Chairman of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWDs) in Lagos, Dr. Adebukola Adebayo has listed poor data analysis, weak institutions as well as inadequate orientation as the major factors militating equal access to justice for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria.
Adebayo, in an interview with Inclusive News Network (INN), said the question of equal access for PWDs does not connote only the justice system, but the many obstacles, mostly due to lack of commitment on the part of government, which according to him, affects the day to day living of members.
He lamented that despite the level of awareness on disability rights on both the part of government, the citizens and the media, the will to implement the Disability Law was still below average.
“So, there is still a lot to be done in terms of data collection. If you go to the hospitals, they do not have PWDs as part of their data. If you go to our schools, our educational data collection instruments do not include disability as part of them. So, it would be difficult for government to plan for a people that they don’t know about,” Adebayo said.
He also expressed concern that most government of the day see issues of disability from the charity aspect and hence, most interventions for PWDs were seasonal than institutional.
“The second problem is the fact that many of us both in and out of government we still hold on tightly the negative aspects of the history of disability meaning that we still hold on to the charity model of engagement.
“Despite the reasonable level of awareness that we have done, you still find that a governor will celebrate his birthday with the school for the blind, school for the deaf and all of that, but you will not find it necessary to strengthen the agencies that are supposed to work on disability affairs.
“When they are intervening on Covid-19, when they are putting palliatives together, the only time they remember PWDs is when they are distributing food but when they are making other interventions on education, on health, on economic stimulus and all of that, they forget disability and that tells you the orientation, which is charity,” the Lagos JONAPWD boss said.
Harping on the challenge of weak institutions, Dr. Adebayo said there is still lack of institutional and human capacity to engage on disability issues in Lagos State and Nigeria at large.
According to him, ensuring access to justice for PWDs will require stakeholders to overcome the problem of mindset, attitude, capacity building, aligning the agencies, strengthening and enabling them to implement these laws.
“If you go to Ministry of Education, Health, Agric, Commerce and Industry, Youth, Women Affairs, they lack the technical capacity, both institutionally and in terms of man power to deliver on disabilities.
“Go to Ministry of Justice, go and ask our judges, our magistrates and lawyers how many of them have sufficient knowledge of disability rights? So there is that dearth of capacity, knowledge and so this is a major problem that we have to deal with. These are the three major problems we have to deal with and until we are able to overcome these three major problems, then we will not be able to get justice,” he said.
He also harped on the need for qualitative education for children living with disabilities, lamenting that the 44 inclusive schools in Lagos were currently falling short of this standard.
“If you go to the 44 inclusive schools, they are just a place where these children are kept, no serious form of learning is taking place in any of these schools. I have a child who was attending, but I had to take that child out of that school and put her in a private school where she is able to gain some learning. How many parents of children with disabilities can afford to do that?
“So, you cannot have justice if you do not have access to quality and functional education. You cannot have justice if you do not have comprehensive and community based rehabilitation because not everyone is born with disability, some have disability later in life as adults, many of them don’t get proper rehabilitation.”
On the way forward, Dr. Adebayo urged Government at all levels to do more than pay lip service to issues concerning PWDs and ensure that their affairs are not only institutionalised but also prioritised.
“For us in the disability community, it is justice if all of these accessibilities and inclusion are in place. If we have laws that are properly implemented, if we have agencies of disabilities that are empowered to carry out their function, then we have government officials from the Governor to the last person in service who understands disabilities from the right perspectives, that’s when we can have access to justice.
“There can’t be access to justice when all of these barriers are there. But if we remove all these barriers and we have access to education, access to health, access to buildings and environment, access to early child care and so on, then we can then say we have access to justice,” he said.