In Nigeria, as in many countries, the journey to achieving disability-inclusive development has not been without challenges. After ratifying the UNCRPD in 2007 and the optional protocols in 2011, it took 12 years of relentless advocacy work for Nigeria to finally get a disability act in place.
During those 12 years, the disability bill (as it was called before being passed into law) failed to receive presidential assent three times. The bill acquired the unenviable record of the longest and most protracted bill in the history of Nigeria, a position rivalled only by the Nigerian Petroleum Bill. The reason for the delay was originally attributed in part to the financial implications of establishing the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (an institution whose presence should be in every one of the 36 states in Nigeria). Over the years, advocates considered trying to get the bill passed even without the Commission, and advocacy for disability-inclusive development gradually intensified.
Then in 2018, the first Global Disability Summit took place, during which the government committed to pass the disability bill! Five days after a disability advocate made this demand from President Buhari during the 2019 general election campaign, he assented to pass it into law – including the establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities – bringing that part of the advocacy to a successful end with the coming into force of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act 2018. This example highlights the need to continue to work with the government to keep disability-inclusive development on the agenda and see it put into action.
In terms of policy, Nigeria has made great progress towards a disability-inclusive society and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presents yet another huge opportunity to further this agenda. When the government announced that it was up for a second voluntary national review (VNR), an accountability process for the SDGs, Sightsavers saw the opportunity to work even more closely with the government to build on the work done during the initial VNR in 2017 to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind. Our approach was to work with both the government and civil society organisations.
Prior to COVID-19, the government, through the office of the Senior Special Advisor to the President on SDGs (OSSAP-SDGs), had a plan for engaging with various groups, including people with disabilities. The OSSAP-SDGs agreed to work with Sightsavers to ensure that people with disabilities could participate in the various consultations. When COVID-19 disrupted the planned face-to-face meetings, the recognition of Sightsavers as a reputable organisation and our initial work with the office made it possible for the OSSAP-SDGs to work with us to organise a virtual thematic consultation on disability. This became a standard by which other virtual meetings were conducted.
Ishaq Adamu, the national president of the Nigeria Association of the Blind, says this shows encouraging progress. “While this is the first time OSSAP is engaging with disabled people’s organisations during their consultation for the VNR,” he says, “the platform has given us an opportunity to provide quality feedback, on the impact of the implementation of SDGs on the lives of people with disabilities in Nigeria.”
Disability inclusion specialist Dr Adebukola Adebayo adds that the virtual meeting helped solve the issue of being able to access a venue. “In the past, the inaccessible physical environment has been one of the excuses the government issued as reason for not inviting us to consultation,” he says. “But with the use of the online platform facilitated by Sightsavers, the barrier was eliminated, enabling us to effectively and meaningfully participate during this year’s VNR consultation.”
Although it would have been great to see a bit more of this consultation being reflected in the final report, the work with OSSAP-SDGs presents a great opportunity for even better collaboration after the VNR, for a more inclusive and sustainable development in Nigeria.
Sightsavers also supported the CSO platform on SDGs to develop a grassroots report and a disability scorecard. This has supported an independent process whereby CSOs and people with disabilities report on how the implementation of the SDGs has been experienced and viewed from a different perspective than that of the government.
In the drive towards more inclusive development that leaves no one behind, the government, CSOs and the private sector in Nigeria all have a role to play. We look forward to Nigeria presenting its VNR on 10 July. We will continue to advocate for a Nigeria where there is credible, disaggregated data on disability and other sectors of society for even more targeted and inclusive development, where no one is left behind.