Nigerian President Jonathan Leaves Presidency Without Signing Disabilities Bill
The bill to ensure full integration of persons with disabilities has been lying on President Goodluck Jonathan’s table since January 2015 for assent. PAUL UWADIMA writes on the imperative of Jonathan signing it into law before May 29.
With the frenzy of last minute hiring and sackings going on at the Presidential Villa, as the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan winds down for exit on May 29, Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) are watching with bated breath whether the president will sign the disabilities bill into law.
The disabilities bill entitled, “ A bill for an act to ensure full integration of persons with disabilities into the society and to establish a national commission for persons with disabilities and vest it with the responsibilities for their education, healthcare and the protection of their social, economic, civic rights”, has been long in coming despite several years of campaigning by the disabled community, several non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and human rights activists for the law to be made to cater to people with special needs.
The bill was first sent to President Olusegun Obasanjo for his assent in 2006, few months to the end of his administration, but for unexplained reasons Obasanjo refused to sign the bill into law. There are many who allege that the former president was rather pre-occupied with his failed third term agenda and the fallout from that to bother about this bill that means a lot to the disabled community.
Nine years later, precisely January 2015, the bill has once again, after few amendments, been presented to the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan and the fate that befell it in 2006 may recur unless the president quickly signs it into law before leaving on May 29.
There are several reasons why this bill is necessary and timely as its contents will address the fundamental discriminations that persons living with disabilities have been enduring in silence over the years.
Some of the major sections of the bill include the following:
Section 1 is expected to outlaw discrimination on grounds of disability and this is in conformity with an important principle (non-discrimination) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as contained in articles 3 (b) and 5 of the UN Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities (UNCRPD), which Nigeria signed and ratified the convention and its optional protocol.
There is no denying the fact that persons with disabilities suffer from discrimination on a daily basis whether in employment, education, transportation, communication, information, health, housing and even social interaction where persons with disabilities are denied marriage to their loved ones because they are disabled. Most often, the person with disability is rejected on grounds of disability even though he or she merits employment; and while in employment he or she is always the last to be considered for promotion even though he or she commenced work the same time with his able-bodied counterparts. This is a travesty of justice. Persons with disabilities are denied access into several places on the ground of disability, e.g., banks and rented apartments, among others.
Part three of the bill addressed one of the major problems faced by the disabled in their daily activities, which is lack of access to public places. As such, sections 3, 4 and 5 deal with the issue of accessibility to physical structures such as public premises and permission for use of accessibility aids in public buildings and the need for accessibility on roads and sidewalks. The Nigerian Constitution provides for freedom of movement, yet persons with disabilities are denied this right as a result of the hazards on our roads and sidewalks. (UNCRPD, Article 9.)
Section 7 will ensure adherence to the building code where buildings are made usable and accessible to persons with disabilities, especially wheel chair users.
In addition, section 12 will grant persons with disabilities, who are in vehicles, easy access to parking spaces which will be reserved for their sole use as is the case in developed countries.
Parts V and VI also attest to the need for accessibility in the use of sea ports, railways and air transportation. A great deal of discrimination is suffered today by persons with disabilities wishing to make use of air transportation. In keeping with international norms and standards, the bill will enable persons with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect in air, road and sea transportation.
Part VII addresses the issue of special queues and situations of emergencies for people with disabilities. In queues, especially unruly ones, persons with disabilities are usually shoved aside and in cases of risk and emergencies, it is well-known that the person with disability is always the last to be considered, since as a matter of fact, disability issues today in Nigeria are always regarded as an afterthought. (UNCRPD, Article 11).
Part VIII deals with the vexed issue of the abuse of the liberty of the person with disability, where able-bodied people have taken it upon themselves to use people with disabilities as fodder for fund raising in the most ignoble ways possible. (UNCRPD, Article 14).
In keeping with Article 24 of the UNCRPD, the bill recognises the need for inclusive education for persons with disabilities in Nigeria and more importantly ensures that persons with disabilities will not be unduly discriminated against in the provision of education due to the lack of appropriate equipment, while section 27 addresses the communicational needs of persons with disabilities using health facilities, especially the deaf wherein sign language interpreters will be introduced at all such health facilities.
Finally, sections 28 (work and employment) and 31 (participation in politics) address the need for gainful employment for people with disabilities and the need for them to participate actively in political and public life. These are in keeping with Articles 27 on work and employment and 29 on participation in political and public life of the UNCRPD.
Given the aforementioned sections of the bill, there should not have been any genuine reason why Obasanjo failed to sign it into law in 2006 or for President Jonathan to dilly-dally over assenting to the bill before leaving office. Many disabled Nigerians who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend are convinced that signing the bill into law before he leaves Aso Rock Villa would make Jonathan the most disability-friendly president in Nigeria’s history.
by Paul Uwadimma