By Oliver Francis
A great milestone was reached in Nigeria on January 23, 2019, when the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, following a 9 year rigorous and relentless advocacy by disability right groups and activists in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Senate, in a session held on Tuesday, August 8, announced the confirmation of Dr. Betta Edu along with 44 other nominees as Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. After which Dr. Edu was appointed the Honouarble Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
The Ministry is saddled with the enormous task to develop humanitarian policies and provide effective coordination of National and International humanitarian interventions; ensure strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness and response; and manage the formulation and implementation of fair focused social inclusion and protection programmes in Nigeria.
The national disability policies and actions are part of Dr. Betta Edu’s main mandate. Disability has no better person to coordinate its affairs and advocate for it in the federal council than Dr. Edu. Disability issues in Nigeria have been left on the sideline in national action plans for too long.
In recognition of this, the Ministry has been given a full department to coordinate the overall national responses on issues relating to and affecting Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the country.
The Special Needs Department of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation is mandated to ensure effective care, development and eventual integration of PWDs into society thereby enabling them to develop to their full potentials; and contribute their quota to the development of the country and the world at large.
The Department will ensure the ministry brings succor to all PWDs by ensuring that their rights are respected and protected, through policies, programmes, advocacy, capacity building, M&E, among others.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu stated that it would no longer be business as usual with regards to humanitarian schemes meant to alleviate the sufferings of the Nigerian people, including issues of PWDs.
In her words, “My greatest motivation is people. When I see people who are suffering, deprived or do not have access to basic things, it pushes me to do more”.
Speaking to newsmen at the sidelines of a three-day Ministerial Retreat for Ministers and Special Advisers as well as Assistants and Aides, Dr. Edu said her ministry is already on the right path to improving things in line with President Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda.
She said that her ministry is collaborating with the Ministries of Finance, Health, Education, and Agriculture, among others, to see that the administration can pull Nigerians out of the prevailing multi-dimensional poverty in the country.
She said “Remember, it’s multi-dimensional poverty. Some people are poor, because they do not have access to education while others are poor because they do not have access to quality healthcare services or are poor because they do not have access to jobs”.
ISSUES FACED BY PWDS IN NIGERIA
Inclusion Magazine has for years reported on issues, policies, strides and success stories of PWDs in Nigeria, advocated for an inclusive society for PWDs, and suggested targeted policy reform to improve the lives and rights of PWDS.
This brings to mind on how many persons with disabilities in Nigeria demand this attention and advocacy.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) factsheet report on 7th March, 2023, it states that “an estimated 1.3 billion people experience significant disability globally. This represents 16% of the world’s population, or 1 in 6 of us.”
The number is greater in developing countries like Nigeria. Some Civil Society groups have estimated that PWDs in Nigeria are more than 30 million, and the number keeps increasing daily. This includes infants, teenagers, adolescents, adults, single persons, married individuals, students, civil servants, business owners, traders, artists, social media influencers, religious leaders, community leaders and so on.
Therefore, the number of PWDs in Nigeria demands stronger national intervention and strategies to create an inclusive country. Some disabilities are visible while others are not. So, one cannot identify all PWDs on the street by merely looking to identify one.
This raises the question: what challenges do PWDs face?
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) factsheet report on 7th March, 2023 mentioned earlier, “Some persons with disabilities die 20 years earlier than those without disabilities, persons with disabilities have twice the risk of developing conditions such as depression, asthma, diabetes, stroke, obesity or poor oral health.
“Persons with disabilities face many health inequities. Persons with disabilities find inaccessible and unaffordable transportation 15 times more difficult than those without disabilities. Health inequities arises from unfair conditions faced by persons with disabilities, including stigma, discrimination, poverty, exclusion from education and employment, and barriers faced in the health system itself.”
The challenges faced daily by PWDs can be classified into various barriers groups, namely:
The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities first Executive Secretary, James Lalu was appointed in 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari with the mandate to coordinate and implement activities that guarantee full inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.
He is meant to ensure that these persons are embraced into the society in areas of education, social, economic, civil rights and related matters as entrenched in Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.
Lalu is working expeditiously with the Humanitarian Ministry to achieving these mandates.
The commission although young and facing teething problems have designed and implemented policies, programmes and advocacy towards improving livelihood of PWDs in Nigeria. The Commission deserves some accolades and commendations. Moreover, the Commission needs more funding, manpower, training, and an empowered management team to be able to reach every local government in the country.
The impacts of advocacy and activities of various groups and organizations aimed at PWDs are yielding enormous results in the country. These organizations are sometimes working in isolation thereby making tracking and success documentation difficult. Therefore, there is need for synergy and coordination in NGOs, CSO, FBOs, etc activities to be tracked and monitored to produce ultimate result.
To ensure the policies and programmes of the federal government meet the need of the over 30 millions Nigerians needing access to education, healthcare, social welfare, employment, politics and much more, there is need for the government to meet these individuals in person to know and have a feeling of the needs and agitation of PWDs to foster trust, support and inclusion.
The mandate and activities of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation includes: provision of Aids and Appliances to individuals and institutions that provide Rehabilitation services to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs); Advocacy and community mobilization; Creation of awareness and sensitization of the public on the plights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and Coordination of Rehabilitation service delivery in the Country.
INCLUSION Magazine therefore is recommending a national and regional engagement of stakeholders by the ministry; Regular communication of federal government policies as they relate and affect PWDs and feedback mechanism aimed to promote inclusion.
All stakeholders must be determined to build strong synergy and an inclusive society for all by supporting the Dr. Betta Edu led administration in ensuring the Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda policies are communicated, implemented and monitored to benefit all Nigerians, especially PWDs in their millions.