FATTEH HAMID examines the lives of Nigerian undergraduates learning despite their disabilities
A 100-level student of History at the Osun State University, Ikire Campus, Osun State, Iyanuoluwa Emmanuel, is in wheelchair. He lamented the challenges he faces as an undergraduate. He noted that learning for him was fused with hardship.
He said, “It has never been easy because there are many issues to cope with such as electricity. We have electricity once a week, so I travel a long distance to charge my phone and lamps every day. All of these make it difficult for me to read or do more research.”
He stated that his inability to move freely unlike other students limits him from using the available resources to learn maximally. He noted, “I cannot go to the library to study because I don’t have the advantage to move around easily like other students. I only read and study in my hostel. Security issues are also part of the challenges. If there was a dangerous situation, I would have to find how to escape by myself.”
He noted that there were no wheelchair ramps in the school, adding that it was one of the challenges he faced.
Emmanuel added, “I have to wait for assistance from other students before I can go to class. I stand up several times so that they can carry the wheelchair for me. The school didn’t make plans for people like us because the way the school was built, it is only for those with no physical disabilities.”
On how he copes despite having to attend lectures daily, he stated, “I get late to class always due to this. I wake up as early as possible and wait for my cab man to pick me up. Sometimes, I wait for a long period of time before he arrives and after getting to the campus, I wait outside to get help. It has not been easy. The sad thing is that the school is blind to this. It has done nothing to ease studies for physically-challenged people like me.”
Emmanuel noted that he would have quit school because of the challenges but for the support from some of his course mates and other students who always help him by pushing his wheelchair to lecture halls.
He said, “Without them, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with these difficulties. They ease the pressure on me. I really appreciate them.”
He urged both the state and federal governments to see to the plights of physically-challenged people, saying, “The Nigerian government should be learning from the western nations on how they treat people with disabilities, how they treat them as important people in society and also create chances for them to achieve their dreams. They need to apply that in Nigeria.”
He added, “People with disabilities in Nigeria typically receive little support from both the state and federal governments and instead rely on family members, non-governmental organisations, and religious bodies. Our biggest obstacles are our disabilities, which exclude us from social, economical and political activities.”
He also advised that Nigerians should respect people living with disabilities and stop treating them as second-class citizens.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education/Education For All is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
In the targets set under SDG 4, the UN aims to eliminate all discrimination in education. It stated, “By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.”
It noted further that while disabled students were increasing in higher educational institutions, many institutions were not able to support those students.
Furthermore, SDG 4 also called for the building of an inclusive and effective school for those learning with disabilities, noting that countries should provide an adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities.
In 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation reported that students with disabilities are less likely to complete primary or secondary school in many countries around the world. In addition, Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) stipulates that countries must ensure that students with disabilities receive free, inclusive, and appropriate education at primary and secondary levels.
More students’ ordeals
A 100-level student of Mass Communication at the National Open University of Nigeria, and a muscular dystrophy patient, Fatimah Aderohunmu, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH said she started experiencing pains sometime in 2010 when she was 11 years old.
She explained that her parents spent a lot of money on her condition and bought different drugs which she used for bone and muscles. She stated that it was all in vain and on her last appointment in 2019, it was confirmed that she has muscular dystrophy. She, however, stated that while moving from one place to another, she was told there was nothing wrong with her and it was during that year she started using a wheelchair because she could no longer walk and the pains were too much for her to bear.
Talking about inclusive education for students with disabilities in the school she attends, Aderohunmu said, “No, there is no provision for physically challenged persons. Though it’s an online university, they didn’t make plans for students using wheelchairs and that’s why I normally take exams from home. My admission process was done online and I went to the school for clearance and other things and that was the first time I went there.
“At front of the department I went to, there’s a step I need to climb before going to where I was going and I had to stay at the entrance of the steps in the sun because my wheelchair cannot climb up. My mum did the clearance on my behalf and I was sad because I wanted to know how it felt to get the matriculation number and how to be a university student.”
Aderohunmu noted that for any schooling activities requiring physical presence it has been her mother and brothers who carried out the exercises on her behalf.
Speaking about the government’s role in easing studies for students learning with disabilities, she said, “The government is not doing enough. I remember from my secondary school days that my condition started, life was difficult for me when I was going to school with my condition and then I haven’t started using a wheelchair. But my condition was gradually getting worse and I was becoming weak because my condition is a weakness of the muscles and I wasn’t able to climb my class steps and the steps were also not easy for me to climb. I always wait till everyone enters the class before I struggle to climb up and there was no one to help or complain to and it was a government school.”
She also expressed displeasure with the non-inclusive mode of education in Nigeria for students learning with disabilities. She said, “I want the government to provide ramps in every school; primary, secondary, higher institutions and in every learning space in the country, it doesn’t matter if it’s government or a privately owned institution.
