People living with disabilities or those otherwise referred to as physically-challenged persons in Akwa Ibom State now have stronger reasons for hope in better conditions as the State House of Assembly has reiterated its commitment to accelerate processes to provide a legal framework to promote and protect their welfare.
The Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey, made the pronouncements, yesterday, during a Public Hearing on a Bill for a Law to Protect the Physically Challenged Persons Against Discrimination and Other Purposes Therewith, held at the Committee Conference Hall of the Assembly.
The public hearing which was organized by the House Committee on Women Affairs, Social Welfare and Cooperative headed by the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon Princess Felicia Bassey, who is also the lead sponsor of the bill, had in attendance stakeholders and representatives from government ministries and parastals, including the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Agriculture , Women Affairs and Social Welfare , National Council of Women Societies, the Nigeria Bar Association, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Akwa Ibom State Council, Civil Rights Groups and various groups and associations for the physically challenged.
Represented by the Deputy Speaker/Member Representing Okobo State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Princess Felicia Bassey, the Speaker in his welcome remarks thanked Governor Udom Emmanuel for always evolving programmes aimed at enhancing the the welfare of the physically challenged individuals and also commended the different organisations present at the public hearing for their interest in scrutinizing and fine tuning the bill. He noted that the 7th Assembly had from inception resolved to run an inclusive and participatory legislature that would promote a workable democracy.
The Speaker who declared the event open further stated that the essence of the public hearing was to give critical stakeholders opportunity to brainstorm on the clauses and overall content of the bill and make inputs that shall be considered when the bill is passed into law.
“It must be emphasized that from inception, the House has assured that critical attention is given to the making of people-friendly laws that promote equality, understanding and growth of all persons. One of the approaches we have adopted is that of inclusive and participatory legislation. This simply means involving the people in our decisions and deliberations for a workable democracy”.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Women Affairs and Social Welfare, Dr. Glory Edet, who delivered the keynote address regretted the challenges faced by persons with disabilities and lauded the State Government and Members of the House of Assembly for being sensitive to their plight by providing a legal machinery to enhance the welfare of the physically challenged.
Dr. Edet who was represented by a Director of Women Affairs in the Ministry, Mrs. Edima Ndaobong, maintained that it was only by enacting laws that cater for the needs of those affected by physical impairments that they could be given a sense of belonging in the society.
Contributions by representatives from the Ministry of Justice and a Director in the Ministry, Barr (Mrs) Mfon Edemekong; Chairperson of International Federation of Female Lawyers, Akwa Ibom State, Barr. Emem Ette ; and immediate past Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Barr. Eno Akpan. Those who also made observations were representatives of Nigerian Bar Association, Obong Emmanuel Akpan and his colleague from the Akwa Chapter of Civil Liberty Organization, Barr. Clifford Thomas. They all gave kudos to Members of the House of Assembly for sponsoring the bill, but however made observations on some peculiarities that must be captured in the bill to make it all-inclusive, especially the needs of children and women.
Some strong views expressed by the legal practitioners were that abuse, segregation, abandonment and concealment of those with physical challenges must attract severe punitive measures and such penalties must be clearly captured in the bill before it is passed into law.
Inputs were also submitted by the South-South Coordinator of the Blind, Mr. Ubong Udoh; Human Rights Groups, Family Centre Initiative for the Physically Challenged Persons and President, People Living With Disabilities. In their different but related contributions, they called, among other things, for the establishment of a commission for the physically disabled, provision of lifts in storey buildings and educational facility, scrapping of special schools that seem to isolate them from the society, etc.
Some House Members presented were Members representing Ini State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Ekpenyong, IkotAbasi/ Eastern Obolo, Rt. Hon Uduak Udoudoh, Uyo, Hon. Anietie Eka; Itu, Hon. Kufreabasi Edidem; Oron/ Udung Uko, Rt. Hon. Effiong Bassey, Mbo, Rt. Hon. Chief Effiong Johnson, Nsit Ibom, Hon. Ifiok Udoh, Ukanafun,Hon. Mrs Charity Idio.
It would be recalled that public hearing on the bill was first held in the 6th Assembly in November, 2016.