing up was as a physically challenged person and how her condition robbed her of her dream to become a medical doctor.
Daniel was born normal but was struck with polio after her first birthday and after receiving some injections from a hospital, everything changed for her; she could no longer walk without the support of a cane.
“I wanted to be a medical doctor. When I finished secondary school, I wanted to apply for medicine but they said because of my condition, I can’t attend to patients on time,” she said.
Daniel is now a graduate of business administration.
The story of Yakubu Aku Tanko, a lecturer in the department of Public Administration at the Nasarawa State University, is one that is very touching.
Three years ago, Tanko, like many able-bodied persons never imagined he would one day be seated in the gathering of persons living with disabilities, as a member, but in 2012, he suffered from complicated diabetes which affected his left leg that led to its amputation.
When asked how losing a leg made him feel, he simply answered, “Well, nobody knows his fate. When it came, I embraced it with joy that baffled even the medical doctors.”
Luckily, Tanko was not relived of his job as a result of his condition and he lives a happy life almost as though things were normal; he even drives a car,
Beatrice Mube, coordinator of the Network of Women Living with Disabilities, is even happier with her life, even though she is deformed in one leg and has been more of a blessing to those around her, instead of a liability.
For Mube, who has a Masters degree in Public Administration and is working towards acquiring a doctorate degree, there is ability in disability and her condition has brought more favours to her than she ever imagined, including the gift of a husband and two sons.
Advising other persons living with disabilities who are yet to discover themselves, Mube said, “Disability is not in the head, its in the mind. By the time you give colour to your life with education, you’re already living above disability. Build up your self confidence. Disability is not a barrier, it is rather a stepping stone.”
The high point of the event to mark the day was the visit to the school of the blind, Jabi – Abuja, where they donated items like indomie, soaps, toilet rolls, etc to the students.