Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari recently (January 23, 2019) signed the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill into law - the first federal enactment by the Legislature on the protection of rights of persons with disabilities.
Prior to the enactment of this legislation, only indirect laws protected Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution prohibits discrimination against persons generally, enjoins the State to direct its policy towards ensuring that every citizen has equality of rights and opportunities before the law, and directs the State to ensure that all citizens have adequate opportunity to secure employment without discrimination.
But none of these provisions consider PWDs as a separate class of persons. Thus, it has been argued, the existing legal framework - at the federal level - did not provide them with sufficient legal protection - hence the need to enact separate federal legislation for that purpose.
However, there are some state disability laws currently in force, such as the Lagos State Special People’s Law 2010 and the Plateau State Handicapped Law 1981 which seek to ensure that those with a disability are given equal rights in all social services, employment, political and educational facilities and also provide a right to bring an action in court to persons who have been discriminated by reason of their disability.
The enactment of a federal law on discrimination against the disabled has been long overdue and is, indeed, a step in the right direction for Nigeria.
Some of the key provisions of the Act include the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against persons on the grounds of their disability and the Act imposes fines of up to One Million Naira (£2,100) or six months imprisonment for failure to adhere to its provisions. It also guarantees a right to maintain a civil action to victims of such discrimination against any defaulter for failure to adhere to the provisions of the Act.
Under the Act, there is a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by those with disabilities. It also makes it mandatory for a public structure to be inspected by relevant authorities to ensure that the plan conforms with the building code before it is being constructed. The Act makes provision for job security for those who sustain injuries resulting in disability and for the training of staff to learn how to deal with people with disabilities to enhance their productivity. Under the Act, government would assist employers in providing necessary facilities and an enabling environment for employees with disability.
Finally, the Act also makes provisions for adequate standard of living, recreation, sports and participation in the political process by disabled people and it establishes a National Commission for Persons with Disability which will have its head office in Abuja with operational offices in all the states, to see to the implementation of the Bill. An executive secretary will also be appointed as the head of the commission.
Rilwan Shittu is an Associate at Olaniwun Ajayi LP, a top tier Commercial law firm in Nigeria with offices in Lagos and Abuja. His legal interests span different aspects of corporate and commercial law, human rights and arbitration. He is also passionate about writing, teaching, mentorship, volunteering and community development.