The Federal Government has threatened to take legal action against airlines and other operators who fail to comply with the extant laws concerning persons living with disabilities in Nigeria. It condemned the situation where it becomes difficult for the category of persons to enjoy public facilities, especially the airports.
The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities said it is already in talks with the Ministers of Aviation, Hadi Sirika; Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; as well as the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation engaged to construct new airport terminals across the country.
The commission’s Executive Secretary, James Lalu, made this known in Abuja on Tuesday at an investigative hearing organised by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Disabilities on ‘The Need to Investigate the Alleged Violation of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and Private Airline Operators.’
Lalu said, “Sincerely speaking, for us in the disability community and the National Disability Commission, we find this act by this airline completely disappointing. To discriminate against a PWD, you must have that very strong negative perception towards PWDs before you could be able to do that.
“We see this as something of national interest and we thank the committee for raising this. The right of PWDs today in Nigeria is non-negotiable. We are here as a commission to defend this right. Therefore, when we receive some of these complaints, we try to look into these policies that most of these airlines continue to sign. The policies remain worrisome to us as a disability community.
“We want to bring to their notice that the existence of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act already criminalises any form of discrimination of towards persons with disabilities in totality.”
Lalu noted that the commission had been engaging with the aviation ministry on how to address the issue of policies being introduced by airlines which lead to abuse of the law.
He stated that the commission was ready to assist regulators and operators in facilitating movement and services for PLWDs at the airports.
Lalu said, “We are ready to train even the staff from the airlines and staff from Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. We are ready as a commission. There are a lot of partners that approach us on this. We are ready to partner with them.
“On Thursday, we are meeting with the Minister for Transportation and the Ministry of Aviation to address this. It is a matter of accessibility in the airports and a matter of accessibility for our own railway services. So, our people would be comfortable where they go.
“We want to tell the airlines that are here that enough is enough. We try everything possible to address this through the administrative way but once it gets out of hand, the commission is ready to take any airline to court.
“The provisions in the Act, it does not take any rocket science for you to be able to read and understand. It is clear there. It is a thing that all the airlines must be able to provide these services. If you can provide the steps for people with their legs to climb at the airport, why must you not provide things for PWDs?
“This is the time for us to address this. Our people have suffered. Enough is enough! For many years, we have been discriminated against in airports. Once I leave Nigeria to another country, you see how they try to handle me; I feel like a king anywhere I go. But once I get back to Nigeria, it becomes difficult.
“Why are we trying to make life difficult for our own people? If you are complete, does that mean you are better than some of us? God can move you to any place. As soon as you are alive and you have not entered the grave, then, God has not finished your creation. In one minute, you can become a member of the disability community.
“I was born, I did my primary and secondary school; I was hearing completely. Then, sickness struck me and I lost my hearing abilities. If I am not hearing, then, are you more intelligent than us?”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the committee, Miriam Onuoha, in her opening remarks, decried that most of the airlines failed to attend the hearing despite public notices and invitations to them.
She said, “It was extended to them but we have just about three of them. It is just for the records. Before the end of the meeting, we hope to have them in attendance. But if we do not have them in attendance, then, the committee will decide on the necessary steps to take, going forward.”
Onuoha added, “I want to use this opportunity to address and make a passionate appeal to the general public that one of the core mandates of this House committee is to advocate the welfare and rights of persons with disability. This committee will stop at nothing or letting anything deter us from carrying out this mandate.
“We use this opportunity to enlighten the general public on the provisions of this Disability Act and the need for the public to respect the provisions and the rights and welfare of persons with disability. I don’t think issues and matters concerning the rights and welfare of persons with disabilities should be treated lightly or with disdain.
“We will like the general public to take away any form of discrimination and stigma that is attached to disabilities. Persons with disabilities are first humans and Nigerians.”