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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Despite existing laws, Nigerians with disabilities still face discrimination

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Abdulwahab Matepo became a person with disability following a road accident in 2000 in which he sustained a spinal cord injury. His newfound reality inspired him to begin advocacy for the government to pass the Disability Rights Law, which he believed would alleviate the plight of Persons Living With Disability (PWDs) in Nigeria.

After two decades of relentless advocacy by a growing number of disability rights groups and activists, Mr Matepo’s dream finally came to pass. On 23 January 2019, former President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.

“I felt elated because the disability community got the legal backing to drive its advocacy and rights’ claim,” Mr Matepo told PREMIUM TIMES.

The Act, among other provisions, sought to eliminate employment discrimination, provide access to public buildings within five years, foster inclusive education, and guarantee employment by reserving five per cent of employment quota for PwDs in all public organisations, among others.

The Act imposes sanctions in the form of fines and imprisonment for defaulters. The Act also established the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) to oversee the prevention of discrimination against persons with disabilities and to ensure disability inclusion across all sectors.

It has been five years since the Disability Act came into existence, but for Nigeria’s about 29 million PwD population, the legislation has had little impact across the country.

An official explained that the Act stipulates a five-year transitional period for public buildings and structures to become accessible and usable for PwDs, which means that the law cannot be reasonably enforced within this period and the enforcement was only expected to start in January 2024. However, the situation is not any different in a state like Lagos, whose Lagos State Special People’s Law was enacted as far back as 2011, about eight years before the federal legislation came into force.

Discrimination-a daily pill for PwDs

Demola Daniel

For Debola Daniel, facing discrimination because of his disability is nothing new. But the event of 27 March 2024 is one he will not forget in a hurry. In a post on his X account, Mr Daniel, the son of a former Nigerian governor, shared what he described as “the worst sort of public humiliation” he had ever experienced.

In a series of tweets which went viral, Mr Daniel explained that a manager of a KFC outlet at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos loudly declared that wheelchairs and wheelchair users were not allowed within the premises of the outlet. The manager proceeded to order his travel companions and himself to leave the outlet.

Mr Daniel, who advocates the rights of PwDs, explained that the manager’s action made him feel “ less than human, like a guard dog not allowed into the house. Lonely and isolated.”

However, he insists: “I will continue to escalate this exponentially until I get a reasonable resolution and there’s no stopping me. You cannot treat people this way. There are approximately 27 million Nigerians living with some form of disability. That’s over 13% of the country. 1 in 6 people on the planet are disabled. You MUST NOT treat people this way.”

The series of tweets detailing the public humiliation and the public reactions it garnered attracted the attention of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which ordered the KFC outlet to shut down its operations. Although KFC has since apologised to Mr Daniel, the ordeals of many PwDs like him often go unnoticed.

The reported incident at KFC Nigeria runs contrary to section 1 of the the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, which states that a person with disability shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of his disability by any person or institution in any manner or circumstance.

The penalty for contravening this law is a fine of N1 million for corporate institutions and N100,000 for individuals or six months imprisonment or both.

Public transportation not easily accessible

Kehinde Adeyingbo

But discrimination against PWDs appears in other less dramatic manners too. Kehinde Adeyingbo was only four years old when she got infected with the deadly poliomyelitis (polio) disease which sometimes leads to irreversible paralysis.

Ms Adeyingbo’s inability to walk meant she was confined to a wheelchair and now lives with a disability. Her primary and secondary school education was delayed and she depended on the kindheartedness of others to survive.

“According to the story I heard from my parents, they said it was polio. The hospital gave me an injection that paralysed all my body. If not for God, it could have been worse than this,” she recalled.

Now 49 years old, Ms Adeyingbo makes a living as a bus conductor. Every day, she commutes from Ikorodu, a suburb in Lagos, to Stadium in Surulere where she begins her daily route. But reaching there is a daily struggle.

“From my house, I need to board two (connecting) tricycles before I can board the major bus that will take me to the stadium. The tricycle owners will not allow me to put my wheelchair on top of their roof because it spoils it and for safety reasons – if there is galloping, the wheelchair might fall.

“I always pay for two seats which cost me a lot. If they charge one seat for N200, I will have to pay N400 because of my wheelchair,” she explained.

According to Ms Adeyingbo, the real challenge in her daily commute is boarding the Lagos Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), a public/private partnership arrangement under the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). She says because the ramps in the BRT do not work, she has to be carried onto the bus by kind-hearted passengers.

“The ramps in the BRT are not like the ones used abroad. It’s always embarrassing when they want to carry me onto the bus. Sometimes when they carry me, they damage my wheelchair,” she explained.

