Though the Nigerian constitution operates on the principle of rule of law, there is obviously in place a social class system that discriminates against certain members of the society. One of such class of people is the physically challenged, sometimes derogatorily referred to as the disabled. More often than not, if a typical Nigerian comes across a physically challenged, the first impression on his mind is that of a useless and hopeless person. And he shows this by sometimes arrogantly offering alms. The dearth of baseline information about this social category, especially in developing nations, including Nigeria, usually clouds our knowledge about their potentialities (ability in disability).
Indeed, cases abound of discriminations against persons with disability in getting access to public education, medical care and employment. Most offices, shopping malls, banks and other public buildings are erected with little or no consideration for mobility for the impaired members of the society. Automated Teller Machines, (ATMs) in banks are built in such a way that those on wheelchairs cannot access them.
This is in spite of a law, which recognizes and preaches that all people be treated equally, regardless of their physical state.
Stemming from their inability to access basic facilities, all empirical evidence point to difficulty for the physical challenged to have a sustainable livelihood. Interestingly, at a political rally in January 2015, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode made a solemn promise to stand by them if elected as governor.
Today, true to his promise, management of People with Disabilities (PWDs) in Lagos State has received tremendous boost consequent of initiatives and empowerment programmes put in place by the government to improve the socio-economic status of PWDs residing in the state.
The government has steadily employed and institutionalized empowerment strategies which have no doubt expanded the prospects of persons with disabilities in the state and expectedly changing the established perception or narrative of people seeing them as beggars to those with skills and attitude to become wealth creators.
The state, having identified challenges faced by this special people, crucially backed its intention with laudable initiatives such as ‘Ability Expo’, ‘N500 million Disability Trust Fund’, ‘free ride on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and LAGBUS buses’ among others to give PWDs sense of belonging. The process of integrating PWDs into social investment net actually started with the creation of Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) which co-ordinates the education, social development, welfare and inclusion in of People Living with Disability in governance.
Also, in its bold bid to showcase its inclusive social development credentials, LASODA initiated ‘Ability Expo’ as an annual event through which PWDs who are into various enterprises, especially those that produce goods and services, are given the opportunity to showcase their businesses to the world. Also, individuals, groups, institutions and other stakeholders whose line of businesses are disability-concern related are allowed to participate in the special exhibition.
Majority of PWDs in business are into small scale businesses and lack means of letting the people know what they do or sell because of lack of funds to embark on advertisement in the media and participating in some popular exhibitions. Hence, the “Ability Expo”, as an exhibition, bridges the gap for people with disability in the state, as people come to see what they have to offer and also patronize them through purchases. As a matter of fact, all MDAs are duty-bound to reserve specific quota for PWDs in any programme they may wish to embark upon for the benefit of the public.
In order to sustain on-going efforts to improve the lots of PWDs in the state, the state government recently recorded yet another landmark feat with the granting of financial incentives and assistive devices distributed to clusters of PWDs in the state. This took place at an event held on February 12th, 2019 at the Blue Roof, LTV 8, Agidingbi, Ikeja, tagged ‘The Official Presentation of Assistive Devices and Empowerment Grants to Persons Living with Disability in Lagos State’.
The devises were distributed and a good sum of money given out to different clusters that include Joint Association of Persons living with disabilities, National Association of persons with physical disability (Lagos Chapter), Lagos State Association of the deaf, National Association of the blind, Association of parents of children living with intellectual disability, Spinal cord injuries association of Nigeria (NSCIAN), Lagos Chapter, The Dwarf Association of Nigeria, Lagos State Chapter and Lagos State Albinism Society.
The import of this particular enabling project should not be lost on all of us. If we are truly desirous of ridding beggars from our highways and streets across the nation, this is really the way to go. A New York Times bestselling author, Richard Paul Evans, once said: “Broken vows are like broken mirrors. On the other hand, a vow kept is a prized mirror. It radiates happiness and satisfaction in people. Testimonies and mood of the participants especially persons with disabilities at the Blue Roof event say it all.
It could be recalled that in 2017 LASODA Governing Board organized entrepreneurial and empowerment programme through which 500 PWDs were given N100,000 each as non-repayable financial grants for various small scale businesses. Also, PWDs that are interested in skill acquisition were provided with opportunity to learn various vocations at workshops organized by LASODA. So what happened recently is not a mere event but a sustainable project.
It is in this light discerning minds will expect corporate bodies to hearken to the call of the government for collaboration to boost this renewed effort towards making life more meaningful for People Living with Disability.
––Rasak Musbau, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.