The Platform

Young Nigerian child born with a disability. (Samuel Ochai/European Union)

Nigeria has a long way to go in ensuring that persons living with disabilities (PwDs) are being treated equally.

In a democratic Nigeria, home to more than 133 million people, an overwhelming 80% are ensnared in the trap of poverty. While it’s tempting to place blame solely on the government, the majority of the populace too bears a degree of responsibility for the societal architecture. The same majority has persistently perpetuated a negative perception toward persons living with disabilities (PwDs), reinforcing an enduring divide in the nation.

Recent gestures from President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who distributed rice and $6 million across states in an attempt to bolster an ailing economy, do little to bridge this gap. While such actions might be commended by some, over 29 million PwDs continue to face a lack of meaningful palliative care from the government. Thus, Nigeria’s long-standing motto of “Peace and Unity” seems increasingly ironic in a nation where systemic neglect remains rife.

In the case of Ridwan Fijabi, a cobbler from Ibadan with mobility challenges, his experiences encapsulate the societal divide. “When I’m on my wheelchair going to materials for my shoemaking business in the market, people keep throwing money at me as if I’m a beggar,” he lamented. Fijabi’s account reveals not just a physical disability, but a society disabled by prejudice.

Rather than merely offering temporary handouts, advocates are urging politicians like Tinubu to create enabling environments for PwDs. By implementing inclusion and disabilities acts at the state level, Nigeria can begin to dismantle long-standing stereotypes and stigmas associated with disability.

John Owan Enoh, Nigeria’s Minister of Sports Development, points out, “Disability does not mean lack of ability because, for every element of disability, there is so much potential and ability behind it.” Advocates assert that, instead of merely trying to fit PwDs into existing bureaucratic structures, the government should be channeling resources into discovering and nurturing their unique talents and potentials.

As the world observes PwDs ascending to political offices in developed countries, thanks to legal frameworks like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Nigeria remains conspicuously absent from this trend. Not only does this feed the cycle of marginalization, but it deprives the nation of diverse perspectives essential for a robust democracy.

How other countries are getting it right.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has been transformative, removing barriers that restrict PwDs from participating fully in society. The Biden administration has further committed to creating an inclusive, accessible, and equitable nation, inclusive of PwDs who also face multiple layers of discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.

In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act 2010 recognizes PwDs as individuals facing substantial and long-term adversities in performing normal day-to-day activities. The law has effectively enabled a stigma-free environment while providing financial support to make their lives more manageable.

Article 114 of France’s Disability Law 2005 is instrumental in creating an inclusive society. The French government has made strides in increasing the monthly allowance for PwDs and improving their digital accessibility, setting an example for nations like Nigeria to emulate.

Germany’s General Equal Treatment Act considers anyone over 50% disabled as “severely disabled” and offers comprehensive support mechanisms to level the playing field, including special medical care, assistance in job hunting, and protection from dismissal.

Nigeria’s divergence from global benchmarks makes for a grim reading, as it continues to neglect a significant portion of its populace. As the world progresses in embracing the differently-abled, Nigeria’s static stance not only limits the country’s collective potential but also violates the tenets of humanity. The question, then, is not just what the government can do, but what society must demand of itself.

Toheeb Babalola is a Nigerian freelance journalist, PwDs advocate, and humanitarian.