By Timothy Obiezu
In Nigeria, over 27 million disabled people live in obscurity, treated like second-class citizens, without access to public facilities. The Nigerian Disability Bill is meant to address these shortcomings. But, nearly two decades after it was initiated, the law has yet to be enacted.
Musa Muazu, 31, became disabled as a teenager when he suffered a fall that left him paralyzed. He relies on a wheelchair to get around.
Muazu is one of 27 million disabled Nigerians trying to lead a normal life.
But a lack of handicapped facilities means disabled people like Muazu struggle for access.
“Public infrastructures in Nigeria is another… let me call it a hell to persons with disabilities ranging from the school, you can imagine as a person with disabilities you’re going to lectures in a four-story building.. you can imagine you want to access probably a bank, hospital, places of worship, there’s no provision for ramp for you to come in,” he said.
According to Nigeria’s Center for Citizens with Disabilities, 98 percent of public structures and facilities are not handicapped accessible.
At a community for the disabled in Abuja, thousands of handicapped Nigerians live virtually segregated from the rest of society.
Since 1999, Nigeria’s disabled have been seeking a law ensuring access to public buildings, roads, and sidewalks and protection against discrimination.
But their efforts to push for the Disabled Bill have been met with resistance.
Nigeria’s disabled account for a third of the 87 million people living in extreme poverty. On the streets of Abuja, many are reduced to begging.
They accuse the government of willful neglect and exclusion – a charge authorities deny.
“The law of other people that are abled are being passed,” noted Mohammed Dantani, secretary of the Disabled People’s Community. “Are we not Nigerians? We’re also citizens, our number 27 million reached the number that when we pass a motion, it’s supposed to be listened to or heard.”
In November, Nigeria’s disabled protested to the national assembly, demanding passage of the long-delayed bill.
Lawmakers responded in December by finally passing the bill – to President Muhammadu Buhari.
In 2014, then candidate Buhari promised to sign the bill if elected. But as Nigeria heads to elections once again in February, that promise has yet to be fulfilled.