By G9ija

Rep. Miriam Onuoha, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Disability Matters, says military and paramilitary agencies must comply with the disability law which mandates all employers of labour to recruit persons with disabilities.

Onuoha said this at a one-day Round Table organised by Inclusion Magazine in collaboration with The Albinism Foundation (TAF) on Friday in Abuja.

The programme was themed: “Confronting the Challenges of the Safety of Persons with Albinism”.

Onuoha said that the disability law does not exempt any employer of labour from recruiting persons with disabilities, therefore, military and paramilitary agencies must begin to consider and strategise on how to recruit them.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, makes provisions for the employment of persons with disabilities.

Section 6 of the Act read in part: “All employers of labour in public organisations, shall as much as possible have persons with disabilities constituting at least 5 per cent of their employment.”

Onuoha said that irrespective of their condition, persons with disabilities should not be turned away from any recruitment process, but be tested and employed in positions that suit their abilities.

“In this forum, the military and paramilitary agencies present presented their position on what is inhibiting them from employing persons with disabilities or why they cannot consider them in their recruitment process.

“They say that recruitment into these organisations requires applicants to undergo strenuous physical training before posting to areas of primary assignment and persons with disabilities cannot do this.

“For now, the Act does not exempt any institution or organisation from recruiting persons with disabilities. This means that military and paramilitary agencies have a mandate to recruit them.

“Persons with disabilities can be given special privileges because of their condition. If they are to work in departments that do not require strenuous training, they can be exempted from the exercise,” Onuoha said.

She said that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exempts certain individuals from participating in the mandatory one-year national service and security agencies can apply the same method.

The chairman said that the committee was currently examining the operational manuals of military and paramilitary agencies to see how persons with disabilities can be included.

According to her, the committee is also looking at how to amend the Disability Act to give the military and paramilitary agencies better backing to work with persons with disabilities.

“The amended Act will allow security agencies to provide waivers or exemption letters to persons with disabilities. And if this is not possible then the Act needs to state that these agencies are exempted from recruiting these persons.

“The Disability Act stipulates a mandatory quota of 5 per cent employment which must be allocated to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have exhibited a lot of abilities in their various types of disabilities.

“We have appealed and I am still appealing to security agencies to consider persons with disabilities in their recruitment. They may not work in the combatant sections.

“They can be in the intelligence-gathering section, administrative unit, information departments, and many other departments that they have chosen to distinguish themselves,” Onuoha said.

Earlier, Major Nasiru Sabo, Department of Civil-Military Affairs, Army Headquarters, Abuja, said that the profession needed mental and physical capacity and training of individuals before recruitment.

Sabo said that the Nigerian military does not discriminate during the recruitment process, but persons with disabilities would not be able to undergo the rigorous mandatory physical and mental training.

“The Nigerian Army is a profession of arms and before you are qualified to be part of that profession, there are certain criteria and conditions that you have to meet.

“It is a profession that tests the mental and physical capacity of individuals before they are enrolled. It is not about discrimination but there are procedures you need to undergo before you work in an office.

“Every soldier, every military man is trained as an infantry soldier first before you are being deployed to various departments that you can function best. Passing through rigorous training demands mental and physical ability.

“In the training there is no segregation; everybody must pass through that same training. You must be tested in arms, you must be tested in so many areas so if there is a disability, you will not be able to function well,” Sabo said.

According to him, for the recruitment process, you will need to carry arms and you will need to undergo rigorous training for six to nine months depending on the training session.

He advised that persons with disabilities should rather apply to work in the Nigerian army as civilian staff since this does not require them to carry arms.

On his part, Mr Jake Epelle, the President and Founder of TAF, said that the foundation faced funding challenges in addressing the health and other needs faced by people living with albinism.

“The albinism policy has been very impactful because it was through the policy that the European Union came to us.

“A lot more has to be done; we are working assiduously with the government and development partners to ensure the review will capture all issues relating to albinism especially emerging issues.

“The research we have done so far, we have a very sizable number of persons living with disabilities. We have only done nine states out of all states in Nigeria.

“From the nine states we have done, we have more persons with albinism in Kogi state. Other states are Ekiti, Osun, Enugu, Imo, Nasarawa, Kwara, Benue, and the FCT.

Mr Hussaini Abdulraman, the Publisher and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Inclusion Magazine, said that the round table was organised to discuss and confront the challenges facing persons living with albinism.

“If you go to a forum and see persons with albinism, you notice that others do not mingle with them and that is a big challenge.

“We have a story from the South-East and South-South where persons living with albinism are used for ritual purposes that is why we called for this important event.

“Recently,  the office of the Inspector General of Police (IG-P) set up a special desk for persons with disability and specifically for persons with albinism because of this kind of challenges,” Abdulraman said.

Miss Ukachi Cynthia, an Academic Counselor and Disability Rights Advocate, said that living with albinism has forced her to encounter discrimination in employment, social life and education.

Cynthia also called on the federal government to provide free cancer treatment for persons living with albinism as they lacked adequate resources to cater to their health needs.

“First, I have the sun to contend with or the sun has to contend with me. I have discrimination from people due to their mentality about persons with albinism.

“I have challenges in securing my career goals due to employers of labour and business people not having the awareness that I bring to the table what every other person brings to the table.

“They see my disability first before my ability. I suffer discrimination from society not just because of my colour but because of fear of being looked at as someone who does not share what society agrees with.

“As I speak with you, I am a cancer patient but I cannot access this treatment because of the cost. Some time ago there used to be free treatment for persons with albinism at the National Hospital, Abuja,” she stated.

Cynthia said that this free treatment has since stopped making it difficult for her and other persons with albinism to access cancer treatment.

She therefore called on the federal government to implement the Act more effectively so that the needs of persons with albinism can be met.

Other participants at the round table included representatives of the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, the National Human Rights Commission, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC).

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS), and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development also attended the forum.