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Importation of assistive devices for PWDs unsustainable -Lalu, NCPWD Executive Secretary

From Okwe Obi, Abuja

Executive Secretary, National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD), James Lalu, has said that the importation of assistive devices for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) is no longer sustainable as a result of the high exchange rate and naira slump. To this end, he said the Commission, in partnership with development partners, would commence local production to meet up the demands of over 35 million disabled people.

   He also disclosed that Kano and Lagos states ranked highest with people with disabilities and gave reasons the Commission has not clamped down on buildings that are inaccessible for persons with disabilities, saying the delay is due to logistical challenges, particularly budgetary provision.

   In this interview with Daily Sun, he said the NCPWD has partnered with five universities to introduce courses in disability studies.

Last year you said you were going to seal off public buildings that are inaccessible for persons with disabilities and penalise owners according to the law but you have not. What is delaying the move?

We are still on course because the challenge of accessibility is very dear to the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities. It has led to the creation of regulations and we have the mandate to commission the enforcement of the provision of the law. As it is now, the commission was supposed to have started enforcement since on January 16, 2024 but there are some administrative challenges the commission is facing. There is an appropriate approval level that has to be reached and these are the things we are pursuing right now. As soon as we complete the processes, the Commission will move into action.

You may also be aware that the implementation of the 2024 appropriation bill has not fully started operationally and the enforcement of a law like this requires a lot of money. cwill like to wait a little until the appropriation law is operational and we start getting funds. It is then that the commission will swing into action immediately to conduct inspection with relevant stakeholders in government and relevant offices. However, we are still moving around and creating the necessary awareness, paying advocacy visits and meeting different federal agencies. We have been sending notices to these offices to make sure that they are aware of the action the commission is coming up with. We mean business and we are going to act accordingly.

What are the stipulated sanctions for defaulting agencies?

Owners of inaccessible buildings of corporate bodies are to pay  N1 million. For an individual building, it requires a punishment of about N100,000. The moment the new regulation becomes operational the penalty will change. Right now, some of the penalties to be paid are still at the approval level. As soon we get the approval, we will send copies of the penalties of agencies. When a building is sealed for non-compliance to the accessibility regulations, a fine has to be paid before it is opened. There are certification processes the commission is empowered to issue which is known as the national accessibility complaint certificate. Everybody is supposed to work towards applying for their accessibility certificate.

Another strategy we are adopting is to bring in the short-term intervention of people in relevant professions like the building industry in collaboration with our international partners. We will have a meeting this weekend. There are a lot of professionals in the building industry who have indicated interest in our dream. The commission will provide professional certificates for people who will pass through this training to be the interim disability accessibility experts. They will provide the necessary technical advice. They will provide technical support for all of these places designed to provide accessibility facilities. Some of them will do the construction of some of these accessibility facilities. So, in the interim, we are going to do this. But our long-term dream is to come up with a national disability degree programme. Five universities have already indicated interest to partner with the commission for the commencement of accessibility engineering course in Nigerian universities. The schools are Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Federal University Lafia, University of Jos, Plateau State, Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. They have indicated interest to pioneer the courses in Nigeria. Right now, the commission has gotten the services of a consultant to draft the curriculum so that we can seek the appropriate approval of the Minister of Education through the National University Education Commission (NUC) to enable us come up with this degree programme in our tertiary institutions. Our dream is that in the next five years, we should be able to have experts who are skilled in provision of accessibility facilities so that they can become independent consultant for accessibility disability.

How many persons with disabilities do we have in the country?

We have approximately 35.5 million Nigerians with disabilities across the 774 local government areas in the country.

Which state has the highest number of persons with disabilities?

Kano State has the highest number of PWDs, followed by Lagos State. When you look around today, the number of persons with disabilities increases on a daily basis because of the accidents on the road and banditry  in the North.  We had a small programme in the North East to find out the challenges they are facing, most especially the casualties of Boko Haram incidents among others. We discovered that a lot of people were disabled because of the atrocities of the insurgents. They continue to plant improvise bombs and other devices. Some people have been amputated. The sounds of gunshots and bombs have made a lot of people to go deaf. So, the challenges are enormous in these places. What we did was to partner with the North East Development Commission (NEDC), to provide some assistive devices. Right now the distribution of artificial limbs is on in the six state in the North East. So, when you look around, you will see the challenges the people continue to face. Every day, we hear of one accident or the other. A lot of them will be amputated. We keep receiving a lot of requests for medical assistance from those amputated. Some diseases like diabetes, cancer and other things continue to disturb persons with disabilities. This is disturbing because the numbers keep growing on a daily basis.

