X-Raying Delta State Disability Protection Bill 2024

March 27, 2024
disability protection bill

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Similar to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), an international human rights treaty, was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and opened for signature on 30 March 2007,  to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all disabled persons, the Delta state house of assembly recently made ‘history’ with its passage of the disability protection bill, 2024.

The bill which passed through the third reading at a plenary presided over by Emomotimi Guwor, the Speaker of the House of Assembly,  was sponsored by Marylyn Okowa-Daramola, member representing Ika north east. The passage of the bill followed a motion moved by Emeka Nwaobi, the House Majority Leader; Bridget Anyafulu, the Chairman of the House Committee on Housing, Women’s Affairs, Girl-child Entrepreneurship; and humanitarian support services.

Viewed broadly, the above move by the Delta State House of Assembly becomes deeply appreciated when one brings into view the World Health Organization’s 2011 World Disability Report, which revealed that about 15 per cent of Nigeria’s population, or at least 25 million people, have a disability. Many of them, the report added, face several human rights abuses, including stigma, discrimination, violence, and lack of access to healthcare, housing, and education.

More specifically, a major landmark inherent in the bill as passed by the house is that when signed into law by the state governor, it promises to become a remarkable win for persons with disabilities in Delta state as its provisions will ensure improved inclusiveness, participation, protection, equity and empowerment as well as ensure improved access to transportation, including exclusive parking spaces.

Again, aside from coming with accompanying penalties for infringements and calls for the establishment of the Commission for Persons With Disabilities, a body that will facilitate implementation of the provisions of the proposed law, also very alluring is the awareness that  the proposed law will also promote inclusivity and accessibility by providing persons with disability lifts, ramps and other accessibility aids to all physical structures and emphasized the rights of persons living with disabilities to basic and secondary education, to live independently, access information and participate fully in political, cultural and social life.”

Beyond the merits that flow from the recently passed bill, deltans with critical interest are, however, worried about the development. To them, policy formulation has never been a problem in the country as Nigeria at both state and Federal levels is visibly blessed with world-class policymakers. Rather, implementation and enforcement of those globally acclaimed policies have always been the major impediment to the nation’s development.

There is also the belief in some quarters that the enactment of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act is neither new nor final but only a first step in the fulfilment of Nigeria’s obligations under the CRPD. This consciousness again raises the poser as to what should be done to put effective measures in place for its full implementation to ensure equal treatment and participation of people with disabilities.

Indeed, the above fears expressed by Deltans of goodwill cannot be described as unfounded particularly when one remembers that Nigeria has reportedly ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and its Optional Protocol in 2010, without in practical terms, giving a fair deal to the disabled in the country-a failure attributable to weak enforcement and lack of coordinated implementation.

According to Aniete Ewang, Lawyer and Nigeria Researcher in the Africa division, of Human Rights Watch, Nigeria ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 and its Optional Protocol in 2010. Since then, civil society groups and people with disabilities have called on the government to put it into practice. In 2011 and 2015, the National Assembly passed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2009, but former President Goodluck Jonathan declined to sign it into law. The bill for the new law was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate joint committee in November 2016 but was not sent to Buhari for his signature until December 2018.

On January 17, the report added, Buhari denied on national television that he had received the bill. Hundreds of people protested, and barely five days later, he signed the bill into law.

The law prohibits discrimination based on 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.

Also very troubling in the opinion of this piece is the fact that if the recently passed bill by the state is juxtaposed with the federally passed law on Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition), both share common features.

Take as an example, both laws prohibit discrimination based on disability and impose sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it. The two propositions at both state and Federal called for the establishment of a Commission for Persons with Disabilities, responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to housing, education, and healthcare. The Commission was also empowered to receive complaints of rights violations and support victims to seek legal redress amongst other duties.

From the above standpoint, it again elicits the question as to if after all these years, the provisions in the Federal Government version could not offer adequate protection to Nigerians, what difference will the ongoing efforts at the state level make?  Another question that is as important as the bill itself is; why does the ongoing effort by the Delta State House of Assembly not cover all areas of life, from Health, Education and Employment to Equal Recognition before the Law, Freedom from Exploitation, Violence and Abuse, and Accessibility?

Why did the Delta state lawmakers fail to offer intersectional perspectives, in respect of women with disabilities and children with disabilities as found in the United Nation’s Optional Protocol which established individual complaints mechanism for the UNCRDP, and compels States Parties who ratify the Optional Protocol to agree and recognize the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated? If the present effort by the State House of Assembly (Disability Protection Bill, 2024), becomes toothless like its Federal counterpart, will the energy dissipated on this bill not amount to share waste of time and task payers money?

For a better understanding of the relevance of questions, the UNCRPD contains 50 Articles.  Aside from provisions around definitions, principles and processes, the Convention contains 26 Articles covering all areas of life, from Health, Education and Employment to Equal Recognition before the Law, Freedom from Exploitation, Violence and Abuse, and Accessibility. The Convention also offered intersectional perspectives, in respect of women with disabilities and children with disabilities.

Article 8 for example stated in clear terms what the States Parties need to undertake to achieve immediate, effective and appropriate measures aimed at raising awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and fostering respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities; combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life.

Article 9 on its part focused on accessibility that will assist the targeted beneficiaries live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, noting that States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia: (a) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces; (b) Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

For me, these are tiny details that if taken care of by the state Assembly would have made a whole lot of positive difference.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) for Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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