Amina Salihu, Development Sector Specialist, Civil Society

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Subjects of Interest

  • Governance
  • Sustainable Development

The making of Kaduna State disabilities law 18 Jan 2022

I have always been in awe of compassionate, creative people able to interpret challenging situations, disability being one of those. Disability has always fascinated me because of the uncertainty of the moment it could happen to anyone at a time least expected. Some of us in society go through life with our noses in the air pretending life does not happen or cannot happen to us until it does. We know there are persons with disabilities, but we do not pause to think what it could feel like walking in those shoes.  

While some of us are born with a disability, some acquire it through accident, illness, some trick of nature or even old age. Disability, like the inability to have full use of either one’s limbs or senses, is not as uncommon as we would like to think. It is just that not all disabilities are visible by their nature and also because society stigmatizes disability. People try to hide any form of indisposition they may have, including children with disabilities, lest they are seen as weak and less than whole.

Every December 3, the world marks disability day, but what does it really mean? How do we center social inclusion and what do we need to do more or less of in respect of disability?

For starters, we all need to be more conscious of disability and to normalize and accept it as an integral part of life. When we do, disability becomes something not to be afraid of but to be planned for, in public and private life. Responding to disability requires everyone to understand disability. We also need to have legal frameworks that make it mandatory for everyone – individual or corporate entities – to respect and bring dignity to disability.

Internationally, the UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) demands respect for persons with disabilities (PWDs), including removing barriers that stand in the way of a full life, economically, socially and politically. Some states like Plateau, Lagos, Jigawa and Kano have been outliers states which had disability laws in place before the federal Act. The amendment to the Electoral Act with the clause to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities is a milestone. The passage of the disability Act 2019 legitimizes the struggle and acknowledges that persons with disabilities are as human as the next person.

In 2018, I had the honour of chairing the Kaduna State Disability Board. One of our team’s legacy work was the design and advocacy for the passage of a Kaduna State disability law. The DFID Mobilizing for Development (M4D) program supported our effort through peer learning with Kano, Jigawa and Lagos disability teams, developing a disability policy action concept note, and reviewing the earlier prepared disability bill for re-presentation. The bill, however, did not pass until after our tenure. Two years later, with the effort of the bureaucracy and appointed leadership, in the Commissioner for Humanitarian Services and Social Development, Hajiya Hafsat Muhammed Baba, I was informed during a Zoom call that the Kaduna State House of Assembly had passed our proposed bill and that the Governor had assented to it. Joy!

I want to salute Hajiya Hafsat for the energy and the commitment that got the bill through the door. During our tenure, then-Acting Executive Director, Kaduna State Rehabilitation Board (KSRB), Aliyu Yakassai, who has since been confirmed and rightly so, was a one-of-a-kind civil servant. It shows that for change to happen in the public space, those who get the honour of being appointed to serve must work with those who run the system and work to leave direction and ideas that outlive a tenure. The development partner role is to enable agency on both sides of the aisle, government and non-governmental.

The second lesson is never to turn your back on where your heart is. Start the work or build on what had already begun and let others finish it. I have stayed in touch over the years with this incredible civil servant and my sister, the Commissioner, without stalking them. A critical stakeholder group was the community of PWDs itself, which threw its weight behind the bill. We engaged them to understand the bill’s content and direction, including the need for inclusive language.

Thirdly, resilient doggedness should be based on facts. As Chair of the disability board, I reported to the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, later designated humanitarian affairs and social development. I would trouble her often to reach the Governor so Kaduna could come to par with its neighbours on the crucial issue of a legal framework on disability. Jigawa, Kano, Plateau states all were outliers in the north, implementing forward-thinking disability laws. We pushed our Board’s educated rationale for why Kaduna should have a strong framework premised on a rights-based approach and not charity.

We began by challenging the idea of rehabilitation itself as problematic. First, it suggests repairing or caging individuals and providing their needs from a single source. An Aristotelian tenet views humans as socio-political beings by nature. They need to engage, socialize and demonstrate their agency. Therefore, a strategy that keeps them apart from ‘others’ will not be sustainable.

