A lot has been written about the plight of People Living with Disabilities in Nigeria and the need to include them in policy making and development of Nigeria. In this exclusive and elaborate interview with our correspondent, Ajibola Olarinoye, the Lagos State Chairman of Joint National Association of People with Disability, JONAPWD, Dr.Adebukola Adebayo spoke extensively on the challenges facing people living with disabilities in Nigeria: the efforts that government and other stakeholders need to take, the need to give them attention, the need to include them actively in national development and more importantly, the need to include them too in governance and decision making.
D Adebayo is visually impaired. He is an experienced Inclusive Development Consultant, a political scientist and educationist. For fifteen years, he has been in the vanguard of advocacy for the right of people with disabilities and inclusive developmen, both locally and internationally.
WHAT LED TO THE FORMATION OF JONAPWD?
JUNAPWD was borne out of the need for us to have united voice for people living with disabilities in Nigeria. This is imperative because we didn’t want a situation where people with disabilities will be working at cross roads. Just like we have NLC, NBA, speaking for their various interest groups, we also need to have an influential body that will continue to represent our interests at national, state and local government levels. Also, to be a force to reckon with among non-state actors. So, we need to have a strong platform for us to be represented and our voices to be heard. That’s why JONAPWD was set up.
CAN YOU ENLIGHTEN US MORE ABOUT THE ACTIVITIES OF JONAPWD?
JONAPWD is the umbrella for all the associations of people living with disabilities in Nigeria. We have chapters in all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, The National Secretariat is in Abuja. I was elected as the Chairman, Lagos State chapter in October 2019, so we are less than a year in office. JONAPWD is set up to advocate for the inclusiveness of people with disabilities in all spheres of life. To achieve this, we partner with government at all levels; with local and international partners, with private sectors and the media. We also collaborate with mainstream civil organizations and other stakeholders. We always aim to ensure that life is comfortable for people living with disabilities wherever they may be in Nigeria JONAPWD is structured in such a way that under it, we have close to ten broad associations of people with disabilities. For example, we have Association for the Blind, Association for the Deaf, Association of People with Intellectual Disability, Association of Survivors of Leprosy and so on. You can goggle JONAPWD we are active online. The association was registered in 2008, although, it was set up as far back as in the mid 90’s. The body is recognised and acknowledged by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, but the recognition now falls under the Ministry of Humanitarian and Social Development. We have come a long way, our efforts achieved a noteworthy result last year when President Mohammadu Buhari signed the National Disabilities Act into law.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FACING THE ORGANISATION?
The challenge are many. JONAPWD is a non-profit organization, we don’t run or do any business. We rely on donations from development partners, government. Moreso, many of our members are living from hand to mouth, lots of them are living in abject poverty, many of them are unemployed, we can’t be tasking them of membership fees, levies and so on. So, in a nutshell, resources to run the organization has been a major challenge since its establishment. Although, some state governments give little subventions, but they are grossly inadequate.
It was Governor Babatunde Fashola’s government that came with Lagos State Disability Agency, LASODA. In 2012. At present at LASODA, we don’t have the leadership needed for the ofifice to key into the lofty vision of Governor Sanwo-Olu in the area of People Living With Disabilities. The office doesn’t have General Manager, it doesn’t have board; and also it doesn’t have the technical capability to key into that theme agenda, even the staff doesn’t have the have the technical knowledge and the required skills. This is a key challenge that we want the government to look into as soon as possible.
THERE IS THIS ISSUE OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PEOPLE LIVING WITH DISABILITIES IN NIGERIA,, WHAT IS YOUR ORGANIZATION DOING ABOUT THIS?
Discrimination, abuse of right, denial of right are part of the challenges people with disabilities are facing. The trend is all over the world, not Nigeria alone. But I will like to emphasize that the situation is worse in Nigeria and other under-developed countries . That’s one of the reasons why organization like JONAPWD was established, to curb this ugly trend of discrimination and abuse. In children for example, some can’t even go to school because of their disability status; this is so because there no school around to accommodate them. Even those that are available are not accessible to them. Also, our women are finding it difficult to access healthcare, most especially, maternal healthcare. Also, our youths are largely excluded. Taking a look at many youths policies in Nigeria, many of them have no space for people living with disabilities. Also in employment, it is not up to what we want because there is no adherence to policies.. Discrimination is one of the reasons why JUNAPD was formed.
DOES NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT GIVE PRIORITY TO PEOPLE LIVING WITH DISABILITIES LIKE SOME COUNTRIES?
