• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Private sector, government still deny persons with disability employments

disability employment (2)

It happened when he was only three years old. He had fallen ill and was taken to a nearby hospital by his parents.

It was a “little illness,” perhaps, something that would not have cost him much, but he fell prey to a careless healthcare giver who then injected him “in the muscle” upon arrival.

That injection helped with the ailment but took his legs. “My parents tried all they could. I was being carried to different places to find solution, nothing came out of it,” he said.

From that time till now, Femi Yusuf (a pseudonym), has been ‘rolling’ his way through life on a wheelchair, relying on the words of his parents who had constantly told him he could become whatever he chooses before their death.

Although his disability is a fact, he is confident about life. “Life has been good to me so far,” he said. “I never see myself as someone with a physical challenge; I always see myself as an able person; that makes all things easy for me.”

But despite this feeling, all is not well and Yusuf knows this. As a physically challenged person in Nigeria, there are many challenges to deal with till your last breath. Rights violation, stigma, and discrimination are all part of the package.

Most disheartening, Persons with Disability (PwDs) find it cumbersome to get formal employment—whether or not you are educated, the chances are slim. Those who are lucky, get to do “unfulfilling jobs” with the government.

But those who are not as lucky and without education are likely to become beggars. Yusuf was one of the lucky ones, as he now works with Lagos State government.

An amputee begging for alms

“Most likely, God did it,” he said, narrating how he landed a job with the government. “It (was) when I was doing my IT. Government said persons with disability should be given work which is compulsory for every local government to employ them.

“I did my interview on a Monday, (and) the next day I was sent a message from secretariat Alausa, where I am now,” he told BDSUNDAY.

Sounding unfulfilled, he admitted to BDSUNDAY that he would have loved to work with a private firm, but on a second thought, he said it would be difficult to get employed in any private firm.

“I think so… just a bit difficult, due to some facilities which are inaccessible. In some private sectors, some of them never consider the PwDs in building their various companies. If (I) decide to work in banking industry, do you see their doors? How will it be accessible to me and some others like me?” he asks rhetorically.

He was right, and Peter Pius (not real name), confirmed it to BDSUNDAY. Hailing from Akwa Ibom State, 30-years-old Pius holds a degree in banking and finance, and also a diploma in insurance. But he is jobless.

“I have tried gaining a job opportunity in a financial institution but age and work experience have been a barrier. I tried severally, even went as far as writing the aptitude tests for First Bank, DPR, Shell, and many others which I can’t remember. I also sent several applications. I applied in telecommunications such as MTN, Airtel also. I remember applying in Zenith Bank, so many times,” he said.

In spite of his efforts to be gainfully employed, the outcomes have been negative. According to him, there has not been any feedback from any of the organisations he applied to even after writing the tests.

“I didn’t get feedback. Even the aptitude test I wrote for First Bank, till today, no response whether you performed well or not. There was no priority given to PwDs even when I identified myself as one.

“I could remember when I went for a factory work at Oshodi-Isolo road and I was singled out outright and told that their company policy does not allow any person with a disability to work there. I was disqualified,” he said.

He, however, suggests that consideration for jobs should be given to the little percentage of PwDs who have gained education.

“I must say access to education for PwDs has not really been inclusive. So, the little that has the privilege to get one should be given priority,” he recommends.

Also recounting her ordeal with job-hunting, Kemi’s (not real name) disability was caused by another careless nurse who gave her overdose of a certain injection when she was seven years old. All efforts to reverse the damage done to her legs earned her a walking cane in the end.

But that did not stop her from aspiring like any other person. So, after studying Banking and Finance, she began seeking employment in her field, but her condition became a reason for rejection.

“I was rejected. He said they can’t employ someone like me even after passing both the written test and verbal interview,” she said.

Kemi told BDSUNDAY that she only wanted to experience the happiness and joy that comes with finishing school, getting a job and earning a “salary that can make her independent and contribute to the family.”

“The job thing has been a big challenge for persons living with disabilities because (of) age bracket. This has been a big challenge because most of us started our education late, so age requirement is mostly not met. Lack of accessibility in most private and even the government sector,” she said.

For Lare Bayo (not real name), another physically challenged Nigerian, it all began after his mandatory national youth service, commonly called NYSC in Nigeria.

“After my NYSC in June 2013, my hunt for a job began and I applied for jobs in different organisations. I was called for aptitude test and interviews (which I never failed), but majority of the firms declined me job offer on either the basis of my disability or on a sympathy level,” Bayo narrates.

A chartered accountant and a graduate of accountancy from the Lagos State University, Bayo, 31, could not believe he would be rejected. In fact, he told this reporter that while in school, his colleagues thought he would secure a job before them due to his outstanding performance.

“But in the course of the interviews and from the countenance of the interviewers even before the interview, I sensed rejection,” he said. “I never envisaged such!”

Although presently working with the Lagos State Government and a volunteer with the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), Bayo said he would have loved to work with an audit firm as an auditor so as to have a wider understanding of accounting.

But his physical state was considered above his brilliant mind. “Most of the audit firms were so skeptical about my efficiency on the field as it involves lot of mobility from one client to the other,” he said.

