Legal matters

Deaf Ears to Broken Limbs: Is the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 a silver lining?

In 2018, the Discrimination against Persons with disabilities was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, after tireless and relentless clamor by disability civil rights groups, advocates for people with special needs and concerned parties.

The Discrimination against Persons with disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 is only a part fulfillment of Nigeria’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a United Nations International treaty that is specifically concerned with the protection of rights and the dignity of people with disabilities and special needs. The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 13th of December, 2006 and came into force on the 3rd of May, 2008 following its ratification by the 20th party. Nigeria joined in declaring support for the disability rights on the 24th of September, 2010 and became the 94th ratifier of the Convention and 58th ratifier of the Optional Protocol.

According to Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol, it describes people with disabilities as; “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” In other words, disabled people are people with special needs or an impairment which may be intellectual, developmental, mental, physical, sensory etc. The World Health Organization further illuminate on it that; “Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” Thus those with mental illness, deaf and dumb, blind, lame, crippled, handicapped, schizophrenia, dementia, autisms, down syndrome, asperger’s syndrome etc. are all regarded as people with disabilities.

In the same vein, the Optional Protocol empowers people with disabilities, especially those from countries who have ratified the treaty to pursue justice when their rights have been breached even if all other mechanisms for enforcing justice within their country fail. Parties may authorize the committee to carry out investigations, make a report or give recommendations on serious violation of the Convention.

The Nigerian Constitution as amended also provides for the Right to Freedom from Discrimination for every Nigerian which includes both the able-bodied and the disabled. Section 42 (2) of the CFRN goes further to clearly state that no citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth. In other words, the Disability Act is in tandem with the 1999 Constitution, as it has superior support from the grundnorm.

Asides from the Nigerian Constitution, the Right to Freedom of Discrimination is an International Human Right as it is included in the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These two treaties gave legal force to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, the right to freedom from discrimination is also internationally recognized as it provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. This is evidenced by the provisions of Article 1 of the Charter that states; “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

However, Nigeria haven provided for this right in its constitution and also declared its support for the CRPD treaty in 2010; it still took 9 years to enact its own domestic legislation on disability laws. This is a clear indication that the governments is not perturbed by the problematic issues of the disabled populace in the country and are not paying attention to their plight until there was a rude awakening that spurred them into signing the bill into law.

The Discrimination against Persons with disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 in Nigeria buttresses on the following;

  1. A National Commission for Persons with Disabilities will be established and appointment of an Executive Secretary to be the head of the commission
  2. Persons with disabilities should not be discriminated in public transportation facilities i.e. seaports, airports, railways and service providers should provide for the physically, visually, hearing impaired persons all facilities needed.
  3. A fine of N100, 000 or a jail term of 6 months would be imposed on any individual who violates the law and if it is a corporate body in default, they will pay a fine of one million naira.
  4. Persons with disability have rights and privileges that include education, health care, priority in accommodation and emergencies.
  5. There should be at least five percent job opportunities reserved for disabled persons in public organizations.
  6. Disabled persons can sue for damages against any defaulter.
  7. Public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified for access and use by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs within a five-year transitional period.
  8. Authorities are to thoroughly inspect a building plan to confirm if it conforms to the building code that includes disabled persons.
  9. Non–approval by government or their agencies for a building plan by a body or an individual who does not make the necessary provisions for accessibility facilities in line with the building code for disabled persons.
  10. Approval of a building plan by an officer that contravenes the building code would be held liable on conviction to a fine of at least N1, 000,000 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both.
    Although, the provisions of the Discrimination against Persons with disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 has shown Nigeria’s first step towards showing special attention to those with special needs, I opine that the Act is not yet a silver lining. This is because there is still need for disability laws to address other diverse areas that affect disabled persons. These areas include access to special education, health care delivery system, information technology, governance, agriculture, commerce, and most importantly, the judiciary. In other words, the laws should provide for the involvement of disabled persons in the above-mentioned areas.
    In conclusion, Nigeria should borrow a cue from Sweden which is reputable for having various laws such as Act concerning Support and Service for Persons with Certain Functional Impairments , the Disability and Public Transportation Act , Social Services Act , and Planning & Building Act that ensures that disabled persons in their country are top priority. This can be done by the set-up of mechanisms for implementation of the Disability Act in Nigeria.
    In other words, the Act has provided for the establishment of a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, thus the Commission should be established so that the disability laws can be implemented expediently.
    Moreover, the government should create awareness programs for the grass root level across the 36 states of Nigeria to inform them of the laws and their rights, so that they will be aware and will know how to exercise those rights when there is a breach.
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