By Chike Okeke
The International Community marked the International Day for Persons with Disabilities last Monday 3, 2012. The theme of the day’s event was “Removing Barriers to create an inclusive and an accessible society for all” The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) organized an elaborate event to mark the occasion the following day, Tuesday December 4, 2012 at its national secretariat in Abuja.
The National Woman Leader of the Party, Ambassador Kema Chikwe who a few months ago organized an e-programme for Nigerian Women brought together a large number of persons with disabilities from all over the country in a workshop to discuss ways and means of improving their lot.
The programme which was held in partnership with the International Republican Institute (IRI) discussed the problems the disabled encounter in Nigeria. She assured them that the PDP, in keeping with the tenets of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaims that “All Human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, will ensure that discrimination against disabled persons in Nigeria is brought to the barest minimum. They were there in their numbers – the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, and others with various forms of disability.
They attended the event under the auspices of their national organization, the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPID). The Leadership of JONAPID which comprised very highly educated Nigerians, some with doctorate degrees, from their impressive articulation and suggestions of what the PDP government in Nigeria could do to improve their welfare clearly illustrates that indeed there is ability in disability.
In her keynote address, Dr. Chikwe explained that the workshop was organized mainly to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on equal basis with others, directly or through fully chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected. She implored them to use their leadership skills and organize themselves effectively in the wards, local governments and states in order to use their knowledge and strength to influence events in the country.
The lead paper at the workshop was presented by Ekaete Judith Umoh, Vice President, Rehabilitation International Africa, Executive Director, Family Centred Initiative for Challenged Persons (FACIP), and National Women Leader JONAPID.
She stated that rather than perceiving persons with disabilities as objects of charity, the United Nations recognizes them as holders of rights, able to claim these rights and to live in dignity and autonomy as active members of society.
She lamented that in Nigeria, there is no legal framework for the protection of persons with disabilities, so they remain “largely marginalized, disproportionately poorer, frequently unemployed and have higher rate of mortality. Furthermore they are excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that effect them in their society”.
A number of the participants spoke on the various problems persons with disabilities encounter in Nigeria and it was agreed that the first major step to address their problems is that the PDP should do everything possible to ensure the passage of the Disability Bill now in the National Assembly.
They also requested that they should be represented at the Federal and State Executive Councils——afterall, if our women can have 30 percent representation in these councils, why should the disabled in Nigeria not have same or even more representation? The national leadership of the Party was very well represented at the workshop by some of their members including the Deputy National Chairman, Dr. Sam Sam Jaja and the National Auditor Dr Bala Ka’oje.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party, in partnering with Persons with Disabilities, [PWD] in Nigeria is, apart from enhancing its followership through a major chunk of the Nigerian society is fulfilling one of the major functions of a political party – mobilizing the citizenry towards improving their welfare. Doing so especially for the handicapped is indeed a worthy and noble cause. Other political parties should emulate this good example. • Chike Okeke, a political analyst, writes from Abuja