By Dr. Raphael Christopher
Member, Enugu Bar
Over 25 million Nigerians are estimated to be disabled according to The World Health Organisation in their 2011 World disability Report.
This is a sizeable chunk of our population. The estimated population of Nigeria is 5211 million according to the latest UN data. This means that just over 11.5% of all Nigerians have a disability of some sort.
This analysis has a very high political, planning and financial implications for government projects everywhere in Nigeria and I will examine these in future articles to enable us see that our disabled brethren have an equal stake in the greatness of our country, just like our able bodied brethren and are equally blessed with talents able to add great value to every area of Nigeria’s life, legal, political and economic prosperity.
Before we go on, let us make sure we understand what disability is taken to mean in the context of this article and what relationship does Mephibosheth sit at my table have to this article?
Generally, a disability means a permanent injury, illness, or physical or mental condition that operates to limit the ways an affected person can live their life everyday of their lives however disability refers to the permanent condition of being disabled.
Now, disability can be obvious and can equally be invisible to an observer and is not limited to any one condition but covers a wide spectrum of many differently occurring conditions with different consequences led outcomes for the affected person(s)
Mephibosheth story is a heartbreaking story of a child of a Prince who has a childhood incident that rendered him lame in both feet. He suffered all manner of indignities until a friend of his late father became King and invited the lame Mephiboseth to sit at his table and have equality with the able bodied children of The King.
Turning now to the Law. There are many disabled lawyers and members of the NBA, who by the mere virtue of being lawyers may have experienced discrimination and have fought against every odds to qualify as lawyers and members of the NBA and I take this moment to recognise you and laud and applaud you for your doggedness, and salute your courage, steadfast, through the oppositions and challenges that life and circumstances threw your way and still does.
Now the ethos of our NBA is to represent every strata of our society and reflect every strata of society in its internal committees and governance.
However, presently, the objective of an NBA representing all lawyers is not yet achieved – until an NBA disability law section is established.
Now, let’s step back from our analysis and get a bit of societal context in which our NBA operates so we can better understand how the NBA disability law section is sorely needed.
It is well known generally that our society has a negative attitude towards issues of disability and the disabled. This negative attitude can be easily seen in our behaviour towards persons with disabilities.
Much research has shown that this attitude has come about and persisted due to the lack of adequate education and information regarding disability and its facts and conditions. Society has not been presented with scientific analysis of disability so they can understand that disabled people are normal people with feelings, dreams but who are differently abled. And the presence of a disability does not mean that that individual should be written off.
Take for instance, Alfred Einstein who is thought of as the greatest scientist who ever lived. He was said to suffer from a disability of Asperger’s syndrome. Take Leonardo Da Vinci, who is thought of as the greatest painter, was said to suffer from Dyslexia, ADHD and other learning disorders and attention issues.
Let also consider this, the father of the present Queen Elizabeth of England suffered from the disability of stuttering. The current President of The United States sometimes has been known to stutter but has that stopped him from being the Most Powerful man on the earth?
No is the resounding answer! There are many Nigerians who are disabled and who have done and achieved great things – a clear example is the the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN).
We need to change our mindset and become more inclusive across every strata of society and make changes to accommodate people with disabilities and enable access government services, medical help, banking and buildings.
There is a lot to be done.
We may have been raised to think that disability is somehow bad or wrong and therefore something or someone to be avoided which has led to disability being greatly misunderstood and this has the effect of eliciting fear, discomfort from people leading the people with disabilities being shunned and ostracised by society because generally people shun what they don’t understand and uncomfortable with and this unfortunately means they go out of their way to avoid contact with a person with a disability.
To provide balance, I must mention that significant strides have been made in our Federal Government by it providing a legal framework under which the rights of the disabled can be advocated, flourish and be on par with able bodied Nigerians.
The Federal Government achieved this by ratifying The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and its associated protocols in 2007 and 2010 and promulgated them into law by way of The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.
It is clear that this Act’s intentions and provisions are to ensure persons with a disability are given rights to help pursue inclusiveness practices to be part of every level of public life and private life.
One of the noble ideal of law is all are equal and the Rule of Law should prevail in every aspect of public and private lives of Nigerians and our institutions. We are to help the helpless and defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Lawyers with disabilities are by virtue of their experiences are best placed to lead us in the objective of tackling discrimination against the disabled under the relevant Acts and enable us have a NBA for all. Once the NBA section has been established then they can lead the drive to help our society come to the realisation that disabled Nigerians are just like us and have worth just like us and we have a duty to defend them and help them be treated fairer so their amazing talents and abilities can be harnessed to create a better NBA for all and a stronger, prosperous Nigeria of which we all can be proud of.
So, like Mephibosheth who sat at David’s table, creation of a NBA disability law section will enable our fellow lawyers with disabilities have a happy ending by taking their rightful place at the NBA table.