By Samuel Ogundipe
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday signed into law a legislation that will henceforth criminalise common discriminations against persons with disabilities.
The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act would see corporate entities and individuals face excruciating sanctions if found guilty of discriminating against persons with impairments, according to Ita Enang, the president’s National Assembly liaison who announced the assent on Wednesday night.
“This Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on ground of disability and imposes fine of N1, 000, 000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation concurrently,” Mr Enang said.
“It guarantees right to maintain civil action for damage by the person injured against any defaulter.
“It provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs,” the official added.
Other key elements of the new law are:
“Before erecting any public structure, its plan shall be scrutinised by the relevant authority to ensure that the plan conforms with the building code.
“A government or government agency, body or individual responsible for the approval of building plans shall not approve the plan of a public building if the plan does not make provision for accessibility facilities in line with the building code.
“An officer who approves or directs the approval of a building plan that contravenes the building code, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of at least N1, 000, 000 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both.”
“Discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities and service providers are to make provision for the physically, visually and hearing impaired and all persons howsoever challenged. This applies to Seaports, Railways and Airport facilities.
“The rights and privileges include education, healthcare, priority in accommodation and emergencies. Furthermore, all public organisations are to reserve at least 5 % of employment opportunities for these persons. The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities is also established in Section 31 with Executive Secretary as the head”
The signing comes days after Mr Buhari accused lawmakers of not passing the bill during a town hall appearance with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
But lawmakers rejected the claim, saying they passed the law since 2018 and submitted it to the president for assent. A document later circulated on social media showing that the State House acknowledged receipt of the bill.
The law brought a major relieve to anti-defamation campaigners, who accused the Nigerian government of not doing enough to protect citizens with disabilities.
“President Buhari has written his name in gold by assenting to this bill,” Razak Adekoya, a development and disability inclusion expert, told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday night.
“Former President Olusegun Obasanjo failed to sign the law when National Assembly passed it under him, saying it would have serious cost implications for the country,” Mr Adekoya said.” Former President Goodluck Jonathan also raised some objections about the bill when lawmakers again passed it under him.”
“We are grateful now that those with some forms of disabilities now have a sense of belonging going forward,” Mr Adekoya added.