By Timothy Agbor
As People With Disabilities in Nigeria often lament ill treatments and violence, especially from their intimate partners and relatives, stakeholders, including Inclusive Friends Association, have trained some advocates on Oyo State in order to intensify campaigns and awareness against gender and disability based violence.
PWDs have decried the scorn they encounter in the society saying it often leads them to beg for alms, thereby making them vulnerable to sexual abuse and other forms of violence.
The World Health Organisation estimates that there are about 30 million Nigerians living with at least one form of disability. The most common of these are visual, hearing, physical, intellectual, and communication impairments, persons with albinism, hearing impairment, speaking impairment, persons with spinal cord injury. As part of means of addressing the challenges that PWDs confront, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discriminations Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act in 2019. The law provides for the full integration of PWDs into society and prohibits discrimination on the basis of their disabilities.
Today, the law remains a drop in the ocean as persons with disabilities persistently face stigma, discrimination, and barriers to accessing basic social services and economic opportunities. To worsen matter, state governments have refused to domesticate the disability law as PWDs continue to suffer untold violence, even from those who are suppose to render succour and love to them.
Sussan Ihuoma, the Gender Programme Officer for Amplifying Voices Project, a project under Inclusive Friends Association, a PWD woman-led non-governmental organization that employs data to address inclusion and participation challenges of over 30 million PWDs in Nigeria through advocacy, training and research, said intimate partners, and co-workers of PWDs are major perpetrators of violence against persons with disabilities.
For Ihuoma, most victims don’t speak up because of the harsh environment they find themselves and that their silence has been emboldening their violators. She said there was a need for PWDs to know their rights, supported to live a good life and protected from domestic and other forms of rejection and violence.
Away from lamentations, stakeholders including IFA, other civil society organizations, the Nigeria Police, International Federation of Women Lawyers, Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria, National Human Rights Commission, and advocates are putting mechanisms in place to wage war against abusers and bring them to justice.
IFA’s Amplifying Voices Project recently trained 25 advocates in Oyo State, majority of whom are PWDs on how to tackle menace of sexual, gender and disability based violence through awareness, sensitisation and prompt reportage of perpetrators to appropriate quarters for prosecution.
In an interview, Ihuoma said, “The Amplifying Voices Project is a project under the Inclusive Friends Association and the whole aim is to strengthen the capacity of local and young advocates with disability to be able to innovatively address and stop the issue of gender based violence and disability based violence. With the support of Ford Foundation, we are working in four States which are Oyo, Plateau, Delta and Bornu. It’s worrisome that different kinds of violence are being perpetrated on persons based on their disabilities.
“We have States that have high rate of violence and Oyo is one of them. This project is targeted at women and children, especially, to know their rights, come out and speak against the violence and abuse they are being subjected to. We created a task force including the National Human Rights Commission, Police, umbrella body of persons with disabilities, FOMWAN, market women, FIDA, to capture the needs of people with disabilities.
You will be surprised to discover that most of the perpetrators of this violence are our (PWDs) colleagues at works, intimate partners and relations. We always campaign and urge PWDs not to indulge their violators and that they should speak up. We want to spotlight this violence.
“It’s also worrisome that some of the PWDs will go to the police station and civil defence office and they don’t have access to lodge their complaints because of the building structure of the police station. We want people to speak up and they won’t be discriminated against. We are in relationships because we can and it’s not on pity and no one has the right to abuse us. One of our challenges is that the disability law hasn’t be domesticated in many States. We have the VAPP Law but there are still a lot to do in creating awareness so that people will speak out when they are being harassed and violated.
“People shy away from speaking up against violence and that’s why we decided to train advocates and task force. We will be there supporting them technically and in the next six months we expect some positive results through the reduction of cases of sexual and gender based violence. Persons with disabilities that have been abused need to get justice and get the psycho-socio support they need and be rehabilitated back into the system,” Ihuoma noted.
While urging the Oyo State Government and other States to domesticate the disability law, the polio survivor said, “For Oyo State, we will like the State Government to pass the disability law which will protect PWDs and give them a sense of belonging because they are human beings too.”
Speaking with some of the trained disability gender based advocates, they expressed desire to hit the ground running by meeting with stakeholders in the society to chart way forward in eradicating the menace. One of them, David Agboola, a PWD, said, “According to statistics, Oyo State has the highest rate of gender-based violence against persons with disabilities and persons without disability. So, that was what brought the initiative to Oyo State so that we could be able to curb domestic violence.
“We were trained as advocates and given equipment to bring the awareness of the dangers of disability-based violence to the society and let them know that we the persons with disabilities also matter. I am a user of wheelchair with spine injury to be precise. I was the only person in my department and faculty who lives on wheelchair with spine injury when I was in the University. Is it the pain I want to talk about or the cost of the drugs I use on a daily basis to subdue pain? Still, I still try to navigate life to be able to be a better person, not to be a liability to myself and to the society as a whole. If I go through this, I don’t deserve any violence,” the graduate of Mass Communication noted.
He decried failure of State Governments to appoint competent PWDs as cabinet members or to other political positions. According to him, “In Oyo, we don’t have person with disability as Special Adviser to the Governor on Persons with Special Needs. Politics have really damaged a lot of things. We are working on how to reduce unemployment level for persons with disabilities and sensitisation of market women on how to relate and reduce discrimination against persons with disabilities among the market women. I have met with the Ibadan North West Local Government Area of Oyo State and market women leaders and I am hopeful that these efforts will yield desired results.”
Another trained advocate, Ifeoluwa Adenusi, cautioned members of the society against using some hurtful terms to refer to PWDs and also urged the governments to domesticate disability law in order to enable special persons live better and enjoy their rights.
“It’s high time we discovered the potential and capacities in persons with disabilities. There are some terms we should not use for persons with disabilities. We don’t call those who have hearing impairment deaf. I have taken it as my work to educate and enlighten the public about this. Government should provide equipment and amenities for persons with disabilities in general schools so that they would be able to function optimally with their colleagues who are living without disabilities.
“Most times when PWDs face violence, they keep quiet. The male man up because they feel men should not complain while some of the females fear stigma in the society. Persons on wheelchair face challenges moving around; even the commercial transporters don’t want to carry them. Persons with disabilities can’t access the Church and Mosques because of the way the buildings are structured. Same thing with Police and NSCDC stations; these are part of the things that the disability law will correct once it’s domesticated. Government and CSO should consider those living with disabilities for employment,” Adenusi said.
One of the facilitators of the project who is also living with disability, Mrs Funmilayo Abdullahi, submitted that those who are husbands, wives and other relations of PWDs secretly abuse and violate their rights, adding that most of these culpable individuals act out of ignorance and wickedness.
Abdullahi pointed out that more advocacy and awareness would enlighten members of the public to refrain from maltreating PWDs or treating them like second class citizens.
According to her, “We always want people to know that there is ability in disability and we have demonstrated this times without number. This is the reason why we are calling on governments to domesticate the disability law and ensure that life is put into the VAPP Act so that necessary policies that would make life easier for persons with disabilities would be actualized by all stakeholders.
When we talk about disability based violence, we start looking inward before outward. Many of those who violate PWDs are those that are close to them. They include their intimate partners, relations and even those who pretend to give them care. We want to fight this injustice.”