“Lack of accessibility stopped me from proceeding with my education at an institution which requires my presence every day because I was afraid. Some of my friends using wheelchairs in higher institutions complained about the lack of accessibility in their schools and not arriving at lectures on time. Most of the lecturers are not considerate and the way most buildings were constructed with no consideration for students with disability is discriminatory.
“Sometimes most of them make it to the exam halls late and there are no ramps in the school building. Most of the lecture theatres are upstairs and some lecturers don’t want to come to where use elsewhere thus making it difficult for students with disabilities and it’s totally unfair to us.’’
A 200-level student of Computer Science at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Tamilore Adebayo, started having problems with his sight from birth. However, after undergoing surgeries and taking medications, he could only see with the aid of lenses.
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, he explained that with the help of his parents, he was able to get the needed resources for his studies, noting that no day passes without him studying.
He said, “I try to make use of technology as much as possible. I have my books in soft copy, record my lectures and take some online courses. I also have some friends that help out.
“Some schools give me extra time to complete tests and exams. Lecturers also allow me to make use of my phone during lectures to record the class and I also take pictures of my friend’s notes. It could be easier. I just try to adapt to whatever situation I’m in and I also improvise.”
Adebayo explained that the Nigerian government was not doing enough for students learning with disabilities and that the government could have done better if they wanted to.
He said, “Learning with a disability is expensive. Scholarships and grants should be provided. Resource centres and resource persons should also be employed in institutions to assist the learners. Students can also be employed in a work-study programme to assist their peers who have disabilities. The government should also encourage companies and organisations to take persons with disabilities for internships and Industrial Training with incentives where necessary.
“The government should domesticate the various international submissions on disability. Public and private institutions should also be made to widen their scope and understanding of disability to include physical and non-physical learning disabilities.”
A National Diploma graduate of Nutrition and Dietetics at the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, Osun State, and also a muscular dystrophy sufferer, Blessing Omowunmi, decried what students learning with disabilities endure in most universities in Nigeria.
She said, “When I was in ND1, my lecture hall was upstairs and there was no provision made for me. I even requested for a change of hall, but it wasn’t successful. The government is definitely not doing enough.”
She explained that she enjoyed the help of her schoolmates who assisted her with day-to-day activities in school including lecturers who always pardoned her for being late to lectures. She, however, noted that the government should provide such students with basic learning aid.
She stated, “My class is upstairs. When I get to school, I call on three random guys and they will carry me up the stairs and I do the same after lectures. Most times, it’s multiple times a day because we often go to the laboratory and kitchen. The government is not doing anything for students living with disabilities. There is no inclusion whatsoever and they don’t make use of mainstreaming methods. No provision to accommodate us in schools. Even my school hostel is full of stairs.
“I advise the government to look into matters concerning students living with disabilities. We have a long way to go concerning inclusion. If there are staircases, there should be ramps too and spacious restrooms. Oftentimes, I miss lectures because I go home if I want to urinate because there are no accessible restrooms in school and I hardly eat to school or in school. I starved until I returned from class. It was stressful and challenging.’’
Nigeria’s disability laws
The National Policy on Inclusive Education provides that education must be inclusive and children including those with disabilities have the right to qualitative, functional and effective basic education.
Also, Nigeria, has the Discrimination Against Persons With Disability (Prohibition) Act, 2018 makes provisions for the inclusiveness of education in the country. In the Act, it is stated that (1) all public schools, whether primary, secondary or tertiary, shall be run to be inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities, accordingly, every school shall, (a) at least a trained personnel to cater for the educational development of persons with disabilities; and (b) shall have special facilities for the effective education of persons with disabilities. (2) Braille, sign language and other skills for communicating with persons with disabilities shall form part of the curricula of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
In the Act, it provides that the government must ensure that the education of persons with disabilities, particularly children, who are blind, deaf or with multiple disabilities, is delivered in the most appropriate language, mode and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximise academic and social development. This is tagged as the appropriate mode of education for persons with disabilities.
However, despite the laws on disability inclusion, the government has not effectively implemented them on inclusive education in the country.
Speaking to our correspondent on the issue, a disability inclusion consultant and researcher, Dr Toyin Aderemi, urged the government to prioritise inclusive education for everybody.
Aderemi, who is also a senior advisor on Disability Inclusion at the Save the Children International, added, “This is not what is applicable at the moment. Despite the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act, it is not being implemented, especially in tertiary education, it is not well spelt out in the Act.”
She stated that the government could do more by enacting policies around making tertiary education more accessible to everybody.
She said, “For other levels of education, there is a national inclusive education policy but it is not adequately implemented right now which does not even cover tertiary education. So for tertiary education right now, there is basically nothing on the ground. It is left at the discretion of individuals which should not be.
