By Funke Busari
Living with a disability often means not getting a chance to enjoy equality or inclusion, especially in the areas of inclusive education and health coverage.
This has been the lot of some persons in Nigeria who are challenged with one form of disability or others.
To this end, civil society organisations are advocating the implementation of Social Protection Policy (LSSPP) in Lagos State to address these challenges.
It is estimated that there are over 21 million Nigerians with disabilities, and for them to feel a sense of belonging, it is the consensus that various programmes for People With Disability (PWDs) must be put in place by the government. One of such efforts is a systematic and sustained campaign that brings issues affecting People with Disabilities (PWDs) into the front burner of public discourse in Nigeria. This the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is already championing with its engagements with civil societies and government agencies on the social protection policy available in the state centred on accessing social programmes available for its citizens including the PWDs.
But a report by Saturday Sun indicate that there are still more to be done for PWDs.
This is according to the chairman Nigeria Association of the Blind (NAB), Lagos State Chapter, Lukman Bolarinwa Salami, a lawyer.
He expressed his understanding of the existence of the policy that incorporates social agenda paradigms intended to reduce poverty, address other related social norms, financial barriers and provide a life of dignity for Lagos citizens through various interventions to address the challenges of PWDs.
According to him, the policy itself does not spell out specific provision incorporating the peculiar interest of PWDs, adding that it only addresses the challenges of indigent PWDs. He argued that what is termed social security only incorporates PWDs when the government is talking about the indigent.
In Lagos there is a law tagged, Lagos Special Peoples Law. But findings show that there’s no specific policy of government’s implementation of that particular section of the law aimed at making lives easier for the PWDs.
Salami explained that the Lagos State government in 2021, out of its generosity, gave health insurance to 10,000 indigent Lagosians and allotted a certain number to PWDs. But he noted that these provision only covered common ailments like malaria, typhoid, management of blood pressure, and not major ailments.
Speaking on the needs of a cluster of PWDs, the Chairman of NAB, Salami claimed that major health challenges involving physiotherapy and all kinds of speech and occupational hazards are not incorporated in the free health insurance policy.
He stated that upon the expiration of the subscription of the scheme, the hospital stops attending to the PWDs because they had not renewed their health insurance.
He said that the scheme is no longer available to the PWDs because they cannot access that provision. He disclosed that accessing the hospital is difficult for some persons on wheelchairs and crutches, especially because of the difficulty of moving from one office to another within the hospital.
“For the deaf people too, though they can walk, see and move around, when they get to the hospital there comes the communication gap because there are no trained personnel that would interpret whatever they need to the health caregivers such as doctors, the nurses, or other health care workers. Most times, they have to go to hospitals with their interpreter which usually comes at a cost, which in most cases can be higher than the price of treatment one is trying to access.
“For the blind, they cannot see, they can’t climb and move anywhere but they will need people to move them around, so there are no support care givers to assist.
“In terms of money, because majority of us are poor, we cannot afford the so-called free health of the Lagos State Health Management Agency (LASHMA). That is health insurance that we should leverage on but after one year it has now been deactivated and people have stopped enjoying that because their health provider will tell them that the government has not renewed their subscription,” he added.
Speaking on education, he disclosed that majority of people living with disabilities have trained themselves to adapt to whatever environment or situation they find themselves in the environment of the tertiary institution.
“We look for our own way of overcoming the challenges, not in most cases waiting for government. For example, the classrooms are not accessible for those on wheelchairs. They look for a way of accessing the place.
“If you go to Pacelli School (for the blind), it’s privately owned. But people are keen to get their children enrolled in there because there is no alternative. They cannot afford the alternative that is available in Lagos State.”
The Lagos-based lawyer took cognisance of the free educational programmes in Lagos but submitted, “Although, it is free but when it comes to money and time, parents are going to spend. It’s either they wait or get their child enrolled in Pacelli or any other residential boarding school or the children will not go to school at all.”
Also some PWDs in the state claimed they are unaware of anything called Lagos State Social Protection Policy (LSSPP.)
Salami also made an assessment of the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) saddled with upholding the rights of all persons living with any form of disability in Lagos State by safeguarding them against all forms of discrimination and giving them equal rights and opportunities.
He said: “The office has failed us woefully, because if you check through the law, the office has 19 functions to perform whether alone or in collaboration with other ministries or agencies. But to us we cannot point to one single thing that they’ve successfully done. That has impacted on us positively. That is why we are still having all these challenges.”
He opined: “Had it been that the office is working, how we move around the hospital would have been a thing of the past now,” he stated.
But the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) has also explained its side of the story. In his reaction, Mr. Dare Dairo, the General Manager, LASODA explained what the government has been doing about the challenges of PWDs.
According to him, LASODA is an arm of government and everything about government is structured, so LASODA on itself cannot withhold any fund that is meant for PWDs. He also stated that LASODA is not all about giving money or handouts to PWDs.
His words: “We’ve had a town hall meeting with local government officials on what role they need to play to enhance the access of PWDs to health and inclusive education and I’m sure you are aware of the Lagos State Health Insurance Scheme. So we facilitate through all other agencies to make sure PWDs have access to that insurance scheme. There are so many programmes.”
He also told Saturday Sun that some of those PWDs have written so many petitions to government and all they always say is that the General Manager LASODA is embezzling N500million funds, noting that they decided to go to the press when that failed.
“it’s just an emotional blackmail. There is a lot more that this office does than just giving free money to PWDs but some of their leaders feel that they are aggrieved, and that the general manager is not settling them. LASODA is not the one in charge of education; it is the Ministry of Education,” he stated further.
He, however, revealed that a couple of months ago, Lagos State employed close to 100 special teachers for the inclusive schools.
But Babatunde Mohammed, a former chairman, Nigeria Association of the Blind (NAB), while speaking on access to social protection policy, claimed he was unaware that any person living with disability had access to availability of any educational or health programmes by the government.
His words: “It is a charade. It’s all sham in most cases, except somebody is just trying to help some people and they don’t even know what process they are helping them with.
“For people like us in the association, we should know and be able to tell our people on how to access funds.
“For instance, last year, I was even trying to get a loan to help my logistics business from Lagos State Trust Fund. I did everything, but nothing came out of it. I called and called, they wouldn’t even say whether this person didn’t qualify or this is missing or something. We don’t really get anything. Even the money that LASODA said they want to use to help disabled people like N100,000 or N50,000, none of the members have received anything, no matter how little.”
Ngozi Ekewerike-Okoro was an assistant coordinator of the Child-To-Child/Child Protection Network Lagos State at a two-day CSOs review meeting on the effective mechanism for promoting accountability for social protection in Lagos State. It was organised by SERAP. At the event, she insisted that the social protection policy must work in the state.
According to her, there was a time names were actually compiled, but she noted that up till now, she was not aware if anybody had benefited from the initiative.
She asked: “People are suffering. They would say they are giving palliatives. Where are the palliatives?
“I also filled the form online, but since then I’ve not seen anything. That is why I said it must work. All these ‘ways’ of collecting data and saying they have paid is not quite it.”
She clarified that PWDs might not be in the know of the Social Protection Policy because it is new and she is only in the know of the policy because of her involvement with non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) advocacy.
She canvassed sensitisation of people in the communities to ask for its implementation.