A PLEA FOR CHANGE

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Persons with disabilities deserve better attention, writes, Ifueko Karibi-Whyte

The United Nations has proclaimed today, December 3rd, as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). According to the global body, it’s a day set aside to “promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and to take action for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development”.

This year, says the UN, will be commemorated in conjunction with the 13th session of the Conference of States, Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The theme is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.

While some countries take the day seriously, the same cannot be said for Nigeria. Being a person with disabilities is, quite frankly, the worst thing that could happen to someone in Nigeria. Evident in the tragic fact is that Nigerians with disabilities are not awarded the same courtesies as those without.

Most are regarded as subhuman. Parents are made to feel shame, as their children are seen to be the result of some curse or affliction. As a result, not much is expected of them, and thus, nothing is put in place for them to thrive in their community and indeed the Nigerian society at large. This is a sad reality founded upon bitter truths.

You’re disabled if you have a physical or intellectual impairment. That impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out mundane day-to-day activities. According to the World Health Organization’s 2011 World Disability Report, about 15% of Nigeria’s population, about 25 million, have a disability. That is:

● 25 million Nigerians who have to contend with stigmatisation and non-inclusion in the larger society; 25 million Nigerians who have to pay for services that are free to disabled citizens of a fellow African country like South Africa; 25 million Nigerians whose physical or intellectual impairments cannot be accommodated in most of our public schools, whether primary, secondary or tertiary; 25 million Nigerians whose essential housing and welfare needs are not met, since they are not the priority of the government of Nigeria; 25 million Nigerians whose society expects nothing more of them than to be a beggar on the streets.

Since the signing into law of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 (after almost 10 years of relentless advocacy) the federal and state governments have gone right back to sleep, once again turning a blind eye to the daily struggles of their most afflicted citizens. Shame!

With little to cheer, I expect that this year’s International Day of Disabled Persons will again pass by with the federal, state governments and local governments in Nigeria without any form of acknowledgement. At best, it will be lip service as usual.

The lot will fall squarely on international organizations and the disabled community to create awareness to the plight of the disabled in Nigeria.

The sad part is that Nigeria ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008 and its Optional Protocol in 2010. The aim of the CRPD is to stop viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection and see them more as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent. The goal is to make persons with disabilities become active members of the society.

The Nigerian disabled community, are you aware that the largest minority group worldwide are persons with disabilities? Because of the myriad of disabilities you are also the most diverse minority group in the world. Numbers and diversity are on your side. So you are very powerful.

Persons with disabilities deserve better from their fatherland. They deserve to have their fundamental needs met. You all need to come together, stand with one voice and self-advocate. I urge you to use your diversity as your strength and not your weakness. Advocate for your common needs. Advocate for your fundamental needs, advocate for some form of financial relief.

The Nigerian government has not done what they signed up with the International community to do for you. Our government signed up to providing a level playing field for you, a chance to make something of yourself in this country. But they just simply have not yet followed through.

You all need to self-advocate, lobby the members of Federal House of Representatives and the Senate. For instance, you can ask them to pass a bill excluding disabled adults and parents of children with disabilities from paying taxes. Advocate that until such a time that the government is able to provide the services that you are entitled to under both the UN Convention on the CRPD in 2008, it’s Optional Protocol in 2010 and the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, persons and the parents of disabled children should not pay tax. This is very fair. On the occasion of International Day of Disabled Persons, I urge you all to find your voices and start to speak up as one.

Karibi-Whyte is a Disability Advocate and Mother of a child with special needs