The speed with which executive bills are passed is for obvious reasons faster than private members bills. In the out-going seventh Assembly, just like its predecessors many important bills suffered undue delay. Because of the rigorous processes of introducing private members bills it is highly unlikely to see the passage of bills from civil society organizations like ours or individual members of the public. The reason is just that for each bill to be listed on the legislative business of the day, priority has to be attached to the bill. Unless legislators are lobbied and acquainted with the presentation of the bill no such priority can be accorded to the bill and therefore remains without any attention. Besides, even if it gains any attention at all, it does so amidst pressure from other equally priority bills.
Some private members bills that have scaled through these preliminary hurdles and go for first reading may be opposed or talked out due to efflux ion of time. It may meet its Waterloo at debate stage when members might not show any excitement for the bill and consequent death.
When a couple of friends and I started a participatory civic platform called ‘Legislative Advancement Network’ we were just expressing readiness to contribute to the legislative processes and create a forum for political awareness especially among electorates. The research demand was as enormous as its pecuniary commitment. It was also a strategy to network with our legislators and constantly gauge the pulse of their various constituencies.
We did that to show appreciation for those of us who consider ourselves free from disability although psychiatrist and psychopathic experts would disagree that individuals are totally free from any form of disability. That is why some traffic law breakers are sent to the psychiatrists after payment of N25,000.= fine in Lagos State. The offender‘s brain would be ransacked to see what percentage of sanity is left! That is a form of disability that a lot of ‘healthy’ individuals would not like to admit.
In 2001 when we were excited by the nascent democracy, we sent a private members bill which sought legal protection for disabled persons across the nation; it also sought the mandatory audit and registration of these people; it also called the attention of legislators to their plight and unfriendly infrastructures and environment built and maintained by people without disability. The second bill sought to decriminalize report of abandoned children and also sought protection, adoption and training for the victims.
We were sad that this modest effort to pay attention to our less-privileged fellow did not even fetch an acknowledgement, instead we were told that such proposed bills were required to be in large number of copies, probably the number of legislators in the house! It is really sad if we can face such situation. It is in this context that the plight of people living with disabilities should elicit emotion and sympathy. Why should the bill suffer such long delay when the world around us is complying with UN prescriptions on their welfare? The passage of that bill is the minimum contribution our society is required to make towards the development of egalitarian community.
On this note we join those who have called on the legislators of the out-going assembly to include the “Persons with Disability Bill” among the urgent bills to be passed before their exit
Ozemena, a corporate attorney, writes from Abuja