By Ashiru Abubakar (YES 2011-2012, Nigeria, hosted by American Councils in Jacksonville, IL)
In 2018, Nigeria signed a new law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The Disability Rights Bill took two decades to be sanctioned and it was not enacted into law until the current president Muhammed Buhari, in his first tenure and fourth year in office, signed it to be enacted into law. This law puts in place a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures, and automobiles to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities. Most importantly, it ensures that people with disabilities have access to housing, education, and healthcare. At this point in time, the Disability Rights Bill is a law and is addressed as the Disability Rights Act. It has had an impact on the lives of people with disabilities by giving hope to their quest for a variety of career options that are feasible for them. This act also gives hope to the parents and families of people with disabilities because it encourages and supports their loved ones with disabilities.
Before the act was passed, I often worried about my future as I was pursuing a degree in Business Administration at the University of Ilorin. Back then, persons with disabilities didn’t have equal access to jobs, which meant that it would be particularly difficult for a deaf person like me to pursue a career. My career options would be limited to teaching at a School for the Deaf which is not something that I am passionate about. I am not the only person with disabilities who has experienced these limitations as many others like me felt stigmatized, discriminated and marginalized at the time.
Many people with disabilities have stated that despite the current existence of the Disability Rights Act, they are yet to feel the impact because it has not been implemented fully yet. Stakeholders are working tirelessly to implement a Disability Rights Commission, a body that would be responsible for all Nigerian citizens that have a disability. In fact, the stakeholders believe that the impact of this commission would be greatly felt by all people with disabilities because it would provide them equal participation in policy making that affect their lives. Some of these policies would be fighting against all forms of stigmatization, marginalization, discrimination, negligence and stereotypes. Other areas the commission could help improve would be equal participation in politics, employment waivers reserved for people with disabilities, access to information, free medical treatment and free education from primary to tertiary school. In essence, the Disability Rights Commission could be the driving force behind the actualisation of the Disability Rights Act.
I am proud to say that I aided in the drafting of the Gombe State Disability Rights Commission, which was signed in January 2020. The commission proposal has been handed to the Gombe State Chief Justice and will be undergoing the administrative processes before the possibility of it being put into law. I pray for a positive outcome.
My exchange year helped me become the leader that I am today in my community. Once I came back to Nigeria from the USA and completed secondary school, I was elected the Publicity Relations officer for the Gombe State Association for the Deaf. While I was a student at the University of Ilorin, I was also elected to be a student representative for deaf students during student government unions and in during the 2018 - 2019 school year, I was the president of my university's chapter of the Association of the Deaf. Currently, I am waiting to hear the results of my application for a National Youth Leader position under the National Nigerian Association of the Deaf. Overall, I am proud that YES has shaped me to be capable of carrying out various leadership roles in the Nigerian deaf community.