Physically challenged people are faced with numerous challenges, especially daily survival as they are often neglected or stigmatised by the society. In this piece, PETER AHEMBA writes that the situation is however different in Nasarawa State due to the attention given to them by relevant authorities.
THAT people living with physical challenges in their body have continued to suffer all kinds of discrimination in the society is an unarguable. It is also true that this segment of the society does not only suffer discrimination/stigmatisation from privileged members of the society including their family members in many instances but are also neglected by government agencies and institutions that are saddled with the responsibility of involving policies and programmes that could alleviate their pitiful condition. In most states of the federation, including Kaduna State, the implementation of some policies capable of worsening the already bad situation of the physically challenged persons have been ongoing. The Kaduna State government has since enforced the policy on the ban on street begging without provision of alternative for the people affected by the policy. It would be recalled that in 2015, Governor El-Rufai announced the ban on street begging in the state and directed that anyone caught begging on the streets of the state should be arrested and prosecuted. This policy no doubt generated concerns from individuals and organisations within and outside the country with critics describing the ban as inhuman. That was owing to the fact that no alternative means was provided before the implementation of the controversial policy. In Nasarawa State, the story is however different as people living with disability are rather singing Halleluiah due to the attention giving to them by the Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura-led administration. The state government has continued to show sensitivity to the plights of the physically challenged persons through the provision of welfare packages and other incentives to enhance their living condition. He was the first governor since the creation of the state in 1996 to have hosted people with disability at a dinner to where they had the opportunity and privilege of freely interacting with the Governor just to give them a sense of belonging. According to Al-Makura, “It is sad to see that people discriminate against those living with one form of disability or the other. Personally, I have faced the same challenge especially while I was campaigning to become the governor of the state. “Today, my administration has done what other previous governments that were led by people who are not disabled could not do.” This paper observed that apart from the employment of a greater number of persons with disability into the state civil service and appointment of some of them into key government positions under the current dispensation, the state government has awarded contract for the construction of three Special Schools worth over N160million. Each would be located at the three Senatorial Districts of the state to carter for the educational needs of the physically challenged persons, including the award of special scholarship to many of them to study from primary to university level. Speaking on the special schools project recently, Al-Makura assured that the state government would upon commissioning the project collect data of the disabled persons with a view to engaging over 2,000 professionals to train them on various skills. One of the persons living with disability in the state, Mrs. Sarah Dogo, had attested to the humanitarian gestures of the governor towards their members when she expressed delight with disposition of the state government towards the plights of the victims. According to her, “It is only during Governor Al-Makura’s government that physically challenged persons got 15 houses allocated to them by the state government. We have been enjoying equal treatment in terms of education and other social services compare to previous administrations in the state”. Nigerian Pilot recall that, perhaps in line with the governor’s concern for the well-being of the less privileged in the society took over the upkeep of a 10-year old disable Useni Abubakar of Lafia Local Government Area of the state. The boy who had been suffering from polio virus that eventually resulted to his present condition offered to take over the upkeep of the child considering his pitiful situation. “It is in my character and it is also a policy of my administration to see that the common man on the street that has no body to carter for him lives happily like every other person in the society. Such people need to be shown love in order for them to feel a sense of belonging”. The governor shortly after his interaction with the boy made a cash donation of the sum of Fifty thousand naira (N50, 000.00) to take care of his immediate needs and directed that a tricycle be given to him immediately to aid his movement from one point to another. He also maintained his readiness to take full responsibility of not only his up-keep but also sponsor his education from Primary to whatever level he might want to attain educationally. Of recent, Governor Al-Makura, at an event organised for disabled persons in the state by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa and BBC Media Action, reiterated his appeal to government and philanthropists to extend their benevolent by giving equal opportunity to people living with disability. “I call on government at all levels to consider the physically challenged persons in the scheme of things. Their inclusiveness would give them a sense of belonging in exhibiting their talents.” The governor regretted that physically challenged persons are neglected in the society as they are discriminated upon at meetings, social gatherings, stressing that the victims suffer suspicion, abuses, deny and disgraced from the public, insisting on the need for a change of attitude by Nigerians and government towards the physically challenged persons. Al-Makura had also demonstrated his commitment to the wellbeing of the physically challenged persons when he led a peaceful protest to the National Assembly, calling for the passing into law of the bill on people living with disability. During the protest, the governor re-echoed the need for the National Assembly to pass the bill into law without further delay, believing that the bill when passed, would go a long way in addressing the plights of the physically challenged persons especially that the bill will eliminate unnecessary discrimination against victims. Analysts averred that the continuous stigmatisation of this segment of the society (physically challenged persons) must be addressed through change of attitude by all and sundry and as a matter of fact necessity, individuals, corporate bodies and government must emulate the efforts of the Nasarawa State government by collectively putting smiles on the faces of the people living with disability.