A Broken Law: Nigeria’s Disability Act and PWDs battle for inclusion

By Ruth Oketunde

Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria seem to have seen a significant degree of institutional relief five years ago when former President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.

Source of picture illustration “huffingtonpost.co.uk”.

The Act, also known as the National Disability Law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it.

It also stipulates a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures, and automobiles to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities.

In spite of this trailblazing disability Act which guarantees equal rights and inclusion to an estimated over 25 million citizens with disabilities, many persons with disabilities still struggle due to numerous barriers and lack of enforcement.

As it relates to building and transportation modifications, Jan 17, 2024 saw the end of the five-year transitional grace, with some public buildings and transport companies yet to comply with the Act.

Mr Agbo Christian, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, says the Ministry of Works and Housing, saddled with the responsibility to engage other government organisations to ensure public buildings are dully modified, have been lackadaisical on their mandates.

“The implementation of the Act has been very slow; I will not rate it very high, though a lot of things have been happening since the enactment of the law.

“Activists with disabilities also pushed for the creation of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, which is saddle with the responsibility of implementing the Act.

“I can say to an extent, if government has accepted to establish this commission, it means there has been effort to implement the Act, unfortunately after five years of the enactment, we cannot say much has happened,” he said.

Christian rated the government’s efforts in ensuring an inclusive society, forty per cent, because of the establishment of the commission, which he said was the basic requirement for effective implementation of the provision of the act.

He expressed dissatisfaction with the low pace of compliance to the act by especially by governments Ministries, Department and Agencies across the country.

Christian, like many other persons with disabilities who face challenges while accessing public building or transportation facilities, resort to staying indoors or depend greatly on friends and families to get things done.

In a 2023 survey conducted by the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), Lagos state ranked top as the only state which exceeded the required criteria for implementing the access to infrastructure and other services for PWDs.

The survey, which was done to assess the level of implementation of the Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) criteria across different Nigerian states, saw a lot of states lagging.

Mr David Anyaele, the Executive Director of the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), attributed the unimpressive report and low implementation of the Act to lack of adequate awareness of its provisions.

“In terms of access to public buildings and transportation facilities among my community of persons with disabilities, it has remains weak.

“Both government and privately owned transportation facilities are not accessible to persons with disabilities,” he said.

Anyaele added that absence of political will, ignorance of the important players in policymaking, and lack of funding for disability-related issues and institutes such as the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, had continued to hinder the complete implementation of the Act.

Miss Diana Omueza, a journalist and a PWDs advocate, describes this worrying situation as a major blow to the community of PWDs, as it has crippled their sense of belonging and self-confidence.

According to her, the impact of non-implementation of the Act would be grievous in the lives of PWDs, as issues around lack of accessibility could seriously affect their mental health.

“From my observation, majority of the building modifications have mostly been done by private organisations such as hotels, especially in Abuja, the nation’s capital and in Lagos.

“I have also heard of stories where PWDs had missed their flights because there was no one to readily attend to them to get them wheeled to the airplane.

“Though there is a section to identify that you are a PWD while booking your tickets with an airline to signify that there is need for a wheelchair.

“It’s so sad and unfortunate that after the five-year moratorium period for public buildings and transportation facilities to be modified to allow access to PWDs, nothing has significantly been done,” she said.

She added that from her years of working and advocating for the rights of PWDs, there is still low awareness of the provisions of the Act, even among Nigerians and PWDs.

However, the Federal Government of Nigeria has called on PWDs to contact the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities to file complaint on non-compliance of public buildings to modify structures for easy accessibility.

Mr Mohammed Isa, Senior Special Assistant to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on Special needs and Equal Opportunities, said that the government is not unconcerned with the challenges of PWDs in the country.

Isa said that training programmes are already being developed to enlighten architects, engineers, and construction professionals on how to design and modify these buildings to meet PWDs accessibility standards.

“The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 mandates that accessibility standards are met, as individuals can also seek legal assistance if they encounter inaccessible buildings.

“As of my last update, progress on the implementation of building modification under the Act has been gradual.

“Efforts are being made to establish and enforce accessibility standards especially in public buildings; initiatives are also underway to raise public awareness on the importance of accessible buildings and the rights of persons with disabilities,” he assured.

In their deprivation, persons with disabilities and advocates of the rights of persons with disabilities still believe that there is a sense of cautious optimism in the significance of the act, notwithstanding the implementation gaps.

They, however, recommend that for the Act’s full potential to be actualised, there is need for more cooperation and robust enforcement procedures and mechanism.

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