On 23rd January of this year, Nigeria officially introduced protections for disabled people in their legal system. There are more than 25 million people in Nigeria who will benefit from these new laws. Many more people around Africa are in need of the equality legal protection can provide.
WHAT IS THE LAW THAT HAS BEEN PASSED?
Disabled people are those in society with long term physical or mental problems that may affect their ability to do things other people do everyday like driving or working. The new act is called the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. It makes it illegal not to offer equal opportunities to people with disabilities. If you fail to offer such disabled people the same treatment that you would offer an able bodied person, under the new law, you will face fines and prison sentences.
They will also be setting up a National Commission for Persons with Disabilities. This group of people will work on making sure the disabled have good access to housing, education and healthcare. People will be able to complain to the commission if they feel their rights are being violated through disability discrimination..
HOW HAS IT BEEN FINALLY PASSED?
It has taken a long time for these laws to be passed. In 2009 a bill was put forward but the previous president rejected it. More recently the current President Buhari tried to deny that the planned changes were happening. In response, hundreds of people protested. This pressure from the people forced him to pass the new act for the millions of disabled people in Nigeria.
Peaceful protest can often be an effective measure to highlight human rights issues to governments.
WHY ARE DISABILITY LAWS IMPORTANT?
These laws have the real potential to change the lives of disabled people. The rights of disabled people are recognised in international law with the hope that individual governments will offer equal treatment to their disabled citizens. However, these are often ignored by governments because it is sometimes difficult for such citizens to play active roles in society and many have been viewed as social outsiders. The hope for this act is that it will eventually lead to changing things like buildings and public transport so that they are accessible to everyone.
Disabled people are often denied their rights to be included in the general school system, to be employed, to live independently in the community, to move freely, to vote, to participate in sport and cultural activities, to enjoy social protection, to access justice, to choose medical treatment and to enter freely into legal commitments such as buying and selling property.
Other African countries have previously taken the step of introducing protections for people with disabilities, for example Ghana was praised for its improvements in 2006. It is welcome progress that public and international pressure have helped change laws to reflect human rights. However, the next important step is making sure that governments now enforce the laws. This will help create societies where disabled people can enjoy the same education, healthcare and life opportunities as everyone else.