About 18 months after Nigeria signed into law the prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities bill, the federal government says it is set to create a National Commission for persons with special needs.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will partner with the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs in the establishment of the new commission.
The Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, disclosed this in a statement he issued on Thursday shortly after a meeting with the humanitarian affairs minister, Sadiya Farouq.
Mr Ojukwu said although the establishment of the Disability Commission is within the powers of the ministry, the rights commission would play a significant role in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The statement, however, did not state the focus and objective of the commission in protecting the rights and interests of disabled persons.
A report by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank in 2011, said 25 million people in Nigeria have one form of physical disability or the other. The figure accounts for at least 15 per cent of Nigeria’s current population of over 200 million, according to the UN estimates.
In 2018, the national population commission estimated that no fewer than 19 million Nigerians are living with one form of disability or the other.
The law prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities was signed last January last year, after over 20 years of advocacy by notable Nigerians.
According to section (1) of the law, anyone found guilty of discriminating against a person with a disability would be liable to a fine N100,000 in the case of an individual or N1 million in the case of an institution or a term of six months in jail or both.
The law also provides for the Nigerian government to establish institutions that will enhance its implementation such as the commission for persons with disabilities.
But even after the signing of the law, many Nigerians living with disabilities say the journey towards legal recognition and respect by Nigeria is still ahead. The government that approved a new law has literarily helped violate it.
While the law says at least five per cent of all public appointments must go to people with disabilities, governments at various levels have so far not complied. President Muhammadu Buhari appointed no person with a disability into his 43-member cabinet last August.
Also, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world and ascertaining the percentage of those with learning disabilities is next to impossible as official data is non-existent. As such, any educational plan will most likely not address the needs of those with disabilities, pushing them further to the margins of society.
Also, the lack of awareness on learning disabilities in Nigeria is another hurdle special needs children encounter.
Meanwhile, Mr Ojukwu, in the statement, said mainstreaming human rights into governance would yield better results in the quest for a better deal for special needs people.
“We believe that if human rights are mainstreamed in all government operations, it will be more successful, there will be fewer criticisms, there will be no stigmatization. It will be more inclusive and people will be more patriotic and Nigeria will be better off”.
According to the statement, Mrs Farouq expressed readiness to work with the NHRC on the establishment of the commission.
The minister was quoted as saying her ministry is “seriously concerned about the issue of people with disabilities and will do all in its powers to give them the best that they deserve”.
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