© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
The fears after Governor Sanwoolu’s fiat
By Gbenga OGUNDARE
Twice in 2019, I had the misfortune of traveling with airlines that insisted I had to sit in a wheelchair while they wheeled me through the crowd of other passengers gawking as a visually challenges traveler board the plane.
In one of those trips, my blood pressure spiked because I expended my energy trying to persuade the airline staff I was not crippled.
The lady added insult to my injury by holding just two of my left fingers as though I were some plague from the pit of hell.
I wept all the way to Abuja, unconsolable by the miserable insults they further dished out to me and other passengers in the name of refreshments.
That was at an international airport where I expected some degree of courtesy and empathy for passengers with disabilities.
Unlike on the streets and highways in Lagos where navigation for disabled persons is all the time intimidating, perplexing, and extremely hard to manage.
Here on the streets of Lagos, people will stare at the blind as they struggle to find their way, and any place that involves stairs or a long walk suddenly becomes a tragicomedy for the ever-curious Lagosians to film with their phones and screened on the social media. They would rather first and foremost film your faulters and falls as a person with disability before they offer to assist you, while impatient commercial drivers and their conductors will yell at and curse you for taking measures to protect yourself from being hurt while boarding or alighting from their decrepit contraption.
And now, without warning, persons with disabilities in Lagos will feature more as tragic characters in those ridiculous film productions as Governor Babajide Sanwoolu thrusts them further into deeper frustration and pains with the clampdown on commercial motorcycles and tricycles in many parts of the state.
Far from being unnecessarily fussy over a split milk, I’m not alone in my harsh experiences as a person with disability. It is estimated that around 25 million persons live with a disability in Nigeria. And the streets and surburbs of Lagos fizz with a preponderant number of them– the blind, the physical and intellectually challenged, all with diverse age, gender, race, class, and ethno-cultural background.
Even if you do not have a disability yourself, you are likely to have a friend, family member or co-worker who does.
This category of vulnerable community– children, women and older people– are more likely to be affected by the clampdown on okada and keke Marwa in Lagos very soon.
It’s just a matter of logic. Poverty and disability are closely linked for one, and PLWDs in Lagos, as it is elsewhere in Nigeria, more often than not face socio-economic disadvantage.
They are largely unemployed and unable to afford or access proper nutrition and health coverage, how much less being able to afford the cost of flagging down a ridesharing taxi service such as UBER and Taxify. They live in communities without social protection programmes to help provide for their daily needs, and the buildings they occupy are shorned of appropriate designs and accommodations to ease navigation difficulties and hazards.
Demographic changes across the world indicate that the older population (aged 60 and above) is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2030. So it’s only a matter of time before the statistics of older PLWDs begin to spike in Nigeria, and especially Lagos because as people age, they become more susceptible to disabilities.
At the other end of the spectrum, up to 150 million children are estimated to be living with some form of disabilities around the world, and that also include the severl thousands who live in difficult surburbs in Lagos and now have to trek long distances, amidst other gruelling exertion in order to be in school.
Maybe Governor Sanwoolu’s migraine is gone now with the menace of those okada and keke Marwa riders kicked out of the local governments and local council development areas, but as it is, the pains remain with the PLWDs community in Lagos whose lives and routines have been greatly disrupted by the executive fiat.
The difficult circumstances that the blind, cripple, old people and children will grapple with as a result of the ban in Lagos is better imagined than experienced. And this means that government must make concerted effort to ensure these pains are mitigated by means of a pro-disabled persons transport initiative.
They are no less human than any other Lagosian after all. Therefore they should be adequately consulted and protected in the current drive of Governor Sanwoolu to rid Lagos roads of okada and keke Marwa which persons living with disabilities rely on to help them reach their destinations without undue frustration.
That’s what it means to ‘leave no one behind’ as espoused in the global agenda on Sustainable Development Goals, really.
It means that all people everywhere, regardless of their individual circumstances or status, must be deliberately considered as active stakeholders in any development intervention for that matter.
Gbenga Ogundare, a journalist, writes from Lagos