Disability inclusion in Kogi, so far, has more to achieve
By Dada Ahmed
According to the United Nations toolkit on disability for Africa, disability-inclusive development means that all stages of development processes are inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities.
It requires that all persons be afforded equal access to education, health care services, work and employment, and social protection, among others.
The National Assembly, 2013, estimated that there were over 20 million people with disabilities (PwDs) in Nigeria.
In Kogi State, PwDs and the government are struggling to meet up with disability-inclusive development as PwDs are not free from discrimination, stigmatization, and other deprivations by society.
Abdulrasheed Mohammed aged 20, a polio victim who now lives on alms in Lokoja says “certainly, being a person with a physical disability is like a sour taste in the mouth.
“Indeed, physical challenge, most especially blindness, is not a situation anybody would wish for himself.”
He says he is being stigmatized and deprived of all the good things of life by the society.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) in the state have been consistent in pushing for laws and policies that would improve the living standard of PwDs.
Many of PwDs believe the efforts of the CSOs will result to inclusive governance, especially in the public sector, given the steps taken by the state government to include some of them in the scheme of things.
For example, to demonstrate inclusive participation in governance, recently, the State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello kicked the ball rolling by assenting to the bill seeking to establish a disability office to guarantee and protect their rights.
While signing the bill into law at the Government House, Lokoja, he says that the event was unprecedented, a deliberate effort by his administration to give PwDs a sense of belonging and inclusiveness in governance.
He also told PwDs at the event that the law would enable them to contribute their quota to the social, economic, and political development of the state.
Governor Bello recalls that the state government had also domesticated the Disability Discrimination Act. (DDA) to make life bearable for PwDs.
The 1992 DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person in any areas of public life, including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit, and accessing public places, because of their disability.
For example, the Act gives PwDs new rights of access to goods and services, education, employment, transport, and accommodation.
Recently, Governor Bello granted Mr. Emmanuel Aduku an automatic candidate ticket to contest election into the State House of Assembly, after he had declared his interest in the race.
Mr. Aduku, physically challenged (polio victim), will contest the 2023 general election unopposed on the platform of the All-Progressives Congress (APC).
The event, a novel, attracted a loud ovation, especially from PwDs who described the development as historic in the political evolution of the State.
PwDs say the development was not only cheering news but an easy way for some of them interested in contesting elective positions not to go through the hurdle of money politics dominated by the rich.
They noted with delight that the action of the governor was a courageous move for inclusive governance.
At the Kogi State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Director, Planning Research and Statistics, Husseini Isaac, reveals a picture of the visible inclusion and integration of PwDs to make life meaningful and instill a sense of belongingness in them.
He disclosed that the Ministry has schemes like vocational training, blind welfare, visually impaired aids and appliances, and for other disabilities.
Between 2016 and 2021, the Ministry has trained 8 staff on mobility training and coupling of mobility aids, and wheelchairs who in turn transfer the knowledge to PwDs for self-reliance and to reduce unemployment.
According to him, the ministry was involved in the renovation, renaming, equipping and rehabilitation of the Resource Centre for the PwDs with skills acquisition materials such as sewing machines, designing machines, and dryers where PwDs could learn various vocations to earn a living and be employers of labor.
Mr. Isaac says the staff of the ministry usually conduct seminars and capacity building on financial empowerment for PwDs to access and take loans across the three Senatorial districts.
Presently, the Ministry has facilitated and employed a psychiatrist nurse to handle cases of people with drug abuse challenges that affect their performance regarding normal daily activities.
Mr. Isaac also reveals that the Ministry has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with MARDEC, a Lagos- Based Company for the supply, training, and assemblage of mobility aides to boost the technological know-how of PwDs for better services delivery.
There is also a World bank-sponsored program: Agro-Processing Productivity Enhancement, Livelihood Improvement Supported Project (APPEALS) which empowered 102 PwDs in poultry, cassava farming, and aquaculture (fishery) to boost the agricultural sector.
It covers four clusters the physically challenged, deaf and dumb, the blind, and those affected by leprosy.
Though efforts to get state budgetary allocation for PwDs proved abortive, Mr. Isaac says between 2017 and 2022 the state government spent N38,231,255 on the renovation, equipping, and furnishing of the rehabilitation center for PwDs in Lokoja.
Mal. Ishaq Dan-Imam is a practicing journalist in Kogi state living with disability.
He expressed delight over some of the achievements of the state and improvements in the lives of some PwDs.
Dan-Imam says “There are many rivers to cross by the state government and the private sector to make the desired impact in disability inclusion.
“The state government should establish inclusive education for PwDs equip all the facilities required, formulate an enduring inclusive education policy to enable them to compete favorably with the abled-bodied in the task of developing the society.
“Make a visible annual budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to enable it address the major challenges confronting the implementation of the programs that are related to the welfare of PwDs.
“PwDs are in dire need of inclusive formal education to be able them engage in gainful employment, make a living and contribute meaningfully to the society.”
Dan-Imam also says journalists should give more attention to the issues concerning PwDs in their stories to raise awareness of their challenges.
Hajia Aisha Abubakar lost one of her legs 5 years ago in a motor accident.
She says governments at all levels and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should emphasize what is aimed at making PwDs self-reliant.
“We want a situation whereby if government or NGO trains us on skills acquisition, they should support us with start-up capital or soft loans based on the area of our skills.
“It will reduce the number of trained PwDs looking for scarce white-collar jobs.
“The Ministry of Transportation should make provisions that would make it easy for the physically challenged to cross roads with ease.
“Drivers and other road users too should learn to respect the rights of PwDs on the road.”
The Chairman, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAWPD) Kogi state Chapter, Comrade Solomon Yahaya, says some of the challenges faced by his members include lack of access to free and inclusive education.
He says those who manage to graduate from secondary or tertiary institutions with good grades face stiff difficulty getting employed by government agencies.
Yahaya wonders why that is so because, according to him, the National Disability Act talked about the need for agencies and companies to give 5 percent of their employment opportunities to persons with disabilities.
He says there is ongoing recruitment for teachers, the Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAWPD) has written to the state government demanding its inclusion in the scheme, to test the implementation ability of the law.
In all, it is instructive to note that physical disability is not exclusively reserved for a specific specie of human being. It is a societal malaise, demanding the impact of all and sundry to believe that PwDs are a part of the society in all ramifications.
To achieve the desired goal of disability inclusion, Kogi state should do more by promoting the implementation of the National Disability Act 2018 and strengthening the institutional landscape for disability inclusion through the Disability Commission.