The Nigerian President, on 23rd January, 2019, signed into law the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 (the Act). This was widely commended, as for the first time, a law is enacted to protect an estimated 25 million people living with disabilities in Nigeria.
In consonance with Nigeria’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (“CPRD”), the Act seeks to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities, promote their welfare and development and provide for their full integration into the society.
The Act prohibits discrimination on grounds of disability and specifies the rights of persons with disabilities. These rights include: unfettered access to healthcare, right to access the physical environment and buildings on an equal basis with others, right not to be discriminated against by providers of goods and services, right to protection by the Government in light of their vulnerability in risky situations and humanitarian crises, right of first consideration in queues and right to work on an equal basis with others.
Any act of discrimination against a person with disability on the basis of disability is an offence which upon conviction, in the case of individuals, attracts a fine of N100,000 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) or six months imprisonment, or both and in the case of corporate organizations, a fine of N1,000,000 (One Million Naira). This is irrespective of the right of the person with disability to institute a civil action for redress in respect of the discrimination.
Section 28(1) of the Act is of particular interest as it provides that the right of the person with disability to work on equal basis with others includes the right “to opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open”.
The Act further provides that a contravention of the provision of section 28(1) is an offence attracting damages to be paid to the person with disability in the sum of N250,000.00 where the offender is an individual, and N500,000.00 where the offender is a company. Additionally, any principal officer of the company involved in the violation is liable to pay damages in the sum of N50,000.00 to the affected person with disability.
The provisions of Section 28(1) however seem vague as the Act neither defines an open work environment nor provides any criteria by which same may be determined. It may therefore be open to debate, requiring judicial intervention, between a person with disability and a corporate organization as to whether a particular work environment is open.
With respect to the public sector, employers of labour are, as much as possible, to have persons with disability constituting 5 % of their employees.
The Act in specifying how public utilities and buildings are to be made accessible to persons with disabilities, provides that all public parking lots must reserve spaces for such persons and any person who parks in or obstructs such is liable on conviction to a fine. Public buildings must have necessary accessibility aids such as lifts and ramps for persons with disability within a 5 year transitory period from the commencement of the Act. No government agency or officer should approve a building plan that does not make provision for accessibility facilities in line with the building code as contravention attracts a fine or imprisonment or both.
The Act establishes the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities which is responsible for formulating and implementing policies to promote the welfare and development of persons with disability and is responsible for their education, healthcare, social, economic and civil rights.
The provisions of the Act, when implemented, will certainly go a long way in improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities.
Individuals, companies and government agencies will therefore do well to discharge their obligations under the Act and play their role in providing an inclusive society for persons with disabilities.