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Nigeria Planning for Golden Jubilee? Consider the Physically Challenged

Nigeria will be celebrating her Golden Jubilee (50 years) next year, as independent nation free from colonial administration. That should normally call for great celebration.

Like I know Nigerians, I am pretty sure big plans are already in progress for this great celebration. No doubts, we have worked so hard to be where we are today, achieve what we have, and be together as one nation despite all odds. I really look forward to this celebration next year and would be very delighted if a list of our achievements could be made public. One thing I presume would not be found on that list is achievement or improvement on the physically challenged. This would obviously be found wanting because nothing concrete has been achieved in that area for almost fifty years of existing as a nation. Is that not a dint on our reputation since a significant number of the Nigerian citizens are physically challenged? It more or less seems this category of people is neglected in a country that would be fifty (50) years. That does not seem right.

Before we proceed, let us explain briefly the basic concept – physical challenge. Physical challenge otherwise known as disability is defined in the MSN Encarta dictionary as an inability to perform some or all of the tasks of daily life or a medically diagnosed condition that makes it difficult to engage in the activities of daily life,[1| .

It is a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial long-term adverse effect on ones ability to carry out normal day to day activities [2]. Throwing more light on that, the Wikipedia defines disability as a lack of ability relative to a personal or group standard or norm. In reality there is often simply a spectrum of ability. Disability could involve physical impairment such as sensory impairment, cognitive or intellectual impairment, mental disorder (also known as psychiatric or psychosocial disability), or various types of chronic disease. A disability may occur during a person’s lifetime or may be present from birth, [3]. For the purpose of this write up, we would focus on such impairment as mobility, visual and audio. Some of these impairments could be from auto crash or accidents, while some are natural. Some others became physically challenged due to medical health conditions after they were born.

Physically challenged people should have rights to education, employment, access to goods, facilities and services, accessible transport system to mention a few,[4]. Unfortunately this is not the case in our dear country Nigeria. Look around at the situation of the physically challenged in our country today. The less fortunate ones have resorted to surviving on the streets as they beg for alms on major roads in places like Port Harcourt, Lagos, Onitsha etc. One could ask why they have resorted to alms begging on streets. That is a subject for another discussion. Those that were fortunate to get education did not get it on a platter of gold – harder than you can imagine. Employment-wise many challenged people are unemployed and for those that are employed they are limited in realizing their full potentials mostly because of the work environment. So basically the limitations created by the environment prevent them being the best they desire to be. Therefore this has become an issue that requires serious addressing by the Nigerian government and its citizens.

Shading more light of the plight of physically challenged Nigerian citizens, considering education for instance, they do not have access to education with regards to accessible buildings and facilities to aid in education. How could a deaf person possible make the best in his education when he has to compete with others who are not challenged like him? He could barely hear what is being taught except he sits in the front row where he could lip-read the lecturer. And a wheelchair user in higher institution? You can imagine attending classes in a building with steps to climb and then you also have to deal with doors to open. Can you imagine how difficult education can be for the physically challenged Nigerian citizen, who battles with his/her challenge and also try to cope with academic stress – attending lectures, wheeling the chair on ‘our wonderful road’, coping with personal upkeep like fetching water, going to libraries, coping with deplorable hostel conditions of most Nigerian universities? Take a tour to schools and observe what they are going through. Many physically challenged are disadvantaged unless they come from a family with understanding and willingness to provide assistance irrespective of costs, and also friends who are willing to be at ones beck and call to see the individual through school by providing needed assistance, human and material, as the situation requires.

Reading an old newspaper article titled Protest of Disabled Persons from Newswatch (2008), I very much agree with the problems raised. More than 60% of buildings in Nigeria are built without any single consideration for the 19 million physically challenged people in the country. Therefore the buildings are not accessible to clutches and wheelchair users, for instance, in terms of climbing steps – there are no ramps to make life easier for them. Some go through a lot of pain just to achieve the purpose of visiting such buildings. This is very true in almost all public places in Nigeria such as financial institutions, medical establishments and even government parastatals, not to even mention the private establishments. What about transportation especially for people who use wheelchairs? Do you know what they go through mentally and psychologically to allow others to carry them into vehicles? The basic facilities are mostly not accessible to them such as ATM machines, security doors etc. Nigerian government does not know these they could claim, but I say they know and choose to be ignorant about these persisting problems.

