FEATURE ARTICLE

Goldie AdeleMonday, April 29, 2013
Gadele1@hotmail.com
Connecticut, USA

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URGENT: IMMEDIATE PASSAGE OF THE NIGERIANS WITH DISABILITIES BILL


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efore and after independence in 1960, citizens with disabilities have played a crucial role in Nigeria's development. We know them personally or are related to someone with a visible or invisible disability. The negative part of their history as Nigerians is the fact that some have resorted to beg for assistance or stuck in an economically unviable position. Since 2008, the idea of a law that protects and provides for individuals with disabilities has been discussed by the Federal, State, and local governments. It has also been discussed by various advocacy organizations. Nigeria being a supporter of the global contract on disability rights had tasked itself to pass a comprehensive law as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this is yet to happen due to various degrees of politics and selfish interests. Granted, it can be difficult to pass such a substantial bill, even in a developed country, but the Nigerian government needs to approach this bill as a matter of national emergency. With all the increasing security, economic, social, political, educational and related challenges the country currently faces, passage of this bill will be a positive jolt towards improving conditions in the country.

In the United States, it took over 100 years post-independence to pass a law related to disability rights and decades later to pass a revised comprehensive law. The law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was recently amended in 2008. The law has served as an economic, social, political, and security boost to the country. The ADA and its amendments guarantee certain basic and fundamental human rights to individuals with both visible and invisible disabilities. These rights include access to facilities, transportation, education at all levels, employment opportunities etc. These rights are NOT designed to give these individuals an undue advantage, but to place them at the same level with individuals without disabilities. What this has resulted in is having individuals with disabilities being integrated into society to be productive, self-sufficient, and gain self-respect. Economically, they do not solely rely on government aid or seek illegal ways in which to survive, but contribute to the economy by being productive members of society .They have an opportunity to be entrepreneurs, effective employees, and engage in the business world. In the area of education, it provides an opportunity to have equal access to a quality education at all levels, so they can be an educated member of society. Personally, the law gives a sense of individual pride, that they can do whatever they set their sights on. These individuals are educated, employed or entrepreneurs, and do not pose any security or negative risk to the country. They contribute to the society rather than seek handouts from the government.

In Nigeria, the fact that this law was discussed and drafted so early after independence deserves some credit. But, the bill needs to become law in order for full credit to be given. There are millions of Nigerian citizens with disabilities who are yearning for equal access and protection of their fundamental human rights, so they can effectively contribute to society. With Nigeria's current situation, the country cannot afford to ignore this important segment of the population. The security issues being faced, economic and unemployment crisis, and other related issues pose further challenges to individuals with disabilities. This law is urgently needed to provide them an avenue to success. As with anything new; business, some in society, politicians etc will kick and scream about compliance and cost issues. This is nothing new, but it must be done for the greater good of the country. As the so called giant of Africa and the country with the most population, Nigeria needs to take a leadership role on this issue. Disability rights is not a tribal issue or religious issue that tends to divide the country, but a human rights issue that should unify the country. Christian and Muslim religious leaders must join the conversation and pressure the various arms of government to pass a comprehensive Disability Rights bill. Whatever the reason is for non-passage, a compromise can always be reached among reasonable minds. The state Governors also need to put pressure on the Federal Government to pass this bill, so there can be some avenue of relief for their constituencies. The objective is to teach them how to fish and not fish for them all the time. This is the time for the Federal Government to show some respect for these citizens, a good example for the continent, and respect for international human rights and treaties. There are three steps in any successful Government program. First is to pass an enabling law. Second is to implement the law effectively. Third is to review the law regularly to ensure continued effectiveness. Let's do the human thing and pass this Bill….

Goldie Adele is a U.S.-based Nigerian Attorney specializing in disability law in the areas of education, employment, and policies. He has over 10 years experience in the area of disability law and its enforcement.

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