She said workers at the BRT stations often instructed her to sit in the middle of the bus in her wheelchair without a safety strap. “Despite all the lectures given to the bus pilot and the conductors, they allow able-bodied passengers to occupy the seats allotted to PWDs.”

Lagos BRT and privately owned Danfo buses

Ms Adeyingbo’s experiences contradict Section 10 (1) of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act, which stipulates that “Government transport services providers shall make provisions for lifts, ramps and other accessibility aids to enhance the accessibility of their vehicles, parks and bus stop to persons with disabilities including those on wheelchairs.”

Under subsection (2), the law stipulates that “Lifts, ramps and all other accessibility equipment in or for vehicles, and at parks or bus stops shall be maintained in operational condition.”

Unfortunately, the Act neither criminalises nor spells out penalties for individuals and organisations that contravene this section of the law.

E-hailing cabs, a solution, but costly

Austin Egeonu

On 29 May 2014, Austin Egeonu, 32, was involved in a car crash. He became paralysed and was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. Due to the nature of his injury, Mr Egeonu depends heavily on e-hailing cabs to commute from one place to another, a situation he says has put extra pressure on his finances.

“In a financial sense, it has really cost me a lot. As a wheelchair user, I use Taxify or an Uber. Sometimes, I go out and I’m charged like 15 to 20 thousand naira just to navigate from my area to probably the Mainland or the Island. So, it has really cost me a lot.

“But another person in a wheelchair or a younger person in a wheelchair who does not have a job or business is going to be isolated and locked in because it’s not easy to move around,” Mr Egeonu said.

Many public buildings, pedestrian bridges inaccessible

A pedestrian bridge in Lagos without ramps

Besides the high cost of e-hailing cabs, PwDs also struggle to access pedestrian bridges, pedestrian crossings and walkways.

They also have difficulty finding disability-friendly housing and accessing public buildings.

Mr Matepo, the president of Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria (SCIAN), said that due to the sensitive nature of his disability, he avoids using the few pedestrian bridges that have ramps. He, however, said that the “majority of our pedestrian bridges are not accessible for wheelchair users.

“Sidewalks in our cities are usually taken over by street traders and shop owners who see the sidewalks as extensions of their shops. Except a wheelchair user like me insists on using the sidewalks, most members of the disability community are forced to use the traffic lanes where we struggle with vehicles, tricycles and motorcycles,” he added.

Sections 3, 4, and 5 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act stipulate that “A person with disability has the right to access the physical environment and buildings on an equal basis with others.

“A public building shall be constructed with the necessary accessibility aids such as lifts (where necessary), ramps and any other facility that shall make them accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.

“Road sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and all other special facilities as set out in the First Schedule made for public use shall be made accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities including those on wheelchairs and the visually impaired.”

Again, the Act neither criminalises nor spells out the penalty for individuals and organizations who contravene this section of the law.

Employment discrimination thrives

Susan Obi

Despite their disabilities, many PWDs have acquired skills and tertiary education, which should ordinarily make them employable. Sadly, this is often not the case.

According to the World Bank, unemployment rates among persons with disabilities are almost double that of the general population, owing to attitudinal, mobility-related, technological, and physical barriers.

Susan Obi, a Lagos-based teacher with albinism, shared her employment discrimination experience with PREMIUM TIMES.

After her Ordinary National Diploma (OND), Mrs Obi visited a state-owned television station to apply for a media internship where she said she faced discrimination.

“There were a lot of side talks in Yoruba language wondering if I could see. I kept quiet and pretended as if I could not understand the local language. At the end of the day, they refused to give me the internship because of my albinism.

“After my internship in the South-east, I sought employment at Voice of Nigeria and other media houses but couldn’t land a job. I felt very bad and wondered why I bothered to study mass communication,” she recalled.

Mrs Obi’s tenacity helped her land a teaching job in a private school but she said she also faces employment discrimination in the education sector.

Section 28 (1) of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act should have protected Mrs Obi. It stipulates that a person with a disability has the right to work on an equal basis with others and this includes the right to an opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open.

Also, section 29 of the Act stipulates that all employers of labour in public organizations shall, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constituting at least five per cent of their employment.

According to the Act, “a person who contravenes subsection (1), commits an offence and is liable on conviction to nominal damages of a minimum of N250,000 payable to the affected person with disability.

“Where a company contravenes subsection (1) (a) the company commits an offence and is liable to nominal damages of a minimum of N500,000 payable to the affected person with disability; and (b) any principal officer of the company involved in the violation is liable to N50,000 ages payable to the affected person with disability. 29. All employers of labour in public organizations shall, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constituting at least 5% of their employment,” the Act adds.