Listening to a guy YouTube link on disability in Nigeria, the guy pointed out the fact that laws have been made by the Nigerian government to help the physically challenged. Incidentally these laws are not enforced. Who makes these laws and who ensures that they are enforced? Apart from the laws that hold no water, I ask, what has the government done because as far as the physically challenged is concerned, nothing has been done. Maybe I am not up-to-date with what is currently happening, but if any of you can be helpful, do tell me what the government has done. They pretend to be interested or involved in education yet their word holds no water in it. They say one thing and then do the opposite. A typical example is getting scholarship which is tog of war in Nigeria. I ask, does the Nigerian government have scholarships for physically challenged Nigerian citizens who have the determination and desire to forge ahead? One does not get to hear about scholarships (that is if they exist), and even when you make enquiries you get no response. It is very unfortunate and unbelievable that the Nigerian government does not give scholarship to its physically challenged citizens (as far as I am aware of), even as small as living expenses, despite claiming to be the Giants of Africa. Let me ask what giant strides have they to show to other African countries in this respect? I need to know how they have assisted the teaming population of physically challenged. I remember sometime in 2001 or so we were told of this certain scholarship from federal government to university undergraduates who had high GPA, and also for physically challenged students. For the latter, scholarship was automatic while the former would go through an interview. I was doubly qualified for this scholarship as a physically challenged and having merited the desired GPA. I went for the interview and was told by the interviewers that it was not necessary for me to have come because it was automatic for me. I insisted that they conduct the interview for me since I was already there. To cut the long story short, as I am writing this article, the Nigerian federal government is yet to grant that scholarship. Of course it was never granted to anybody I know of. Such a deceit. I still feel so bitter having gone through the whole stress for nothing. You could imagine the population of students from UNN (Nsukka and Enugu campuses) and IMT Enugu, physically challenged and otherwise, who all came for this interview. I was on the line from 8.00am till about 1.00pm when it finally got to my turn. Horrible I must say. That single act by the government has put me off since then.

The inability of the government to cater for the physically challenged is seen in its failure to provide access to public buildings like financial institutions for instance. The banks do not have ramp accesses for wheelchair and clutches users’ to enter into the banking hall. As if that is not bad enough, they built a narrow security door which completely excludes the above mentioned users from having access into the banks as the security doors have metal detectors. A physically challenged person who uses clutches complained of being a victim of security detector in a bank, reports Newswatch (2008). She was denied entrance into the bank because her clutches was metal. That is ridiculous. She later went to another branch where the money was collected from her outside the banking hall and deposited on her behalf by banking officials. Another victim complained that the security door at the bank was so small that his wheelchair could not gain entrance into the banking hall. He was attended to outside and so he felt it was demoralising while his freedom of movement was denied. This victim equally pointed out the difficulty experienced with using the Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, in banks which are built in such a way that those on the wheelchair can not have access to them.

If I compare this to what happens in Europe I would be criticised that Nigeria is not as developed as these countries. But as far as I am concerned Nigeria can comfortably afford to cater for its physically challenged citizens. The money recovered from loots of past administrators, for instance, could be channelled into making reasonable adjustments for the challenged citizens. By the way what finally happened to the money recovered from the Abacha’s family or has that one gone with the wind? Naija I trip for you! Anyway why can’t such special considerations as reasonable adjustment be put in place in our country to give the physically challenged a sense of belonging? Come on Nigerians we have come a long way to allow such barriers to persist and become a debatable issue.

Social infrastructures are equally designed to the exclusion of the challenged as they are anything but friendly. In employment many challenged people do not get into the kind of jobs they dream of because provisions are not made to support them on their jobs. For one who wants to become a lecturer or teacher, getting to classroom with the obstacles of access into buildings becomes a limiting factor. Every challenged person loves a bit of independence and so does not really find it convenient when they are depended on people in doing many things.

The Way Forward

I strongly believe that there are practical steps the Nigerian government and its citizens can embark on to change the unpleasant situation of the physically challenged. Legislation should be put in place to protect the challenged and this should be enforced, not just making the legislation.

Apart from making and enforcing legislation, the Nigerian government should have a change of attitude and be up and doing. In education for instance, the deaf should be assisted with hearing aids so they could get along with others in class. The physically challenged should be given special consideration in choice of classes and accommodation which should be accessible to all challenged students. It is high time ramps are built if they cannot afford elevators. Ramps will not be very expensive. Then the school administration should make sure that the challenged get the priority of being on ground floor bedrooms. They should also have access to accessible toilet and bathroom facilities which should be reserved strictly for them. We all know the condition of most toilets and bathrooms in universities. If the Nigerian government is unaware, then they should make investigations and see how bad it is. Again the entrance to buildings and classrooms should equally have ramp access and then preference should be given to the lectures the challenged attends to be held on ground floor.

In work environment employers should ensure that the necessary reasonable adjustments are put in place. In other words they should make it a matter of high importance to request for such information from the challenged on what adjustments they would require to make them function well. Also it would be a good idea to have side roads constructed to ensure that the challenged are safe when using roads with other cars moving.

These are some of the measures that could help eliminate the exclusion tendencies experienced by the challenged in our society. By doing these, surely the government are giving the challenged a sense of belonging. In turn the challenged would be poised to maximize their full potentials and make maximum contribution to the country.

References

[1] . MSN Encarta Dictionary available online on 29th March 2009 from http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861725909/physical_challenge.html

[2]RNIB. Available online on 29th March, 2009 from http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/PublicWebsite/public_rnib003558.hcsp

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disability

[4] Directgov. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Available online on 29/03/09 on http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/RightsAndObligations/DisabilityRights/DG_4001068

[5]Newswatch Newspaper: Protest of Disabled Person by Joseph Onyekwere. Available online on 29th March 2009 from http://www.newswatchngr.com/editorial/allaccess/special/10615141958.htm

[6]YouTube. Available online on 29/03/09  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQr24VZPPJM

CSN: 2009-04-03-566

 

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