Since independence, the political participation of all categories of persons in political and democratic process in Nigeria is appreciative by the day. From the first republic till date, concerns on inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities have always been the campaign and agitation from all corners. The campaign which was mostly driven by human right activists and other disability actors, achieved little because it was handled using charity model with campaigners mostly applying pity, tokenism and medical approaches.
At the beginning of the fourth republic, while other groups like women, youth are agitating for recognition and inclusion some disability actors also formed a strong movement aim at achieving inclusion but this time with the objective of having legal frame work that will prioritize , promote and protect persons with disabilities from all kinds of discrimination and stigmatization. After a decade of consistent campaign, advocacy and high level of engagement, the dream is still far from been over because no political leader seems to understand the psychology of disability and how political will and commitment can eradicate the age long stereo-type, discrimination, stigmatization, cultural dehumanization, religious mockery and self-defeat accompanied by societal deprivations.
The political leadership was clueless, the political parties were insensitive, and the government structures lack knowledge. The civil societies frustrated and the disability movement confused and divided.
Building up to 2015 general election, the atmosphere was tense with all human right actors calling the government of the day to consider and pass the Nigerian Disability Act hoping if that is achieved, persons with disabilities will have a level playing field to adequately participate in all electoral and political processes in the country. Behold that hope was also dashed.
Realizing the gap in approaches and methodology of engagement that failed the previous attempt to secure legislation persons with disabilities regrouped, reappraise and rejuvenate the processes and engagement by identifying key stakeholders of the society, and that engagement was fruitful, entry point was established. In 2014 when effort was on to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) the founders were magnanimous enough to identify persons with the disabilities as key stakeholders by not only recognizing their vulnerability but creating space for them at every structure of the party. To further demonstrate their commitment, the then campaign council of President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a member of the disability community, Dr. Samuel Ankeli as Director Disability Affairs.
Subsequently, to again practically demonstrate their passion, desire and commitment, the APC at their convention, elected a person with disability, Hon. Misbahu Lawal Didi as the National Disable Leader who was also part of the National Working Committee of the party. The reign of Hon. Misbahu brought so many glowing achievements to the community of persons with disabilities at large. First it was strategic positioning of zonal leaders of persons with disabilities and his participation at various engagement of the party giving it disability image both in the party secretariat and in the presidency.
Secondly because of the passion of the party and it commitments, the yoke of barriers, discrimination and stigmatization was also brought to an end by the President signing into law the long awaited Discrimination against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) bill 2018 which previous government vehemently denied assent.
While the leadership challenges befallen the party at a stage cannot be denied or totally discounted and its consequent effect on participation of members, the party All Progressive Congress (APC) remain focused and determine on disability inclusion as enshrine in the spirit and letters of the party’s constitution. Again is pertinent to note here that is one thing to have a law and is another thing to be implemented to the letter so, one would not be wrong to state here that All Progressive Congress has and will continue to have persons with disabilities in their agenda of planning and implementation.
Again, the party was engulfed in leadership tussle. Many analysts and political pundits have expressed their minds on the future of the party, if it will exist beyond 2023 or not. But for an average person with disability, the major questions are; will persons with disabilities ever have a platform like APC again?
Can the inclusion shown in the party’s structures from national to state be replicated by any party?
The divergent views and thought expressed by persons with disabilities on different platform become so worrisome to the average disability actor.
As a legacy party whose ideology, principles and aspirations for better Nigeria is never doubted or conceived in bad light, it quickly swung to action with the leader of the party and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari GCFR convening a National Executive council meeting of the party.
While the meeting was ongoing, expectedly, Nigerians with disabilities were anxiously waiting for the outcome. It didn’t take long before news broke that the APC NEC had disbanded the NWC and constituted an 11-man National Caretaker and Convention Committee to be headed by another disability friendly Governor, His Excellency Mai Mala Buni, nicknamed, ‘Master Of Inclusion’ as he is being called in Yobe state.
The inclusion of person with disabilities in the committee didn’t come to the disability community as a surprise considering the antecedents of the party. But what was so euphoric and ecstatic was the personality so appointed in the person of Dr. James Lalu (Phd).
Dr. James is an amazing, dogged, resilient politician with good record of service to humanity in general and persons with disabilities in specific. A two term special Adviser to Plateau state governor on disability affairs, a former member and Chairman Plateau state disability right commission, former representative of persons with disability at All Progressive Congress national convention etc . Lalu as we fondly call him is a disability development expert with years of experience and expertise in disability engagement globally. And that’s why Nigerians with disability never doubted his competence to take disability inclusion to the greater level.
Today Dr. James achievement within a short period speaks volume. In an unprecedented manner, persons with disabilities are now engaged in national assignment with a good number of them have been part of the National Campaign Council for the Ondo governorship election, which has never happened before.
Today, through his office, international organizations are building the capacities of leaders of persons with disabilities in the party. This giant stride is commendable and it is our hope others will learn from this.
The All Progressive Congress (APC) the party of my heart and soul, the most inclusive party of my generation and the generation before mine, the disability sensitive party , the party for all ……..
TO BE CONTINUED
Comrade Muhammed Abba Isa
APC North East Zonal Disable leader