Freeman Osonuga is the Founder and Executive Director of Heal the World Foundation Nigeria and the One Young World Coordinating Ambassador for Africa 2.
Nigeria may be the largest economy in Africa but a country that ignores the social welfare of any of her people cannot attain true national development. A nation's human development index is an essential indicator of development and this importantly involves the measurement of the living conditions of citizens. Whilst Nigeria’s economy ranks 24th in the world its HDI ranking lags far behind at 152nd.
Every day in Nigeria I encounter people who cannot afford to sustain themselves due to physical or mental disability. These people live on the streets in rags, without food or shelter or health care. Many are constrained to begging, having been placed at the mercy of the populace by the unkind hands of circumstance. Many lack protection and are subjected to abuse including rape, assault, and kidnapping for rituals.
Being members of Nigerian society, these people deserve certain privileges as fundamental human rights. These people must not be forgotten in the quest for national development and the government owes them the basic means to pursue prosperous and productive lives.
Development is not only about constructing roads, markets, schools and power stations; it is also about ensuring the poorest people are well catered for. It is time Nigeria's government realise that every citizen has not only civil and political rights, but also social rights. The onus is on government at all levels to provide adequate welfare for people, especially those on the streets or those who cannot provide for themselves.
- Government should ensure that persons living with disabilities have access to quality health care and education without discrimination.
- Government should take steps to ensure that persons living with disability have a good standard of living and this includes adequate food, clothing and housing.
- Governments at all levels should set up vocational training centres to help people with disabilities access the work place.
- Governments have the responsibility to ensure that social services are available to those who are disabled. Non-Governmental Organisations must also play major roles in planning, organising and providing these services.
- Public transport services should be more accessible for people with disabilities.
- People living with disabilities should be protected from discrimination, exploitation, neglect, violence, abuse, torture, cruelty or inhuman treatment.
- Public places such as banks, restaurants, hospitals, schools, malls and cinemas must be made accessible to people with disabilities.
In April 2012, the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by the Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa for the Full Integration of Nigerians with Disability into the Society and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Them. Similarly, the Nigerian Senate in March 2014 also passed into law the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Bill. The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, seeks to protect the fundamental human rights of people living with disabilities.
Both of these laws prescribe financial penalties as well as jail terms for those who contravene them, whether corporate bodies or individuals. This legislation is a leap in the right direction but a lot of work remains to be done throughout the county as most states in Nigeria, with the notable exception of Lagos, do not yet have laws protecting disability rights.
The Nigerian legislature is gradually warming up to their duty to protect disability rights but legislation is meaningless without proper enforcement. It is therefore pertinent that people start going to the penitentiary for taking advantage of and abusing the helpless and disabled in our communities.
We need a community that is sensitive, receptive and protective of the rights of people with disabilities. We need a society that guarantees the rights of the defenseless. We need to be a country that is fair to all, especially the downtrodden. As Nelson Mandela said; 'to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.'