By Dr. Raphael Christopher
Member, Enugu Bar
It was Voltaire the famous French author, humanist, rationalist, & satirist (1694 – 1778) who famously said “…Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well…”
As everyone knows, have experienced, seen others experience — Life is inherently unfair.
Disability is unfair. Everyone with a hidden or open disability is automatically at a disadvantage in our society in so many situations and even though their sufferings are seen they often go unheeded. The differently abled are being taken advantage of unfairly on a daily basis. Yet, they possess bags of potential, talents, great personalities, good hearted and amazing abilities that enriches our society and makes us all the richer.
Now, there are exceptional human beings who have despite their disabilities and challenges overcome hardships in their lives to become great leaders. They abound in every walk of life and we salute them all as inspirational and included in these are my fellow lawyers and professionals with disabilities.
It is everyone’s duty and responsibility to work, within the limits of our powers, at removing all barriers, unfairness and obstacles in the paths of our disabled brethren in accessing what most able bodied Nigerians take for granted.
Recall I have been advocating for a change in our collective attitude at all levels of society towards the sad plight of our disabled brothers and sisters — the over 25 million Nigerians suffering unimaginable rejection, discrimination and despair in silence for these many many years.
Fortunately, progress have been made with the Nigerian Government enacting into law The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 and the establishment of a commission National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) pursuant to section (31) of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 to handle matters related to enforcement of the aforesaid Act.
Their Facebook page is as set out below should any one need to contact them for anything related to the enforcement of The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018
I am pleased to also report that this progress began has now received further recognition and breakthroughs in several respects in different arenas of society.
Firstly, and the most important, since my fellow legal professionals and i are charged with noble duty of the championing the rights of everyone including the over 25 million Nigerians with disabilities, it was therefore fitting that charity should begin at home.
The Nigerian Bar Association in response to my pleas to organise a special interest forum for lawyers with disabilities has listened and the President, Mr Olumide Akpata at the recently concluded NBA-NEC deliberations, announced the setting up of an NBA Lawyers with Disability Forum, to deal with issues concerning Lawyers with disabilities and engender diversity and inclusion in the affairs of the NBA.
This announcement by The NBA is groundbreaking and the making of history for the present NBA and for this, they deserve great kudos and appreciation. I thank the NBA President Mr Akpata and The NBA great team for listening to me and to all the many other lawyers and bodies such as Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) and various others who have for the past years before me, been lobbying hard for the creation of an official NBA Lawyers with disabilities forum.
The present constituted NBA lawyers with disabilities forum are comprised of the right people who are excellent and able lawyers with the interests of the disabled lawyers at heart and I am confident that they are the right team to lead and help everyone in NBA to uphold the rights of disabled lawyers and by extension help the 25 million disabled Nigerians exercise their rights to access Justice. I congratulate them and encourage them to be mindful of history and to do their utmost to discharge the great task entrusted to them.
The Nigerian Judiciary have now made history by The recent appointment by The Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Hon. Justice S. Garba, who has nominated Mrs. Nkem Martins D. Akpuoye as the Disability Desk Officer of the FCT High Court.
These developments are so gratifying and again kudos to the Federal High Court for this groundbreaking and very important step in the delivery of access to justice for disabled persons in our society.
There is still more to be done.
Now, I humbly appeal to all the NBA branches throughout the country and the various regional Bar Forum, to consider the setting up of their own NBA lawyers with disability forums which would feed into The National NBA disability forum and together coordinate activities and goals to establish itself as a robust synergistic strong and united body to drive the implementation of the disability laws and inclusivity in our great society.
I also humbly appeal to The Supreme Court of Nigeria, The Court of Appeal and all state High Courts, Customary Courts and Election Tribunals and all Judicial bodies to please consider setting up disability liaison officers within their establishments to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all courts activities from the provision of sign language interpreter when necessary, all court information in an accessible format, and implementation of disability law in their various establishments.
In the same vein, I also appeal to The Federal Government of Nigeria, The Honourable Senate, The Federal House of Representatives; Every State Government; State House of Representatives; Local Governments and public bodies in every state every bank, every Political parties of Nigeria; to please consider as a matter of some urgency to setting up disability Liaison officers within their establishments to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all their activities from the provision of sign language interpreter when necessary, all information in an accessible format, and implementation of disability law in their establishments and by so doing will help to make history by making fairer and easier, the unfair life which at least 25 million Nigerians currently suffer.
If we get this right, over 25 million differently abled Nigerians, their families, communities and generations to come will one day look back at this momentous stage in our democracy and will applaud you and appreciate you for taking the right action at this right time for your actions will help make life fairer for them in that they will engender an inclusive society which makes what is excellent in others, to belong to us as well and together we can aspire and strive as far as we can, within the limits of our powers, to make things better for our disabled and differently abled brethren thereby creating a better and inclusive democratic society for all of us and for generations yet unborn.