Inclusive education is another uphill task

Oluwakemi Odusanya

Studies show that education is inaccessible for many persons with disabilities due to the lack of adapted learning materials, inadequately trained teachers, school shortages, inaccessible school environments, and inaccessible communication systems. These exclude persons with disabilities from important discussions and decision-making processes.

Oluwakemi Odusanya was a teenager when she lost her sight to retina detachment. After an unsuccessful surgery, she resigned to fate and attended the Pacelli School for the blind to get rehabilitated. But it is at the University of Lagos where she obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, that Ms Odusanya would experience non-inclusion.

She said lecturers would make deriding references to blind students as “Omo Pacelli” and would question their ability to learn and adapt with others.

“They don’t see us as a person that can be included with every other person. Writing in class was a challenge, I had to record and before you can record you have to take permission. I had to make sure that I go to class early so that I can sit in front,” she said.

Despite her unique learning situation, Ms Odusanya said some lecturers made visually impaired students buy textbooks that are not disability friendly, which made bagging her bachelor’s and master’s degrees almost unachievable.

“When it comes to textbooks, lecturers will make it compulsory regardless of your impairment to buy it even if you don’t need it. When I buy such textbooks, let’s say for N1000, I have to convert them to braille. One print material of a textbook is four pages in braille, so I’m going to spend three times the normal amount to convert to braille form. So, it was really challenging. if I wasn’t self-willed, I would have left education,” she said.

Section 18 (1) of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act demands that all public schools, whether primary, secondary or tertiary, shall be run to be inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. Accordingly, every school shall have (a) at least a trained personnel to cater for the educational development of persons with disabilities; and (b) special facilities for the effective education of persons with disabilities.

The Act does not prescribe a penalty for a violation of the provision.

Access Denied!

In Nigeria, PwDs also face non-inclusion in the financial sector. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in 2018, revealed in a study that PwDs enjoy a high level of financial inclusion in mobile banking, currency distinction, telephone support services and bank media service access.

However, access to services such as financial service communication, ATM design and operation, assistive technology, online banking and in-branch banking in Nigeria is low.

Despite years of advocacy, in-branch banking for wheelchair users is still a hassle. Aside from the lack of ramps and lifts in many multi-storied banks, the revolving security doors installed to prevent armed robbery remain a major barrier.

Mr Matepo said bank officials attend to him outside the banking halls.

“The practice is to take wheelchair users and those using crutches through a back door, depending on the nature of what a disabled person came for. I have been attended to many times under the canopies when I went to apply for a new chequebook, renew my debit cards or to lodge complaints on failed POS transactions,” he said.

For Mr Matepo, the unwholesome practice is discriminatory.

“Attending to me outside is a discriminatory act and an infringement on my privacy. It’s also a security risk as members of the public can listen to my conversation unlike the one-to-one discussion over the counter if I was in the banking hall,” he added.

Speaking further, Mr Matepo decried the low rate of accessible buildings in Nigeria and the attitude of the public towards the needs of persons living with disabilities.

“Accessible public buildings are rare. Most owners of public buildings take accessibility to mean putting a ramp at the entrance. To us, accessibility means not only gaining access to the building but also being able to enter and exit all enclosures within the building without limitations.

“Most often, offices, and especially restrooms are fitted with doors that are less than two feet wide. This makes it impossible for wheelers to enter. Those restrooms with wider doors have the wash hand basins behind the doors, thus making it impossible to completely open the door for the wheelchair to enter,” he explained.

The Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act clearly states that “a person with disability has the right to access the physical environment and buildings on an equal basis with others.”

It further stated that “a public building shall be constructed with the necessary accessibility aids such as lifts (where necessary), ramps and any other facility that shall make them accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.”

A PwD who is unable to access a building or environment where he or she has a right or duty to access is empowered by the Act to seek redress in court.

According to the Act, failure to remove the barrier and make the environment accessible to the person with a disability after a notice “is liable on conviction, if it is- (a) a corporate body, N10,000 damages payable to the affected person for each day of default; or (b) an individual, N5,000 damages payable to the affected person each day of default or six months imprisonment or both.”

Checks by Newslodgeshow that there has been no record of prosecution despite the widespread violation of the provision across the country.

Data showing accessibility levels for PwDs in Nigerian banks

This reporter visited 75 branches of different banks to observe if the buildings were easily accessible to PWDs, particularly people using wheelchairs. Findings show that most of them were not.

Key observations from the 75 bank branches visited in this report

  • Only branches of First Bank visited in this
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