It is unfortunate to see the complete disdain and ‘otherness’ used in referring to Persons with Disabilities (PWD) in Nigeria. With Nigeria being party to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it is important that we join other parts of the world in their efforts towards equality and inclusion of PWDs. This issue bears a level of significance that Nigeria needs to address and not dump amongst its plethora of failures.
Going through the manifestoes of last year’s presidential aspirants (including the current president), none of them had as part of their agenda, efforts to see to the improvement of quality of life for PWDs. This is despite the fact that PWDs account for over 25 million of the Nigerian population.
There is an obvious lack of understanding of what ‘disability’ is amongst most Nigerians. If you were to ask an average man on the street for what it means, he will most likely attribute it to a limitation in an individual’s physic/psyche. This perception is inherently problematic as it has the effect of viewing the individual as the cause of their situation, hence requiring some form of rehabilitation, while simultaneously ignoring the role played by society.
A more holistic definition is understood as the ‘social model’ which sees disability as resulting from the social and structural limitations imposed on these individuals. Unlike the overly simplistic definition mentioned before, this position adopts a more humane understanding, further amplifying the role of the other members of the society and the government.
Societies limitations on PWDs is a fact that cannot be denied as they endure obscene levels of discrimination from it. Discrimination against PWDs in Nigeria has acted like an epidemic: easy to spread, but difficult to exterminate.
According to a study conducted in 2008, it was reported that over 65% of PWDs are rejected from employment, leaving a significant number of them turning to begging. Having the effect of fuelling the poisonous narrative that PWD’s only deserve pity and the occasional handouts.
In the absence of social infrastructures for these individuals to rely on, it has proved incredibly difficult to draw PWDs from poverty. A fate that more than 90% of them currently experience. When talking about access to health care, it becomes bleaker and in fact ‘psychotic’ as a study exposed that more than 50% of Nigerian doctors believe that PWDs are only good enough as test subjects for new drug trials.
The situation of PWD’s in Nigeria is further accentuated by the religious sentiment, adopted by some (most) people, who perceive them as sinners, or sometimes possessed by demons, worthy of ostracization. Let us just take as an example the situations with ‘mad–men’. More often than not, it is assumed that ‘jazz’ is the cause of their situations. But exposure to knowledge informs that these individuals are sufferers of significant mental illness (probably schizophrenia) and need some form of psychological help. Rather, we see how they are paraded insulted and prayed against, as if we forget that the difficulty of living in Nigeria is enough to drive someone insane.
The religious rhetoric mentioned above smacks of the hypocrisy common amongst Nigerians. This is the case as the WHO (World Health Organization) has found that everyone is prone to experiencing some form of disability. This essay submits that the proponents of such a position will also not view themselves as worthy of ostracization.
Although the government has recently implemented the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Act in 2018 to avoid discrimination, it is not surprising to see the poor levels of enforcement that the law has suffered. This is evident in the continuous lack of accessibility facilities such as brailles in schools and ramp access to buildings.
An important point to hammer home to Nigerians is that ‘difference’ in itself should be appreciated as it endows a nation with a breadth of experiences, knowledge and skills. The detest for difference is felt in other sectors such as sexuality. Difference by no means whatsoever affords the automatic presumption of inferiority adopted by Nigerians.
We will draw on examples of three individuals who despite being PWDs have been able to change the world in unforgettable ways.
First is Yinka Ayefele whose music continues to represent the epitome of Yoruba Christian praise. Second, is a lecturer in the University of Leeds, Anna Lawson, who despite lacking sight often gives impactful lectures and has worked intensively to revolutionise the UK’s legal system to be more inclusive. Finally, is Ludwig van Beethoven who created his magnum opus: Ode to Joy-Symphony No. 9, while deaf.
To conclude, the sheer fact that PWDs are human demands respect. To strip them of access to basic infrastructures and rights is to bite deep into this important understanding. Based on the brief information’s given above, it is clear that Nigeria’s society has continued to limit PWD’s more than the impairments. On such note, it is important that we configure our understanding of what disability is and dump the ‘eyah’ perspective we continue to adopt in discussions relating to PWDs. As a people, and as a generation, we need to be more involved in discussions regarding their equality. In order to do this, we should intentionally work towards expanding our understanding of disability, support institutions such as the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and pressurize our institutions and government to restructure their services to be accommodating and inclusive of PWDs.
Authored by Glory Ayara & Igbanam Ibani.