AN INTERNATIONAL PRESS CONFERENCE HELD BY ALDIN ON THE 5th DAY OF NOVEMBER,202 AT NAFELIS HOTEL, INDEPENDENT LAYOUT ENUGU
THE NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL AWAKENING IN THE PROMOTION OF DISABILITY RIGHTS: WHERE IS ENUGU STATE?
A press statement presented by Daniel Amaechi Onwe, Esq., President, Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) at an international press conference held by ALDIN on the 5th day of November,2020 at Nafelis Hotel, Independent Layout Enugu.
Gentlemen of the Press,
My Learned Colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen
I am pleased to address you today concerning the global trend in the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, nationally and internationally.
It is germane at this juncture to introduce our association. Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) is the umbrella body of all Nigerian lawyers with disabilities, both at home and in the diaspora. Our objectives include bringing legal professionalism to championing the cause of all persons with disabilities in Nigeria, no matter where they are. Our strategies include awareness creation, advocacy, lobbying and strategic public interest litigation. We are being supported by the Disability Rights Fund. It is with their compliment that we are here today, doing what we are doing now. Having said that, may I proceed to the main issue.
It goes without saying that hitherto persons with disabilities seemed to have no right, and the scheme of affairs in the society skewed against them. They were simply existing on sufferance, considered only good to be recipients of mere charity.
The good news is that the world has changed; Nigeria is also changing. And Enugu State cannot afford to be left out. All over the world, the society is fast adjusting to create level playing fields for persons with disabilities. We now have international legal instruments, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose of this Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. Nigeria has ratified both this Convention and its Optional Protocol. Nations of the world are developing legal frameworks for the protection of the right of persons with different types of disability within their jurisdiction. In Nigeria, at the national level, we now have the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. And even before the enactment of this Act, increasing number of States in Nigeria have been passing legislations to protect persons with disabilities. Plateau, Lagos, Kano, Adamawa, Ekiti, Anambra, to mention, but a few, have all since enacted disability laws. Many more other states have disability bills pending at their respective Houses of Assembly. Amidst these positive developments, the question that begs for answer is where is Enugu State?
The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act is an Act of the Nigerian National Assembly for every part of Nigeria, including Enugu State. This is in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution which provide that the “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof.” Enugu State is a part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, there is no excuse whatsoever for the people, organizations and the government of Enugu State, henceforth, to conduct their affairs in violation of the provisions of this Act. Laws are meant to the obeyed. The government, organizations and the good people of Enugu State need to demonstrate to the world that they are law abiding. It is imperative therefore, for the government, organization and my good people of Enugu State to make definite commitments to comply with the provisions of this Act.
It is germane to highlight some salient provisions of this Act and the attendant obligations they give rise to.
Section 1(1) of the Act provides as follows:
A person with disability shall not be discriminated against on the ground of his disability by any person or institution in any manner or circumstance.
Subsection 2 provides that:
A person who contravenes sub-section 1 commits offence and is liable on conviction to, if the person is
- a corporate body, a fine of N1,000,000, and
- an individual, a fine of N100,000, or six months imprisonment or both.
In Enugu State, it is undeniable that persons with disabilities suffer different forms of discrimination at the work place and other places. Therefore, any person responsible for the discrimination of any person with disability is actually putting him or herself at the risk of jail term.
Section 3 of the Act provides that:
A person with disability has the right to access physical environment and buildings on an equal basis with others.
Section 4 provides that:
A public building shall be constructed with the necessary accessibility aide such as lifts (where necessary), ramps and any other facility that shall make them accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
Unfortunately, in Enugu State, not only are the old public buildings inaccessible, but even new public buildings and renovations that came after the commencement of the Act flagrantly violate the provisions of the Act. Overwhelming majority of public buildings in Enugu State are inaccessible, having steep steps, with neither ramps nor lifts. This lawlessness must stop.
The government of Enugu State should please take steps to modify the numerous public inaccessible buildings in Enugu State to make them accessible to persons with disabilities. The Town Planning authority in Enugu State should insist on building plans making provisions for accessibility facilities before they are given approval, in line with Section 7 of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act.
It has now become mark of civilization for the society to be accessible and friendly to persons with disability. And other States in Nigeria are taking the cue and enacting laws to create level playing fields for persons with disabilities. In the circumstance, any State that is not complying with this global trend would be portraying herself as uncivilized.
The language of the world today is inclusion of persons with disabilities. And any state that is not speaking that language would not be taken seriously by the world. Such states will find it much harder to attract foreign investment, and consequentially lag behind in development.
Again, when we make our state inclusive, we are creating the enabling environment for everybody to be maximally productive and optimally contribute to both the state and national development. And everybody (not just persons with disabilities) will benefit. On the contrary, when we make our environments and systems inaccessible, we actually disable people and make them a burden too heavy to bear. And everybody (not only persons with disabilities) will lose.
Making our society accessible to all, including persons with disabilities, is a social security system that everybody will someday, some how benefit from. Even if you think you do not need an inclusive society today, you will definitely directly or indirectly need it in the future. Everybody prays for long life. However, when God blesses you with long life, and you grow old, you will need an accessible environment. If we do not create accessible environment today, we all should get ready to suffer at old age. So, this is really a good we would be doing for ourselves.
Besides, the said Act at the national level, Enugu State should do well to enact an Enugu-specific disability legislation, the way other States of the Federation have been doing. We therefore, call on the Honourable members of the Enugu State House of Assembly and the Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency Rt. Honourable Chief (Dr) Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to enact an Enugu-Specific disability law, as a matter of urgency. And while we await that to happen, let the provisions of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act be complied with in Enugu State.
This is not a doing a favour to Persons with Disabilities in Enugu State. This is aligning with the global society. This is making Enugu State attractive to the international community. This is making Enugu State suitable for foreign investment. This will show that Enugu State is a state that truly cares for her own. This will show that Enugu State is a State that cares for all.
Enugu is in the hand of God.