One million Nigerians just got a presidential heave out of their penury. But that’s no glad tidings for the over twenty million Nigerians living with disabilities whose social exclusion just got spiked by the scheme.
By Gbenga Ogundare
President Muhamadu Buhari quickened a few pulses January 2017, among them cynics of his social security campaign promise as well as Nigerians living with disabilities, when press statement from the office of the Vice-President announced to Nigerians the government has begun payment of the N5000 monthly stipend to indigent citizens in some select states.
According to the press statement, “The nine pilot states were chosen because they have an existing Social Register that successfully identified the most vulnerable and poorest Nigerians through a tried and tested community based targeting (CBT) method working with the World Bank. However other states have already begun developing their Social Registers and would be included in subsequent phases of the CCT implementation.”
Now, don’t propose a toast to prosperity yet. Going by the current crazy black market exchange rate in Nigeria, the N5000 presidential bailout would simply have withered to a meager $16 per month. And if you place that side by side the $1.25 the United Nations says the dregs of the world, including in developing countries of Africa, live on in a day, President Buhari’s pittance to his poorest subjects would still be far less than the $38 any poor individual needs to survive per month base on the UN benchmark.
But don’t be dispirited yet. Move over those who would have love to score some political points were the government unable to make its campaign promise its bond. There is also the crowd of Nigerians with disabilities, more than twenty million of them, who wonder how the World Bank and the Nigerian government came about the ‘tried and tested CBT’ that is shorn of the names of disabled Nigerians.
That didn’t come as a shock to David Okon all the same. For the immediate past President of the Nigeria Association of the Blind, NAB, it’s one of those sustained discriminatory experience that disabled Nigerians have had to grapple with all along.
“…we were not consulted before the law came into effect,’ Okon laments to this reporter.
“All statistics show that the poorest people in every country are the disabled ones, because they have less access to employment. Even disabled people with education are routinely denied employment because potential employers cannot imagine working with a disabled person.
“So, if people are to be considered for any welfare payments, I would imagine that disabled people should form a large proportion. If they do not, then they have once again been excluded because of their disability.”
Forgive Okon’s lamentations. You only have to close your eyes a wee while and imagine groping about in communities fizzing with hostile faces and social stereotypes to understand why he’s got to be emotive about the rude blow President Buhari just dealt his kindreds at the NAB.
Former President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz once owned up that PWDs especially are people with extra talents. Yet, they are often forgotten.
“When PWDs are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty. As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities they deserve,” Wolfowitz warned.
But if you think Okon and Wolfowitz are only making an unnecessary fuss over nothing in particular, wait until you watch David Anyaele, Executive Director at the Center for Citizens with Disabilities, CCD, poking holes into the January 2 press statement signed by Laolu Akande on behalf of the presidency.
“How many persons with disabilities are beneficiaries of this scheme?
“Are there special considerations for PWDs in subsequent selections?
“Accepting without conceding that the 2015 Social Register was all inclusive, was it reviewed in the possibility of death or change in financial status of the beneficiaries?
All Animals Are Not Equal
Anyael’s long list of queries is justified for a number of reasons. Nigeria is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, and as such, owes the international community a duty to fulfil its obligations under that very important human rights treaty.
Article 28 of the CRPD, under ‘Adequate standard of living and social protection’, specifically imposes obligations on state parties to:
- States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability.
- States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination on the basis of disability, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right, including measures:
- a) To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to clean water services, and to ensure access to appropriate and affordable services, devices and other assistance for disability-related needs;
- b) To ensure access by persons with disabilities, in particular women and girls with disabilities and older persons with disabilities, to social protection programmes and poverty reduction programmes;
- c) To ensure access by persons with disabilities and their families living in situations of poverty to assistance from the State with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care…
And although Nigeria ratified and signed the treaty in 2007, the Nigerian government have only honoured the provisions of the CRPD in the breach— to the extent that Nigerians with disabilities are still bereft of a domestic law protecting them ten years later.
July 13, 2016, the Senate passed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill, 2016. The third time on the trot, after the bill had failed twice to secure Presidential Assent at its passage in the 6th and 7th Assembly respectively.
According to the Bill, a national commission is to be established for persons with disabilities and empowered to look after their education and health as well as protect their socio-economic, civil and political rights. It also prescribes a fine of N1 million for corporate bodies that trample the law and N100,000 or six months’ imprisonment or both for an individual who contravenes the law.
“We have been arguing for this bill because we believe it will draw attention to the plight of disabled persons. It will force government and the private sector to consider disability in planning, service provision, employment and all other activities,’ Okon explains to this reporter.
“As they are considered, then such things as the welfare payments, will have to involve people with disabilities. So yes, I believe that the bill would have helped if it had been enacted. But more important, enacting a law is not sufficient, we also need the willingness to enforce the law, or that all Nigerians work together to improve the position of people with disabilities.”
That dream is not likely to crystallize anytime soon. A similar Bill titled Nigerian with Disability Bill, 2016 has also been passed by the House of Representatives. So the disgruntled community of persons living with disabilities in Nigeria might have to endure another tortuous wait while both chambers harmonise the Bills, amidst other competing legislative responsibilities, before it is transmitted to the President for assent.
Nigeria claimed it invested $10 billion, being savings from the Paris Club debt deal, trying to halve poverty, among the eight elements of the now expired Millennium Development Goals. Yet it has little to show for it. Poverty has again made the first position in the 17 items of the new global development plan— the 15-year-long Sustainable Development Goals.
And for apparent reasons, Nigeria’s performance in 2030, when the new SDGs is expected to expire, will definitely be measure by the experience of the over 20 million Nigerians living with disabilities currently battling the odds to survive amidst discrimination and social exclusion.