We now have disability law, National Inclusive Education Policy, We have National Policy for Access to Health for Women and Girls with Disabilities, National ICT Policies which mandates access to ICT for people living with disabilities. Also in Lagos, there is provision to make transportation easier for people with disabilities. As you know, in this part of the world, we don’t have problem making laws, the problem is implementation. President Mohamnadu Buhari has signed into law, policies favourable to people with disabilities in January 2019, but up till now, it has not been implemented. This trend Is also common in many states. JONAPWD is there to ensure that these laws shouldn’t just be existing on papers, but must be fully implemented. We want to ensure that government should make commitment to the implementation of these laws. Our priority is to ensure that government implemenst these laws. Our strategies are dialogue and also inclusiveness, which is better.
AS THE STATE CHAIRMAN OF JONAPWD, WHAT IS LAGOS STATE GOVERNMENT DOING TO HELP PEOPLE LIVING WITH DISABILITIES?
When Governor Babajide Sanwoolu came on board, we tabled the inclusion of disability before him. We appreciated some things his government has done. For example, during the COVID-19 lockdown, we had to engage them in dialogue and this made them provide people with disabilities some palliatives. As we speak, so many appointments have been made, so many heads of agencies and parastatals have been appointed, but we don’t have people living with disabilities as represented in those appointments. We are hereby calling on Lagos State Government to do that. In all the Local Governments, there is nothing wrong if we have one of us also holding key positions so that whenever decisions are made, they will have a voice to represent them just as we have voice for youths and women, we should also have for people living with disabilities too. We have people among us who are even over qualified to hold those positions and it doesn’t cost government anything to do this, it doesn’t.. Inclusiveness is a positive omen for development, when you include everybody, there will be assurance that nobody is not left out. We are advocating to Lagos State Government under our Governor, Babatunde Sanwo-Olu to please look into this direction. I, as Chairman of JONAPWD in Lagos, I am ready to work with Governor to advise him and his government on how we can go about these. As I have said, we have more than enough over-qualified people that can function effectively in policy making level where decisions are made. It is when we are represented there that we can make positive impact in the formulation of policies. For example, we know that Lagos State Government has Inclusive Education Policy which has been made since 2010. The policy needs to be reviewed, also, it needs thorough implementation so as to fulfil its goals. This can only be achieved when we who are concerned are involved. Some of us too are parents with children with disabilities; therefore, we know what to do. Some of us had to schools to acquire knowledge on how to handle and deal with children living with disabilities, some of us even went abroad to acquire this knowledge. We JONAPWD is a strong and highly organised association that government can engage with. I want to see a situation where the government can meet with us and hear directly from us. Sometimes, before some messages get to the government through aides, they might have been distorted. We are an organized association that government can grant one or two hours to listen to. When you hear from us directly, you will be able to understand us perfectly where the pain is and how appropriate action will be taken.
WHICH AREA DO YOU NEED HELP FROM STAKEHODERS, MOST ESPECIALLY GOVERNMENT?
As you know, ,inclusiveness cuts across every aspect of life which include politics. Gone are the days when people with disabilities are seen a as mere objects of pity that deserve to just be given money, clothes, foods and so on; but now they are part of contributors to the development of the nation. Many of then all over the world have been making considerable role in all fields of endeavor like science, technology, health, ICT, and so on. In Nigeria, many of us are highly educated, even up to PhD level. Many of us are professionals in all fields of endeavors. All those commissioners, Ministers, Heads of Government parastatals, agencies, House of Assembly members, House of Reps members, Senators are our colleagues in the school; and many of us are even more brilliant than them. I know about three of them that were my colleagues in the school. So, for Gods sake, if such people become Ministers, Commissioners and so why can’t government give the opportunity to us too. As I have said, it is not that we too don’t have the individual skills, education and talents. So we need the government to give us that space, the encouragement and opportunity. Don’t say that you will push someone aside as irrelevant person because he or she is physically impaired. As I have said, among us, you will see countless persons that can do well, even far better if given that space to contribute to the development of the nation at any level of governance: the politics space, economic space, social space and so on. You see, it is not just employing people with disabilities in civil service; it is good, but that’s just an aspect. We have non-disabled persons in civil service, we also have them in politics, we have women in politics, we also have women in the civil service, we have youths in politics, we also have youths in the civil service. So, what is good for the goose is also good for the ganger. So, there is nothing that says somebody with disabilities can’t be appointed as Ministers, Commissioners, Special Assistants, Advisers. The political parties have roles to play in this regard; they can be giving us quotas in the area of appointments when any of them is in power. For example, out of 40 House of Assembly members in Lagos, they can give two slots to person living with disabilities, so if we are not there, those who wear those shoes may not know how it pinches; so, you can see that it is very important for us to be at the decision making table, that’s how the world is now because that’s how things should be. I believe that the government that is in power today in Lagos State will help us in achieving these before the end of its tenure. You see, all these Commissioners, Ministers, lawmakers have a lot of things taking their time, and things occupying their minds, so the least they think about is people with disabilities, so we need to have people with disabilities there, so that he will be able to advise them.