16 06 2008

Protest of Disabled Persons

by Joseph Onyekwere

June 15, 2008



Some disabled persons protest the introduction of security doors in banks

Angela Nebo is deformed on her right leg and because of that she walks on crutches. She is the administrative officer of the Centre for Citizens with Disability, CCWD, Ikeja, Lagos. Few weeks ago, she had gone to one of the commercial banks in Ojodu Berger, a surburb of Lagos to deposit money but was denied access into the banking hall. Her crutches would not pass the metal detectors at the security door. “When I got there they said I would not go in because my crutches are made of metal,” she told Newswatch.

Nebo said despite her appeals to be allowed to go into the banking hall since she is a customer, the bank officials did not oblige her. She left the bank disappointed and dejected. “Even though I wept and those who saw me were sympathetic, officials of the bank did not allow me in. So, I left. The next day, I went to another branch where the money was collected from me outside the banking hall and deposited on my behalf by banking officials,” she said.

Obiora Ononogbu, the chairman, Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria, had a similar experience. He went to the United Bank for Africa, UBA, branch on Broad Street, Lagos, to withdraw some money. But the security door was so small that he could not gain entrance into the banking hall with his wheel chair. “They attended to me outside and it was wrong because someone could have taken the money away from me. It was demoralising. I felt I was being denied my freedom of movement,” he said.

Ononogbu told Newswatch that transacting business with the banks is a difficult task for him and others on wheelchair. He said that even the Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, in banks were built in such a way that those on the wheelchair can not have access to them.

As a result of these challenges those with disabilities recently staged a protest and picketed some of the leading commercial banks in Lagos. Cosmas Okoli, national president of the Association for Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disabilities, ASCEND, told Newswatch that they had to protest because banks were becoming increasingly inaccessible to persons with disabilities. “The banks do not have ramps for those of us on wheelchair to enter into the banking hall. As if that is not bad enough, they built narrow security doors. The security doors have metal detectors that even when you pass the door, detectors would screen you out,” he said.

He said his association had written to all bank chief executives on September 20, 2007, giving them six months to address their plight. But none of them responded to the letters. According to Okoli, his organisation also wrote to Chukwuma Soludo, governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. He said Soludo promised to present their case at the banker’s forum and that was all they heard about it. Okoli threatened to mobilise members for more picketing if the banks failed to address their problems.

Okoli also decried the BRT transport system introduced by the Lagos state government. He said the decision of the BRT buses together with other developmental projects of the government both at the federal and state levels were being done without considering the interest of about 19 million Nigerians with disabilities. “We concluded that the only thing that can stop this discrimination is a legislation to protect our rights as well as the establishment of a commission for disability affairs both at the federal and state levels,” he said. He also added that the president and each of the governors should have a personal adviser on disability matters.

Daniel Anyaele, president, CCWD, agreed with Okoli. “We are highly discriminated against in Nigeria. The constitution of Nigeria made no provision for discrimination on the basis of disability. So that legalises the discrimination against persons with disability. Social infrastructures are designed to our exclusion. And this compounds our woes and that of our dependants, ” he told Newswatch.

He stated that though the convention on the rights of persons with disability came into force in May this year, the government at both the federal and state government are behaving as if nothing has happened. They have remained hostile to people with disabilities. He noted that the Lagos State Economic Summit, which he attended as an observer, focused on transportation, security, human capital development, water and sanitation without any consideration for those with disabilities. “Persons with disabilities do not have access to education. So, how do we develop their human capacity? Only less than five percent of persons with disabilities have access to education. Our primary, secondary and tertiary institutions are hostile to people with disabilities. More than 95 percent of public buildings in Lagos are disabled-people unfriendly,” he said.

To realise their goal of having legislation to ease the problems of disabled persons in Nigeria, the group is pushing for a bill at the National Assembly through Bode Olajumoke, a senator. Olajumoke is the grand patron of ASCEND. The bill is called the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Bill, 2008. The bill provides for the right of accessibility to physical structures, both in public and private buildings, accessibility of vehicles, airport facilities, right to life and protection, access to health and technology among others. It also spells out different penalties for corporate organisations and the private individuals who violate the rights of the disabled.

Another major thrust of the legislative intervention is the proposal for the setting up of a Disability Affairs Commission, DAC. According to the provisions of the bill, the DAC when passed into law would be saddled with the responsibility of issuing guidelines for the education, social development and welfare of persons with disabilities. It would also collaborate with relevant ministries, parastatals or bodies to issue codes and directives for designing and constucting public building so as to make them accessible to persons with disabilities among others. Okoli believes that once the bill is passed the banks could use disabled-friendly doors without compromising security.

But Lanre Alabi, head, corporate affairs, Afribank Plc told Newswatch that it is untrue that disabled persons are being asked to stay outside the banking halls for transactions. “Nobody would ask anybody to stay outside. There are people outside the bank that can help the disabled persons to climb the steps as well as to go inside the banks,” he said. He stated that not all Afribank branches have the small security doors and added that even if that was the case, the wheelchairs are collapsible and can pass through the doors. Alabi further explained that those who are disabled could opt for home banking or take advantage of the ATM.

Tunde Olafinjana, head of Media, Wema Bank said the bank has not received any complaint in that regard. He stated that if the disabled persons wrote a letter to the chief executive of Wema Bank, it would have gotten to his office. He further said that Wema Bank has been very supportive of the disabled persons. Repeated calls made to the mobile phone of the head of corporate affairs unit of UBA, Zenith Bank and Bank PHB were not answered.

Dayo Mobereola, executive director of Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, LAMATA, told Newswatch that the plight of the disabled persons as it concerns the BRT buses were being addressed. According to him, the authority has ordered for buses fixed with ramps on each side. There are also two reserved seats in each of the buses for the disabled persons. He explained that his organisation has asked the association to come up with an analysis of their own needs but they are yet to do so. “We asked for their population, where they live or are highly concentrated as well as when they are most likely move around,” he said.




One response

17 06 2008

Unbelievable. A person can’t enter because of metal… crutches?

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