Second is the problem of the assumption that all PWDs need to be helped all the time. Some just require the enabling environment to do things for themselves. Third, there is the assumption that certain institutions that should help address the poor perceptions around PWDs in the home, society and the state are capable of doing so. Again, the reality is they are hard-pressed to deliver.

These assumptions were held up and critiqued, and our understanding was validated when we met with the leadership of PWDs. This informed our core proposal to the government to rethink the concept of rehabilitation from one that excludes to one that is inclusive and an integral part of social reengineering. Mindful of our mandate as a board, we set for ourselves the core goal of enabling the Kaduna State Government to respond to disability issues from a rights-based perspective with support from the disability community and non-governmental stakeholders. This informed our working objectives, namely: to make innovative proposals to the government that operationalize our core objective; find and cultivate friends from development partners, private sector and civil society to work with the board; motivate the staff of the board to understand the rights-based approach and to deliver effective services to the community of Persons with Special Abilities/Disabilities (PWA/Ds); work closely with the leadership of the Community of PWA/DS as a participatory and risk mitigation measure; and regularly evaluate the trajectory of our objectives and review steps as necessary.

A core aspect of the rethinking and mainstreaming of disability support was the proposal to create a Kaduna State Ability Fund for PWDs. The Ability Trust Fund (also known as the Fund) was envisioned as an independent, technical and financial resource focused on enabling ‘ability’ and not on ‘disability’. The Fund was conceptualized as a social enterprise where the government partners with donors to facilitate the pooling of financial resources towards alleviating the suffering of PWD/A, supporting them and their dependents to attain education or vocational training and meeting the needs of PWDs as part of a broader reintegration and inclusion framework.

The Fund is expected to support persons with or affected by disability in Kaduna State, irrespective of gender, geography, age or religion. The objectives are to mobilize and grow funds to support people with disability in the state; find and forge strong partnerships with multilateral and bilateral organizations working with persons with disability; effectively manage and invest monies received to ensure continuity of the Fund; partner with the KSRB and identified disability clusters to identify beneficiaries to ensure funds are administered to the appropriate beneficiaries; and conduct and widely disseminate regular tracer studies to examine reach and impact.

The more people believe in your vision, the more likely it is to succeed. My friend and colleague, Bose Paul-Obameso, was our pro bono consultant, contributing in-kind support to translate the concept into an action plan, which included building a corporate governance framework for the proposed ability fund that would depend in part on government fund and in part on public resources, including crowdfunding. Hannatu Ahuwan of M4D introduced us to the PERL ARC program when M4D wound up. The Disability community and friends in Kaduna State invested hope and energy in the bill. They shaped and owned the story, which is about their aspiration.

All these allies deserve mention and commendation for partnering so well with the State Assembly stakeholders to pass the Kaduna disability law. Often, the person at the helm of affairs gets the credit as it should be, because the buck stops at his or her desk. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai is a stellar technocrat turned politician who deserves commendation. But often, it is the team that does the invisible pulling, hatching, nudging and pushing many doors open that gets things done. This includes follow-through, reminders, applying the protocol of the corridors of powers to demand action and succeeding. They are the ones who know that the passage of the law is only the beginning of the work. Implementation and evaluation must follow for the law to have meaning.

The Kaduna disability law is a proud moment for us. Disability response should go beyond medical response or charity. With COVID-19, we have all experienced the handicap that comes from not being in control of our ecosystem as we battled a fierce invisible but ferocious enemy that held us immobile. I am not sure we coped well with the sudden feeling of vulnerability. Imagine living with such vulnerability all the time.

Empathy, not sympathy, is needed to be responsive to disability needs and rights. The former is agency and action-based and propelled by respect; the latter is based on a sense of hopelessness and an inability to think beyond the obvious. Policymakers must centre disability data gathering, analysis and evidence-based advocacy.

As the challenging year 2021 has now closed, let us commit to caring more for each other. We all have the right to participate equitably as citizens. We can all play our part in holding up shields of dignity for each other every day.

Amina Salihu is a development sector specialist.