The World Bank estimates that one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disabilities and that the prevalence is higher for developing countries, but data on the actual population of PwDs in Nigeria is sketchy.

In 2011, the World Report on disability estimated that 25 million Nigerians had at least one form of disability or the other, and stated that 3.6 million of these had very significant difficulties in functioning.

The report came after the 2006 population census reported 3.2 million persons living with disability. This figure was then protested against by the Centre for Citizen with Disabilities which claimed that the extent of disability in Nigeria was not fully captured.

After much pressure by the CCD, the National Population Commission of Nigeria (NPC) later estimated that about 19 million Nigerians were living with disabilities in 2018. That number would have increased by now.

Lagos Special Peoples Law

Most members of this vulnerable group usually live in squalor due to lack of jobs, as a result, Lagos State government established a robust law to protect special people from discrimination, and harmful treatment.

The law makes provision for an adequate standard of living and social protection for disabled people.

The Lagos Special Peoples Law, passed in 2011, also caters for their rights to education, health, and more, including right to work and employment as stated in section 29 (1) of the law:

“Persons living with disability shall have the right to work, on an equal basis with others and this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by working freely in a chosen or accepted labour market and work environment.”

But a critical assessment on the increase of physically challenged persons begging for alms on the streets showed that more than 80 percent of people with disabilities live in low and middle-income parts of the society. Among this group, 30 percent are street youths and 20 percent are children with disabilities, according to the report.

This data show that implementation of the law did not commence until NGOs and pressure groups began mounting pressure on the state government for implementation, and in 2018, 250 disabled persons were employed by the state government.

Also, the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) recently employed 20 persons with disability as sweepers.

According to the Lagos State Special People’s Law, all employers of labour employing up to 100 persons shall reserve at least 1 percent of such workforce for qualified persons living with disability and government shall take steps to ensure the self-reliance of persons living with disability and accordingly give adequate assistance to those of them who desire to be employed.

Compliance to this directive by the private sector has been a problem despite calls by the civil society group for the private sector to invest in employment and economic empowerment of the physically challenged class.

“Most private firms believe that employing PwDs will be an additional cost to the firm,” Bayo said.

The National Law

Apart from the state’s law, there is also a national law that protects the rights of persons with disabilities. This law stipulates that employers of labour must employ at least 5 percent of this group of people.

“The National Disability Act – Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, provides in session 29 as follows: all employers of labour in public organisations shall, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constitute at least 5 percent of their employment,” David Anyaele, executive director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), said.

 

What is behind poor private sector compliance?

 

Explaining the reason for non-compliance by the private sector, the chairman of the National Association of the Blind (NAB) Tunde Mohammad said the country lacks a serious government. He said Nigeria was not devoid of good policies, “but enforcing or implementing those policies is the problem.”

“Nigeria doesn’t have that compelling power to implement the law. There are quite a number of qualified disabled people, but a lot of the private sector does not know the capability of these disabled people.

“You can imagine, as a blind person, when you first see me, the first thing you say is ‘oh, he’s blind’ you’d think I don’t know you are talking about me, you’d think that I don’t even know how to use my computer. Ordinarily, you’d think I did not even go to school,” said Mohammad.

 

The NAB boss said lack of training for disabled people and exposure, as well as lack of awareness on the ability of disabled people, were other factors that should be considered when looking at private sectors’ poor hiring of persons with disability.

“I think there is a lack of awareness on the ability of disabled people. The only thing people can see in them is just disability. But there are lots of other ideas,” he said.

Enforcement and incentives are the only way

Although NAB’s boss appreciated the efforts government has put into employing disabled persons, he stated that more could be done.

Mohammad also explained that many of them would have ended up in the streets if not for the government that has been giving them employment. “It would have been too terrible,” he said.

He said the government should enforce the law that private sector should engage disabled people, and be serious about it.

“The laws are there, so there should be awareness on it so that they know that they will be severely punished when they err. Also, there should be a form of waiver in terms of taxation. Once there are incentives, and they know that when they err, they will be punished, then they will sit up,” he said.

He urged disabled people to come out and sensitize people on their abilities and on the need for them to be hired by private individuals.

State government is not doing enough

Attempting an explanation on why the private sector appears adamant to comply, Anayaele (mentioned earlier) said that the non-implementation of the provision by the private sector could be linked to ignorance.

This is because, the National Disability Act provides in session two that the Federal Ministry of Information shall make provision for the promotion of awareness regarding rights, respect and dignity of persons with disabilities, he explained.

Hence for him, they have failed in doing this. “The last time I checked, the Federal Ministry of Information is yet to play their roles and responsibilities as provided in the Act,” he said.

Unlike Mohammad who spared government some accolades, the executive director of CCD insisted that the state government is not doing enough, stating there was little or no provision for PwDs in this year’s budget.

“If you look at this year’s budget you will see that little or no provisions have been made in favour of citizens with disabilities for rehabilitation, education, or healthcare.

“At the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, we believe that there is need to create awareness and capacity building on the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders, demand accountability from state institutions, and mass action – through litigation advocacy,” Anyaele said.

“Governments at all levels are struggling to fulfil its obligations to Nigerians with Disabilities,” he adds.