It was cheering to physically challenged persons in Nigeria when President Muhammadu Buhari assented last week to the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities [Prohibition] Act, 2018. The signing of the bill came days after Buhari accused lawmakers of not passing the bill during a town hall appearance with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Lawmakers however rejected the claim, saying they passed the bill since 2018 and submitted it to the president for assent.
The bill, which lingered in the National Assembly for 18 years, was passed by the 8th Senate on March 28, 2018; and was transmitted to the President for assent in December 2018 for the 4th time since 1999. SSA to the President on National Assembly Matters Ita Enang said “the Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability and imposes a fine of one million naira for corporate bodies and one hundred thousand naira for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment or both.” The rights and privileges of persons with disability include education, health care, priority in accommodation and emergencies. The Act gives citizens with disabilities the right to file a lawsuit for damage against any defaulter.
Discrimination against such persons is prohibited in public transportation facilities at the seaports, railway stations and airports. Service providers are to make provisions for the physically, visually and hearing impaired or challenged persons. The Act provides that before a public structure is constructed, its plan shall be inspected by relevant authorities to ensure that it conforms to the building code.
According to the Act, a government agency, body or individual responsible for the approval of building plans shall not approve the plan of a public building if it does not make provision for ease of access facilities. An officer, according to the Act, who approves or directs the approval of a building plan that contravenes the building code, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of at least N1,000,000 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both.
Whereas disability may be defined as a physical or mental condition that has a long-term, adverse effect on a person’s day-to-day life, disability discrimination occurs “when a disabled person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person; and they are treated this way for a reason arising from their disability; and the treatment cannot be justified.” For example, it would be discriminatory if sign language is not provided for hearing impaired persons during newscast by television stations.
While the Act provides that all public organisations are to reserve at least five percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, Section 31 of the Act stipulates that the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities will be established and an Executive Secretary will be appointed to head it. It also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.
We commend government for assenting to the nearly two decades old bill. However, we consider the reservation of at least five percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities as high, given the conservative proportion of able-bodied to disabled persons in the country. We similarly consider the establishment of a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities as not only a contradiction of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration which at inception merged ministries to reduce government recurrent expenditures but also an unnecessary creation that will bring needless extra budgetary burdens to bear on the already over bloated civil service.
Rather, what is needed is resourceful sensitization of employers of labour to buy into the provisions of the Act. To further prepare and favourably empower persons with disability against all discrimination, government must increase and improve upon such persons’ access to education. There should be a national policy on the establishment of schools for the blind, deaf and dumb by state governments in addition to adequately providing their special learning needs.