Do you have a partnership with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to ensure that the number reduces through campaigns?

We are collaborating with the Federal Road Safety Corps to issue special drivers licenses. That is class J. If you look at a driver’s license with class J, it is for persons with disabilities, which is to enable them drive safely. We have different classes with disabilities and we continue to enlighten them on safety measures. So, when you look around today you will see that they are trying their best but you know that it is not easy to change the minds of these drivers, as some of them when they are on the road they drive recklessly.

Abuse of persons with disabilities is on the increase. What are you doing to address the problem?

The discrimination against persons with disabilities is part of section 1 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Law. What we do is to partner with security agencies like the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and the Nigerian Police. We have worked with them to establish the disability desk offices in the headquarters and the 36 states. The NSCDC has deployed 13 of its personnel to man the national disability desk offices. They are stationed in our office here in Abuja and the 36 states.

The system we are trying to operate here is to use the security agencies to help us fight it.

We have received a lot of complaints at the grassroots regions of discrimination in their families, with the community and in schools. Some people discriminate against persons with disabilities because they think nobody can stand in for them. But as soon as the security agencies stepped in it has already started yielding fruit. If you go to your android phone search NCPWD, an application form will pop up. Then download the application there are ways you will be able to use it against discrimination against persons with disabilities. Once you do that snap a picture and download a video and send it. As soon as we receive the message our desk officers and security agents will send signals to the state officers. They will now try to get to the nearest local government. They send their staff to there. Most of the cases we received have been delt with. Once they here the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities they will confess immediately and surrender. So these are the kind of strategies we continue to use to address the challenges. There are a lot of people with high profile political position who discriminate against the rights of persons with disabilities. I was confronted with a case of a speaker of a House of Assembly who bought a land from a person with disability and refused to pay him. He told him that he was not going to pay him. And you know because of the security around these high profile political office holders, they cannot do anything. When they wrote to us here we approached them and told our legal team to carry anybody to court. When they saw our seriousness, immediately they surrendered and found a away around it to settle the issue. They knew that when we take the matter to the public it would be a terrible embarrassment because they are high political office holders. So, that is the strategy we used. Also persons with he disability have been denied employment. When you look at the provision in section 28 and 29 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Act, it made it very clear that PWDs have the right to be employed. Section 29 made it very clear that at least 5% of PWDs should be employed. When you look at the disability community the people are very intelligent. From oil and gas, ICT, economy, digital economy; we have persons with disabilities who are knowledgeable. If you talk about degrees; from diploma, higher diploma, first degree to Master’s Degree up to PhD, we have a lot of them. Some of them today are professors. So, what is left? There is no field you cannot find persons with disabilities. It is a lie. We know our people, we know where they are. We can always source for them. I must commend NTA Nigeria for being disability friendly. We are working with NTA to ensure that they keep to the faith of the 5% for disability community. There is a ability in disability.

Aside the law, how have you been able to provide for them?

Since the creation of the agency we have been providing them with assistive devices. Our dream is to continue to provide assistive devices. But the demand is very high. From our primary, secondary and universities all of them are demanding assistive devices. So, when you look around you will see a lot of challenges. They need assistive devices to go to school. They need assistive devices to go to the hospital. They need assistive devices to have their leisure within the community. They need assistive devices as an empowerment programme. We continue to strategise. We need local production. The greatest challenge we have is importation and the high cost of it. Now when you want to buy the braille machine, it used to be  N300,000. Today, it is almost N3 million. We have found a nice partner in NASENI. We have also scouted for international partners to see what they can offer. We must nurture our local talent and resources to be able to put things together to manufacture our assistive devices in Nigeria to stop the importation and make it available and affordable here. We are also strategising for the establishment of the National Disability Trust Fund. It is expected to subsidise the production and distribution of assistive devices. It is a way to bring the devices closer to the people. Our target is that in the next 10 years, assistive devices should be available to 50% to 60% of persons with disabilities. I can assure you that we are working on this project.

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