Mr. Jake Epelle
Some stakeholders in the disability community have faulted the composition of the governing council of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities approved by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), alleging an error in the process.
While commending the president for taking the bold step to establish the commission, the stakeholders, however, alleged that major disability groups like autism, down syndrome, leprosy, albinism and intellectual disability were not considered in the appointment.
Buhari had on August 24, 2020, approved the composition of the governing council of the commission and also appointed the commission’s Executive Secretary.
These were contained in a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, titled “President Buhari approves appointment of chairman, members of council and Executive Secretary, National Commission for Persons With Disabilities.”
The statement read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the composition of the Governing Council and appointment of Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities in line with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2019.
“According to the Act, the commission shall be headed by a part-time chairman and six members who shall be persons with disabilities representing the geo-political zones of the federation subject to confirmation of the Senate for a four-year term of office in the first instance and may be reappointed for a second term of four years and no more.
“The Executive Secretary, who shall be responsible to the council for the implementation of the policies and administration of the daily affairs of the commission, shall also be a person with a disability with a five-year tenure in the first instance, and may be reappointed for a second term and no more.”
But speaking in an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise on the expectation of the disability community from the commission, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Albino Foundation, Mr. Jake Epelle, however, said they have observed an error in the President’s appointment.
Epelle said the error was capable of creating disaffection in the running of the commission if not urgently corrected.
He said, “We are grateful that the president has kept to his promise. Now it is left for us in the community to ensure that we do the needful to ensure that we make the lives of persons living with disabilities more meaningful.
“We want to strongly advise the governing council and the new executive secretary, to ensure that there is proper inclusion in the whole process.
“We thank the president for taking the bold step to establish the commission and appoint members of the governing council.
“However, we have noticed an error in the appointment, that is a double appointment for some clusters in the governing council.”
Epelle maintained that the composition of the governing council and the executive secretary who is the chief executive officer of the commission was not diversified.
“The governing council is made of up seven members including the executive secretary. But the appointment centred on just about three or four clusters whereas there are eight recognised clusters in the community of persons living with disabilities in the country.
“We have persons with a physical disability; the blind; spinal cord; intellectual disability; leprosy; albinism; autism & down syndrome and the deaf.
“Unfortunately, persons with a physical disability got two or three slots; the blind got a slot; the deaf got a slot which is the executive secretary.
“Now there was nothing about the intellectual disability; leprosy; albinism; autism & Down syndrome clusters in the composition of the governing council.
“The problem is that oftentimes, the public including the government doesn’t consider people with an invisible disability. There is always that contention concerning people with invisible disability”, he explained.
He further said, “To write that wrong, I advise the governing council and executive secretary to use the structure of the commission to correct the error by establishing eight divisions that will be headed by eight directors. That will represent the eight recognised clusters of persons living with disabilities.
“This will bring about a fair balance in the running of the commission and this is one way to correct that error. If it is done, nobody will criticize the commission and composition of its governing council and it will bring about inclusiveness.
“But if it is not done, it will create a lot of disaffection and lack of representation in the system. It will create a problem because some people will feel marginalised.”
Also, a Disability and Inclusive Development Consultant, Dr. Adebukola Adebayo, said that there was a gap in the appointment.
However, he said the law provides that each member of the council should come from each of the six geopolitical zones.
Dr. Adebayo, a former member of the Governing Board, Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs, said, “The law provides that a person be taken from each of the six geopolitical zones and did not specify that each member of the major clusters is represented in the council.
“But on moral and fairness basis, each of the clusters should have been taken into consideration in the appointment.
“Now, you have two or three people from a cluster that were appointed into the council. In addition to the clusters, if you look at the top positions of the council, both chairman and the executive secretary are from the north.
“You can see that that is an issue itself. Now, if you look at the representation of the disability groups in fairness in the composition of the governing council, the president should have ensured that each major disability group is represented on the council. These are important issues.”
The visually impaired consultant advised that such an error should be avoided in a future appointment.
He described the establishment of the commission as a good development, adding, however, that it was long overdue.
According to Adesina, below are the names, designations and geo-political zones of members of the management of the commission: Dr Hussaini Kangiwa – Chairman – North West; Oparaku Jaja – Member – South-East; Philomena Konwea – Member – South-South; Omopariola Oluwasola – Member – South West; Amina Audu – Member – North West; Mrs. Esther Awu – Member – North Central; Abba Ibrahim – Member – North East; and James David Lalu – Executive Secretary – North Central.
Reports show that over 30 million persons are living with disabilities in Nigeria.
The functions of the commission include; the formulation and implementation of policies and guidelines as appropriate for the education and social development of persons with disabilities, preparation of schemes designed to promote the social welfare of persons with disabilities, amongst others.