Empowering Physically Challenged persons in Nigeria

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President Buhari serving a physically challenged person

The Problem Statement

People living with disabilities have innate abilities like those who are non-disabled, and with the right support can contribute significantly to the growth and development of Nigeria.

In 2013, the Nigerian National Assembly estimated that over 20 million people are living with disability in the country, however, this number was stated to be about 25 million in 2016 by the Center for Disability and Development Innovations (CEDDI).

Additionally, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies states that 9 out of 10 persons with disability in Nigeria live below the poverty line; these figures include children.

Disability has worse outcomes in poorer individuals and Nigeria, it is fuelled by poor access to healthcare, poverty, inadequate legal protection, high unemployment rates, and widening inequality.

Disability is not solely a health problem, but a combination of multi-faceted factors that affects a person’s ability to function equally in society.

It is an interaction between impairment and negative ecological impacts.

This then means that disability is not merely physical or mental; it could also be cognitive, sensory, emotional, developmental, congenital or a combination of these.

The Policy Solution

In response, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila sponsored the Physically Challenged (Empowerment) Bill), 2019 to address the concerns of disabled people in the country.

The bill presented to the House of Representatives, advocates for the compulsory allocation of 20 per cent of all available jobs in all Federal Government Ministries, Departments, Agencies and Companies (MDAC) to people living with physical disabilities.

After assent by the President, all MDACs are to begin the implementation of the directive by making all necessary arrangements to ease the incorporation of physically challenged people into the workspace, including the upgrade of infrastructure.

The bill, however, states although 2 per cent of all roles are reserved for the physically challenged, they need to possess the minimum requirement for the position.

The bill goes further to define who a physically challenged person is and excludes midgets and dwarfs from the definition.

The bill is valid for 10 years and subject to review by the House of Assembly afterwards.

NIGAC Constructive Position/Take

The consideration for physically challenged people and a 20 per cent reservation is a commendable move by the House of Representatives.

However, there are a few areas of concern.

Firstly, disability greatly transcends physical disability and limiting the coverage to only those that are physically challenged will lead to the exclusion of other forms of disabilities.

Mental disabilities are fast becoming a significant disability and have the potential to make those who are mentally disabled to be unequally placed with their counterparts that are non-disabled.

Mental disability can stretch from mild and transient depression to some more severe disabilities like learning disorders, clinical depression and psychosis.

These also have to be considered and they have to be fully incorporated into the society as they are capable of meaningful contributions.

Furthermore, the bill applies the same rules and requirements for non-disabled people to those with physical disabilities.

While this may have been done to keep the skill level competitive in the MDACs, it might be perceived as unfair to apply the same sweeping rules for non-disabled and people living with physical disabilities.

While this bill attempts to address the concerns of physically challenged people, it inadvertently splits the perception of disability and ranks physical disability as the most important form of disability – at least politically.

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