By Kene Obiezu
To be vulnerable in the world today is to be a victim and to be a victim is to be vanquished or to stand in great danger of becoming vanquished. In an increasingly hostile world where increased cutthroat competition for increasingly scarce resources has succeeded in creating a world where only the fittest survive; those who are `able’ struggle for space and sight in the world leaving behind those who are ‘disabled’ because life has contrived to deprive them of one of their senses.
The world is in a haste and it is a haste that sadly leaves many people behind especially those who are just more vulnerable than others to the whirligig of life as it tosses people endlessly around. In a world where those who have legs struggle mightily to get away from the cyclones that chase, what are those whose legs have been ripped apart by different factors to do?
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Disability is simply defined as a physical or mental condition that limits a person`s movements, senses or activities. In Nigeria, there are a lot of people living with disabilities. A lot of these people in spite of the lacerating questions life asks of them hardly lament their lot; they hardly live on the edge either; they hardly ever find their way to the lagoon. What they do is that they confront the difficulties they face every day with a lot of courage and dignity even in the face of overwhelming discrimination.
In every aspect of life in Nigeria, discrimination against people living with disabilities rears its ugly head. Be it in the labour market, access to healthcare, education and what little social services the country has to offer, discrimination is a present and painful factor in the relationship between Nigeria and Nigerians living with disabilities.
Discrimination against people living with disabilities speaks to a much deeper problem than the seeming inconvenience they cause to those who champion discrimination against them deliberately or unwittingly. Discrimination against people living with disability speaks to the peculiar difficulties hatched by dereliction in a society starved of equity, equality and even compassion. Discrimination against persons living with disabilities bespeaks a society that has utterly and embarrassingly failed to secure some of its most vulnerable members.
There have been attempts at legislation – legislations meant to bring those who subject people living with disabilities to discrimination under the pain of sanctions as well as remove the ugly structures that support discrimination against people living with disabilities.
Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) gives every Nigeria a constitutional right to freedom from discrimination. In January 2019, after eighteen tortuous years, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act which criminalizes discrimination against persons living with disability.
But to what extent have these policy and law been given filed teeth with which to bite those who discriminate against people living with disabilities given that Nigeria is a country of a legion laws but very little implementation? How much visibility do people living with disabilities enjoy in Nigeria? Given that they may not always be perfectly placed to fight for the opportunities available to other members of the society, how much space is given them to fully and freely participate in national life as well as contribute their quota and express themselves?
It is not really about throwing a pity party as it is about access and equality. It is about recognizing that there is ability in disability after all and giving persons living with disabilities every opportunity to feel safe and secure in Nigeria.
Protecting people living with disability from all forms of danger and discrimination has become a question of justice too and one which feeds off instruments and actions that can actually create a more holistic and humane society where everyone matters not just facilely but deeply.
As with protecting women and children, so it is with protecting persons living with disabilities. It is not enough to pay lip service to efforts to improve their lot within the country. Such efforts must be seen to bear actual fruits if Nigeria is to successfully build a society where everyone matters.
Obiezu writes from Abuja