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Status of People with Disability (PWD) in Nigeria

The World Report on Disability estimated that in 2011, there were about 25million disabled people in Nigeria (approximately 14.4% of Nigeria’s population) with about 3.5million of them having significant difficulty functioning. To better appreciate this figure, just consider the whole of Belgium and Venezuela as being disabled.

I argue that the reality on ground is far worse, despite this very high figure. For example, many PWDs do not consider themselves as having disabilities; others may not even know they have disabilities. This, in my opinion, is mainly due to the non-uniformity of the definition of disability. This figure, as preposterous as it already is, will only increase in the coming years, partly due to attendant factors that continually go unaddressed in Nigeria.

For example, the Boko Haram insurgency has reportedly claimed over 4000 lives since 2011, the number of persons left disabled after each attack currently goes unrecorded. Our hospitals are understaffed, under-equipped and barely functional; with doctors constantly resorting to strike action as the only means by which their demands can be met by the federal government. This in itself has resulted in the death of many persons, leaving others with disabilities resulting from preventable and curable illnesses.

Our interstate roads are in deplorable condition, making them a death trap for road users. Too often, survivors of road accidents are left with life changing injuries, which in most cases results in disabilities. And though air travel is still considered the safest means of travelling, many Nigerians may beg to differ. Between 2002 and 2013, over 850 people have been killed in air crashes alone, with an unknown number of survivors, possibly left disabled.

In the Niger Delta, gas flaring and oil spillage has been and still is a burning issue since oil was first discovered there in the 1950s. The pollutants from these flares, according to experts, are responsible for the low birth rates, respiratory diseases and reduced life expectancy rate in that region. (Tawari & Abowei, 2012). In addition to the side effects of the flares, accidents resulting from vandalization of oil pipelines have claimed the lives of well over 2,385 people leaving others with severe disabilities. (Wikipedia, 2013)

I would expect that the seriousness of these issues should raise it to the top of the agenda in national debates, but this is not the case. It is as if as a society we are content with relegating PWD and their issues to the background of mainstream society, and in so doing further alienating and disabling PWDs, reducing their chances to be gainfully employed, earn their own income and lead as independent a life as possible.

It is commendable that the government has passed an anti-discriminatory law in support of PWDS, but this is NOT ENOUGH! Disability groups endorsing non-disabled candidates who they believe will push for their inclusivity in mainstream society is a good move, but disability groups endorsing a PWD candidate for electoral office will be the best move. It is time that the federal government make provisions for slots to be reserved for PWDs who wish to participate in politics and provide every necessary support they need to run for political office.

Enabling PWDs participate actively in politics goes far beyond ensuring that PWDs interest are well represented even in high places, it is a demonstration of the Nigerian governments’ willingness to follow through on its responsibility to PWDs provided for in the UN international convention on the rights of PWD, which Nigeria became a signatory to in 2007 and ratified same in 2010.

It is time to shake the status quo from the core. It is time to move the issues of PWDs from a charitable perspective to serious policy issues. Simply dolling out sums of money or food items to PWDs during religious holidays and celebrations will not in any way alleviate their challenges on a long-term basis; rather it only encourages dependency, which will only result in loss of self-dignity and independence.

A 2008 Disability Studies report commissioned by the DFID concluded, “Within contemporary Nigerian society, there is little appreciation that disability is fundamentally an issue inexorably linked to and rooted in human rights. The common perception, held by policy-makers and the public at large, is that disabled people and disability issues are viewed in terms of charity and welfare. Consequently, this viewpoint is a significant, entrenched factor that seriously militates against the social inclusion of disabled people within the country.”

As a country, we must collectively embrace a paradigm shift and stop referring to PWDs as less privileged. We should rightly first of all see them as People before their disabilities.

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