By Dr. Adebukola Adebayo
In line with the global disability prevalence rate of 15% projected in the World Bank and WHO Disability Report of 2011, Nigeria could be estimated to be home to about 30 million persons with disabilities (PWDs). This population is very well more than the population of several countries within and outside of Africa.
Unfortunately, As revealed in several studies, Nigeria has failed year-in year-out to take advantage of the great potentials of this significant fraction of its population. The country has practically neglected its citizens with disabilities in its various developmental plans and strategies; thereby rendering them less economically productive and less socially relevant.
Specifically, since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, governments at all levels in the country have engaged with PWDs and disability issues from a purely charity perspective; reducing PWDs to mere objects of charity. It has been very typical for all levels of government, the private sector, the media, faith-based organizations, civil society and the general public to engage PWDs only when they wish to give out charity assistance or support to them.
While it can be said that this trend began to change since the return to democratic rule in 1999, it is also a fact that the strategic support received by organizations of PWDs from various international development partners such as DFID, USAID, EU, and the various UN Agencies in Nigeria helped in no small ways to stimulate and increase disability rights advocacies in Nigeria. These Advocacies in turn helped to influence the involvement of PWDs in the various National Constitutional and Political Reforms Conferences, the peripheral participation of PWDs in the political space and the engagement of PWDs in the development of strategic economic development planning documents.
The status of PWDs also got a very significant boost as critical stakeholders in the Nigerian National development project when advocacies for disability legislations at state and national levels got to very significant heights. The enactment of disability laws and policies and the establishment of disability agencies in Lagos and Plateau State were two major developments which helped to stimulate similar developments in other states across the country. Similarly, many state and local governments offered political appointments to PWDs while a few of them ripped the fruits of their unrelenting political participation by winning elections into political offices.
At the national level, the signing of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Act of 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019 and the appointment of the members of the Disability Commission in accordance with the Law in August 2020 placed Nigeria among the committee of nations which have put disability-inclusion as a key priority in their national agenda. Besides the National Disability Act, it is also worthy of note that Nigeria has in place, a National Disability Policy, as well as disability-inclusion policy frameworks in education, health, social protection, transport, electoral Process, etc at national and state levels.
Certainly, in 21st century Nigeria, the social, political and economic status of PWDs is improving gradually, especially with these arrays of disability legal, policy and institutional frameworks in place. Similarly, one can certainly say that the level of public awareness is increasing appreciably and Nigerians with disabilities are gradually breaking those institutional, attitudinal and environmental barriers which hitherto prevented them from making meaningful contributions towards the development of Nigeria.
However, this is not the time for disability rights advocates to rest on their oars. It is certainly the time to do more work. As former Governor Babatunde Fasola would say, “the reward for hard work is more work…”
Nigerians with disabilities need to engage with all levels of government in a more strategic way; pushing for more inclusion and participation in the governance of their affairs. The political class and other professional elites have now suddenly realized that Disability-Inclusion has become a critical subsector which attracts significant resources and so are beginning to develop significant interest therein. Accordingly, the next level of discrimination and exclusion which PWDs may begin to deal with is the great struggles for the control of, and access to the resources allocated to PWDs.
In accordance with our solidarity slogan of “NOTHING FOR AND ABOUT US WITHOUT US!!!”, PWDs must brace up to the great challenge of building their capacity to participate in the leadership and governance of their affairs. To achieve this, we must push for more inclusive and accessible education at all levels; more access to jobs and meaningful economic empowerment through adequate financial inclusion; and more political participation at local, state and national levels.
The organized disability groups and communities should forge strategic partnership with mainstream civil society organizations, international development partners, the organized private sector, the media and other critical stakeholders to fight this emerging new challenge so that we can sustain the gains of the new disability-inclusive Nigeria which our years of disability rights struggles have now brought to us as our country turns 60.
Adebukola Shehu Adebayo is a disability inclusion and development practitioner with over 15 years of experience. Adebukola is the founder and CEO of Human and Organizational Resources Development Centre (HORDC), Nigeria. He was appointed by the Governor of Lagos State to the Governing Board of the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) between 2016/2019. He currently seats on the Board of several other Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) and civil society groups in Nigeria.
Adebukola currently serve as Disability Inclusion and policy Expert on the National and Lagos State Technical Working Groups (TWGs) on Social Protection Policy. He served on the Inclusive Education Policy drafting Committees in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos, Akwa-Ibom and Kwara states respectively.
Adebukola is currently serving as the elected Lagos State Chairman of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), the umbrella body for all DPOs in Nigeria. Adebayo was the immediate past National Technical Adviser to the JONAPWD National President on Inclusive Development Projects including the USAID-SACE project on Inclusive Basic Education for Children with Disabilities in FCT Abuja, Akwa-Ibom and Kwara states respectively.
Adebukola’s work has contributed immensely to development and implementation of legal and policy frameworks on disability rights and inclusion in sectors like education, health, social protection, financial inclusion, telecommunications, public transport, public infrastructure, and the electoral process. His effective use of research advocacy has produced several baseline data on disability inclusion which is contributing to knowledge development and behaviour change towards disability issues in Nigeria.
Adebukola is an Alumni of the US International Professional Exchange Programme and of Mobility International USA (MIUSA) respectively with degrees in Political Science, Education and Human Resource Management. Adebukola has a track record of successfully leading disability rights advocacies at subnational and national levels in Nigeria; playing key roles in the successes of DFID-SAVI and USAID-SACE supported citizens-lead disability rights advocacies and engagements in Nigeria. Adebukola is a recipient of the 2016 Lagos State Merit Award in recognition of his contributions to the enactment and implementation of the Lagos State Special People’s Law in 2011.