Around 25 million people in Nigeria experience some form of disability, and the Disability Act mandates that five percent of employment should be reserved for them. Nevertheless, despite the legislation, individuals with disabilities are struggling to be heard or hired, resulting in their human rights being violated. ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE provides an account of this situation
The integration of individuals with disabilities (popularly referred to as People With Disabilities (PWDs) into Nigeria's mainstream job market is a topic of concern for many compassionate Nigerians.
Despite the enactment of the Disability Act by former President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) on January 23, 2019, PWDs continue to face obstacles. Even though legislation was passed to criminalize common instances of discrimination against individuals with disabilities, they have been disregarded and silenced.
This has resulted in criticism from some quarters, with the Executive Director of the Center for Citizens with Disability, David Anyaele, expressing concern about the discriminatory treatment of PWDs by employers.
Anyaele made this statement during the fourth anniversary of the Disability Act, which was themed '2023 General Elections and Beyond: Creating the Future We Desire for Citizens with Disability.'
Breach of this regulation, as stated in Section 28 (iii) of the legislation, incurs a token penalty of at least ₦500,000 that must be paid to the disabled individual who has been affected. Aside that, the implementation of the federal character principle also mandates that five percent of employment opportunities be reserved for individuals with disabilities (PWDs) in all 36 states and Abuja by the Federal Government.
As per this new regulation , it is considered a criminal offense for government ministries, extra-ministerial departments, and agencies to refuse job opportunities to qualified individuals with disabilities.
Despite the regulation
An investigation carried out by the Women Commission of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and the Solidarity Center, in partnership with Nigerian unions and organizations focusing on disability rights, revealed that the majority of over 600 disabled workers in both formal and informal sectors in Nigeria are unable to secure satisfactory employment, as per the definition of the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO).
“Without requiring us to deal with the grammatical complexities inherent in the definition of Discrimination presented in the Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, (DAPD Act), 2018, Disability discrimination as discussed here is when a competent person who is an employee or job seeker is treated unfairly due to their disability,” said Daniel Kip, Esq, a social commentator.
During the International Day/National Summit of Persons With Disabilities in Abuja, the former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, represented by the then Minister of Special Duties, George Akume, highlighted the adverse effects of the post-COVID-19 era on the Nigerian society, with PWDs being the most severely impacted.
Anyaele notes that "despite the enactment and endorsement of the disability statute four years ago, PWDs are still facing obstacles. The root of the problem lies in our attitude. Our nation is still plagued by discrimination against PWDs.
“Our research from last year showed that ministries, departments, and agencies still stigmatize and discriminate against PWDs in their programs and activities. The only office that consistently advocates for PWDs is that of President Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).” Now a former president.
Advocacy falls on deaf ears
Checks revealed that in his speeches, the then president urged agencies to address the concerns affecting PWDs in Nigeria.
“Unfortunately, the MDAs are still struggling to comprehend their roles and responsibilities and how PWDs fit into their work,” Anyaele stated in our research .
This was occurring in a nation approximated to possess more than 200 million inhabitants, and inquiries revealed that merely 17 states have executed the Disability Act, causing 90% of disabled individuals in Nigeria to reside beneath the poverty threshold of $1.90 daily.
However, those with more knowledge asserted that Nigeria has not yet acknowledged that incorporating disabled individuals is also crucial in tackling the correlation between disability and destitution.
As per sources, the World Bank has stated that disabled people in Nigeria are regularly confronted with "prejudice, bias, and hindrances to obtaining societal amenities and financial prospects."
Significant issue with discrimination
It is clear that there is still a significant issue with discrimination against individuals with disabilities, as evidenced by the fact that many public buildings such as banks, places of worship, hotels, and offices remain inaccessible to them despite the Federal Government's efforts to intervene.
Sources said that this is due to the fact that these structures were not designed with the needs of people with disabilities in mind. Even modes of transportation such as commercial flights and public buses fail to accommodate their needs.
According to Anyaele, it is insufficient for financial institutions, places of worship, and legislative bodies to possess enormous structures that isolate individuals with disabilities. Instead, these establishments must be comprehensive in their approach.
As per Ndifreke (Freky) Andrew-Essien, a disability advocate and the Executive Director of FAECARE Foundation, "It serves as proof of what we have been stating for an extended period, and it is a potent tool for advocacy."
Outreach to the public
Additionally, it is not typical for individuals with disabilities to protest outside of offices to demand necessary changes. This is why the group has chosen to engage in peaceful education and outreach to the public.
According findings , "A civil society organization, Disability Rights Protection Initiative, took legal action against Dana Air Limited in February 2022 for allegedly discriminating against a physically challenged passenger named Gloria Nwogbo.
“Nwogbo claimed that on August 5, 2021, she was prevented from boarding a flight at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu despite having purchased a ticket and obtained her boarding pass, simply because she was disabled. The case was heard before Justice F.O. Giwa-Ogunbanjo of the Federal High Court in Enugu."
Their right to earn a livelihood
According to the WHO , approximately 25 million individuals in Nigeria have a disability of some kind. The most prevalent types include visual, auditory, physical, cognitive, and speech impairments.
However, specialists in Nigeria disapprove of the societal norms and unfavorable attitudes towards those with disabilities, stemming from religious and traditional beliefs.
According to Kip, “Prior to the implementation of the DAPD Act, 2018, Nigeria had endorsed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 30th March, 2007, and ratified it on 24th Sep 2010.
“According to Article 27 of the CRPD, signatories must acknowledge the entitlement of individuals with disabilities to work on an equal footing with others.
“This includes their right to earn a livelihood through work that is freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open, inclusive, and accessible. This provision aligns with section 28 (1) of the Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.”
However, prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, research indicated a disparity in the rate of employment for individuals with disabilities, with a gap of 28.1%.
Specialists suggest this means that while the employment rate for disabled individuals who were of working age amounted to 54.1%, the corresponding figure for non-disabled individuals was 82.2%, resulting in a significant margin of 28.1%.
According to the source, “Based on the same study, individuals with disabilities were twice as likely as their non-disabled peers to experience job loss as a result of the pandemic.”
An employed small fraction of the many disabled
Nonetheless, it was reported that on Monday, February 14, 2022, Bello Muhammad, who was then the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Nigeria, designated Bature Abubakar, a visually impaired individual, as his technical assistant.
The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) clarified that Abubakar's appointment followed a request to create job opportunities for Persons With Disabilities (PwDs) in the ministry.
The minister cited the Disability Act enacted in 2019 as the reason for the appointment, but this is only a small fraction of the many disabled individuals who remain unemployed.
The report titled "Securing Equal Access to Decent Work in Nigeria: A Report by Workers with Disabilities" validates the quantitative data gathered from 322 male and 338 female employees with disabilities from the Federal Capital Territory and seven geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
This study, according to pundits, the first of its kind, is noteworthy for its sample size, scope, and the partnership between disability rights organizations and trade unions. The majority of the world's one billion people with disabilities live in developing countries.
According to the World Health Organization's 2011 World Report on Disability, between 25 million and 27 million people in Nigeria have a disability, and most of them live below the poverty line.
In reality, disability, gender, and low socioeconomic status work together to keep people in poverty, as per the source.
According to it, “The provisions of Section 28 & 29 of the DAPD Act, 2018, are mandatory and strict compliance must be demanded us of all. All critical stakeholders must resolve and take affirmative action to give life to the letters of the Act. While the justice sector has a major role to play by way of judicial activism, violations of this provisions must be ventilated and advocated in the courts of law. This will not only engender compliance by all, but will indemnify aggrieved persons with disability and serve as judicial precedence going forward.”
Odimegwu Onwumere is Director, Advocacy Network on Religious and Cultural Coexistence (ANORACC). He contributed this piece via: [email protected]