A case for Nigerians with disabilities
Disability in Nigeria has become more of an afterthought issue rather than a matter of priority with about 19 million people in Nigeria experiencing a form of disability, and more than 1 billion people worldwide. In South Africa, a 2005 study evaluated the country’s legislation and policy implementation from two key angles: (1) How effective has this legislative and policy environment been in making real changes to the lives of disabled people? (2) Are policies being implemented and acted on, or do they ‘evaporate’ the closer one gets to the grassroots?
South Africa possesses one of the most comprehensive disability rights legislation and policy regimes in the world, and disabled people are involved at all levels of government. This research was commissioned to investigate the extent to which policies and legislation have been implemented by the South African government.
Some of the achievements linked to the development of new legislation and policy in South Africa are: (i) The development and the adoption of the White Paper on Disability on an Integrated National Disability Strategy, known as INDS; (ii)The South African government can currently determine employment-equity quotas that apply to the private and public sector regarding the employment of disabled people through the Employment Equity Act (EEA) of 1998; (iii) Increasing the basic disability grant and the extension of its provisions to a wider sector of people through the Social Assistance Act; (iv) Introduction of policy on inclusive education through the White Paper on Special Needs Education; (v) Actively participating in continental and international initiatives on improving the lives of disabled people, such as the Africa Decade of People with Disabilities, and participating in the development of the United Nations Convention on the rights of disabled people; (vi) Providing free primary health care to disabled people affected by poverty; (vii) Establishing the Equity Court; (viii) Establishing the Office on the Status of Disabled People in the Presidency, and at provincial levels; (ix) Establishing Disability Desks and Units in many departments within all spheres of government.
While support by the South African government for the formulation and adoption of policy has been excellent, policy implementation remains a challenge. Worthy of note is the fact that there are capacity constraints at every level that limit the effective implementation of policy. Policy implementation issues are not addressed consistently, for various reasons, at different levels of government. These reasons include: (i) Limited conceptual understanding; (ii) Poor championing awareness; (iii) Inadequate or inappropriate institutional arrangements; and (iv) a general lack of capacity.
Two other factors that have contributed to the poor implementation of legislation and policies are: (i) the definition and nature of disabled people’s participation have not been adequately reviewed and articulated; (ii) policy requirements for disability mainstreaming are not adequately linked to performance management, thereby undermining commitment to implementation.
The major setback of disability Policy implementation in South Africa is: Legislation and policies are not implemented, due to a lack of allocated fiscal resources and commitment by government, and agencies responsible for such implementation. In the South African example, one reason that can be given for the huge success of the disability campaign is political support. Political will power is present from both ministers and senior civil servants in charge of departments. The other reason of course is the outstanding sustained commitment and ongoing advocacy by the disability sector, led by Disabled People South Africa (DPSA). The current legislation, in the form of the Employment Equity Act; Social Assistance Act; Skills Development Act; Skills Development Levy Act…etc, have all helped to create a new sense of awareness of the needs of disabled people.
Let us now look at what obtains at home. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have any legislation currently safeguarding the rights of people with disability. It would be unfair to say Nigeria does not care for the disabled and it is important to note that Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and its accompanying Optional Protocol. However, it is important to note that Article 4 of the UN Convention identifies general and specific obligations on States (including Nigeria) and parties in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities. One of the fundamental obligations contained in the Convention is that national law should guarantee the enjoyment of the rights enumerated in the Convention. Part of those mandatory rights are enacting and passing a bill, which must include the establishment of a monitoring commission.
Again, it would be unfair to say that the Nigerian government is not sensitive to the plight of people living with disability. Currently in the 7th Senate of the National Assembly, a bill titled an Act to Ensure Full Integration of Persons with Disabilities and to establish a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Vest it with the Responsibilities for Their Education, Health Care and the Protection of their Social Economic and Civil Rights is before the Senate. This bill, which is sponsored by me with the support of my colleagues, is an improved version of a similar bill sent to the 6th Senate. It brings together attainable standards from other countries including the two cases examined. This bill seeks to secure the rights of Nigerians living with disability. Protect them, and reaffirm their faith in themselves but most especially in their country, Nigeria. The Disability Bill has faced challenges such as funding. The commitment of donor agencies dependent on an initial commitment from the Nigerian government is commendable and appreciated.
This bill will address the issues of poverty; unemployment; education of children and young people with disabilities; access to security and assisted devices; access to housing, public health services and transport. I believe that Nigeria can gain immensely from countries that have effective legislation and policy implementation regarding disability, not using them merely as case studies or examples but as standards to be emulated. We should also learn from how other countries have been able to overcome some of the challenges in policy implementation. We recognize that even after the adoption of the new legislation; we will face implementation challenges probably similar to the case in South African, where robust legislative framework has been challenged by: limited conceptual understanding; poor championing awareness; inadequate or inappropriate institutional arrangements; a general lack of capacity; and lack of allocated fiscal resources and commitment by government, and agencies responsible for such implementation.
Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman is Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs.