The Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) has demanded the immediate redress of the disqualification of Mr. Osita Okon from heading the Social Welfare Department Nkanu-West Local Government Area, Enugu State, only for the reason that he is blind.
In a letter dated 18th January 2021 and jointly signed by the National President and the Chairman of the Enugu State Chapter of the Association, it called on all stakeholders in the state, including the Chairman, Enugu State Local Government Service Commission, to respect the Civil Service Rules of the state which has been made clear and unambiguous provisions in the appointment of the heads of departments of government. The association noted that by the provisions of the Civil Service Rules and conventional practices, where the position of the head of a government department becomes vacant, it falls on the highest-ranking officer of the department to head it.
However, contrary to the above, the Association lamented that Mr. Osita Okon, the highest-ranking officer of the Nkanu-West Social Welfare Department at grade level 14 was bypassed and a much junior officer of grade level 9 was instead appointed to head the department. And the only reason for this injustice, according to the association, is because ”Mr. Osita Okon is blind.”
The letter further noted that the act of the Chairman of the Enugu State Local Government Service Commission was unconstitutional and a blatant disregard of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act, 2018, which protects persons with disabilities against all form of discrimination. Hence, it partly stated that “Obviously, this is a case of discrimination on the ground of Disability, which is repugnant to the written law, natural justice, equity, and good conscience. Section 1 of the Discrimination against persons with Disabilities (prohibition) Act clearly provides as follows:
(1) A person with disability shall not be discriminated against on the ground of his disability by any person or institution in any manner
(2) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to, if the person is-
(a) A body corporate, to a fine of #1,000,000 and
(b) An individual, a fine of #100,000 or six months imprisonment, or both.”
It further stated that “By virtue of the clear and unambiguous provisions of the said law, discriminating against a person with disability is not only unlawful, but criminal. Furthermore, such apparent act of discrimination does not cast Enugu State in the good light in view of the current global dispensation.”
Finally, it called on the Chairman to save the State from further embarrassment, retrace his step and do the right thing by instating Mr. Osita Okon to his rightful position. Thus, “Much as the law in question is enforceable in the circumstance, it is our belief that you do the right thing. Therefore, we earnestly request that you use your good office to cause Mr. Osita Okoh [to] assume his rightful position in the Social Welfare Department of Nkanu-West Local Government Area. It will indeed be a credit to Enugu State that a qualified person with [a] disability, like Mr. Osita Okon is given the opportunity to head a Department. We trust you to do that which is good for the image of Enugu State.”