The raging protest, across the country is not just about police brutalities.
It is also about bad governance, injustice and plundering of the nation’s scarce resources.
Nigeria is certainly boiling and the conflagration may degenerate, if the systemic rot fuelling this unprecedented youth-driven revolution, is not addressed holistically.
The masses are utterly fed up with the brazen atrocities perpetuated by government officials and security operatives against hapless Nigerians.
Thousands of innocent citizens have been massacred and others injured unjustifiably, by reckless officers.
Life has become very unbearable for many nationals.
The situation is even worse for disadvantaged people, due to their glaring vulnerabilities and economic-cum- social encumbrances.
The vitriolic #EndSars demonstrations and devastating coronavirus pandemic, have undoubtedly, worsened the suffering of Persons With Disabilities(PWDs).
These travails have resonated the demand for the newly established National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) to commence programmes that will ameliorate their sufferings.
The enormous difficulties confronting these disadvantaged nationals are undeniable and require serious interventions, not rhetoric.
About 30 million citizens, representing 15 percent of Nigeria’s 200 million population, have a disability.
Indisputably, this predicament has been escalated by the prevailing economic and social crises.
Majority of them live on the fringes of life, with little or no state welfare.
They often struggle with poverty, exclusion, barriers and discriminations.
These citizens also contend with other forms of human rights abuses particularly stigma, violence, as well as limited access to employment, healthcare, housing, and education.
Nigeria’s destitute and colony of beggars, are mainly blind, deaf and lame citizens, who roam the streets, just to eke out a living, due to lack of jobs and essential socio-economic facilities, specific to their needs.
This is not only a national embarrassment, but a sad reflection of insensitivity of successive governments to the welfare of its populace.
Generally, the apathy and massive violations of the rights of the nationals, especially PWDS, are pervasive and relentless.
Therefore the agitation for the agency to commence operations is germane.
Stakeholders are really worried, about the delay in screening nominees by the National Assembly.
Despite contemporary exigencies, the board must display utmost zeal and commitment to its assignment.
This approach will no doubt justify its existence and capacity to discharge its responsibilities.
Country Director of ActionAid, Mrs. Ene Obi said ‘we earnestly hope that the commission will ensure that the education, healthcare as well as social and economic rights of the people with disabilities will be upheld.’
She also urged state governments to domesticate the policy, saying ‘this will bring an end to years of exclusion of this valuable population.’
‘Key areas that require immediate attention includes transformation of transport system to ensure adequate buses and stops, street lighting, recruitment of female transport staff and infrastructure.’
‘For persons with disabilities, the freedom to move safely is greatly restricted by the plan and design of transport systems that is insensitive to their needs, and by negative social norms that tolerate violence, towards certain disabilities.’
‘Women with disabilities face multiple burden, as they are exposed to the threat of gender-based violence,’ she added.
National President, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Judith Umoh acknowledged the significance of the establishment saying, ‘it represents the success of the collective struggles of over 17 years for the recognition of the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities.’
‘This clearly indicates that disability issue in Nigeria is being taken very seriously as a human right and development issue.’
Umoh, who is the association’s first female national president said ‘JONAPWD as the demand side actor as well as right holders will work closely with the agency, as supply side actor and duty bearers to see to its smooth implementation.’
On the pressure for the authorities to match ‘words with action’ she urged ‘government to make full budgetary provisions for its smooth take off.’
Founder/Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Mr. David Anyaele underscored the need for the legislature to expedite action on the screening of the nominees.
Anyaele said ‘this is the major challenge. Until the National Assembly screens the candidates for the council, the commission may not do much.’
He also commended the current #EndSARS protests and efforts to restructure the Nigeria Police Force, as ‘many persons with disabilities and their families, particularly persons with hearing impairment have suffered in the hands of defunct notorious SARS operatives.’
‘Many of the victims and survivors of violence attributed to SARS operatives, are struggling with different forms of disabilities particularly physical, mental, and sensory impairments.’
The long-awaited commission was recently created after over two decades of struggle by stakeholders and activists.
The needless obstacles that delayed the law, reflect the lackadaisical attitude by various administrations.
Human Rights Watch highlighted some of these obstacles, in a report saying ‘the bill was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate joint committee in November 2016, but was not sent for assent, until December 2018.’
It was eventually signed in January 2019, following years of tremendous pressure.
The bill ‘prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions on offenders.’
‘It also stipulates a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures and automobiles to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities.’
Note that, Nigeria ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and its Optional Protocol in 2010.
Hence the institution of the organization is quite heartening, considering its innumerable prospects.
Despite the looming pandemonium and financial shrinkages, the authorities must be expeditious and transparent in their programmes, in order to gain the confidence of their constituency.
Sadly, most government corporations are enmeshed in alleged corrupt practices, hence the new body, must display utmost accountability in its transactions.
In other jurisdictions, vulnerable individuals receive special considerations and premium services, to cushion their weaknesses.
Nigeria will do well to embrace this humanitarian standard, in line with global benchmarks for protection of inalienable rights of all people, to qualitative lives and equal opportunities.
As always Nigerian PWDs are resolute in their demands, succinctly scripted, in the following petitions.
‘Uphold our rights. We are part of a shared humanity. Treat us with dignity and respect.’
Ojukwu, a Fellow of Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship and a journalist, is a campaigner for the actualization of Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), justice and peace nationally and globally. Kindly send feedback to [email protected]