“There should be policies targeting tertiary education specifically or there should be a review of the current disability law to also prioritise tertiary education being inclusive. Until we have a policy, it will be easier for everybody to know that this is required and they have to comply with it. But as long as there is no law or policies mandating tertiary education to be accessible, we are getting nowhere and that is the challenge. I believe that when we have the policies, we could say that we have a starting point but right now, we don’t.”
She advised schools to advocate for the inclusion of tertiary education, adding “But the question now would be how knowledgeable are they of what is expected when it comes to tertiary education being inclusive because when they don’t know what that means, or how that should be implemented, it will also be difficult.
“The tertiary education system itself or the workforce should advocate for inclusive education and disability rights movement can also wade in to sensitise the tertiary education system on inclusive education at that level so that the tertiary education system can now take over or participate actively in the advocacy in making tertiary education more inclusive.”
She stated further that the government had to adequately fund tertiary education being the foundation, stating that without adequate funding, nothing would make it more inclusive.
She said, “Right now, we all know the state of tertiary education in Nigeria so the government first has to adequately fund tertiary education. When we have that foundation, then it will be easier to build on it and make it more inclusive. But the way it is now, the general tertiary education is not adequately funded. The problem is multilayered and probably there is a need for the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities with other stakeholders to organise a dialogue around this.’’
In his view, an experienced disability policy & legislative advocate and the Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, David Anyaele, noted that the Nigerian government was not doing enough on inclusion for students learning with disabilities.
He said, “Generally, the budget for education in Nigeria is below international standard. The most vulnerable of the vulnerable social group is going to be the worst hit by this poor investment in education in Nigeria. People Living with disabilities going to school have an extraordinary issue due to the lack of political will on the part of the government and cultural issues on disabilities and Nigerians. PLWD are the worst hit; they struggle more to go to school, and also are the most expensive students we have in primary, secondary or universities due to their struggles to acquire certain devices that will help their learning and learning outcomes.”
He urged the government to go over the National Policy on Inclusive Education law to ensure judicious implementation.
Anyaele stated, “Beyond that, there is Discrimination Against Person With Disability (Prohibition) Act which prohibits discrimination on different grounds and promotes access to public infrastructures.
“There is a need for schools in Nigeria to conduct a survey or an update on the accessibility needs of people with disabilities in higher institutions and by doing so, different universities will be able to understand their level of access because I know it may vary from institution to institution. By doing so, they’ll be able to know their gaps and take measures to close them.
“There is a need to build the capacity of these schools to respond to PLWD. There is also a need for higher institutions to have a centre for people with disabilities in their schools. When such is implemented, it will be easy for the schools to use the centre to gather data to respond appropriately to the outcome of the survey they gathered for their students with disabilities. There is a need to increase the budgetary allocations for the implementation of inclusive education for people with disabilities. Where schools understand what to do, understand their roles and responsibilities, and where schools have the capacity, it means that there is a need for funding to respond to some of these issues.’’
He further said that with the political will on the part of the government, the inclusion and participation of students with disabilities would improve.
Education ministry, others react
Commenting on the development, the Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, disagreed that Nigeria’s educational system was not inclusive, especially for students with disabilities.
He said, “What evidence do you have to show that education is not inclusive for students with disabilities? It is not true. Anywhere you find a staircase, there’s always something provided for persons with disabilities. So that is not true.
“The government is trying, we also have specific schools for disabilities. We have schools for the blind, for the deaf and etcetera.”
On whether the provisions for students with disabilities cut across all public institutions in the country, Goong added, “When you are putting such costs on the government, we should also realise that the government has limitations of resources. But that is not even the issue. There are conditions in the law regarding the construction of public buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities and the laws are being complied with. That is my understanding of it. They are being complied with.
“Let me ask you, in Lagos State where I have lived for 18 years, there is inadequacy of houses and general infrastructures, even on the road and all that, what then makes you think that the government must provide it all? The government is doing what it can in providing what it can provide where there is a shortage; one can’t say persons with disabilities are not being provided for. A lot has been done in that regard, like every other sector, it is not fair to the government to say it is not inclusive for persons with disabilities.”
Also, spokesperson for the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Abiodun Olanrewaju, stated that all students with disabilities in the school were properly taken care of.
He said, “We have special rooms in OAU allotted for both male and female students with such conditions. That shows you that we are prepared for such because in Ife, we do not discriminate.
“Even for students using wheelchairs, they are adequately taken care of by the management of this school. In fact, they are all given the front rows for lecturers in their classes. We don’t discriminate and we also know how important it is for students with these conditions to get a quality education. I don’t know of other universities but in Ife, we take utmost care of them.’’
Also, his counterpart at the Osun State University, Mr Ademola Adesoji, noted that the institution was doing all it could to ensure that students with disabilities were properly assisted in their education.
He said, “Because we know how important education for those with disabilities is, forms part of the reason why the council gives some of them scholarships. Also, we have counsellors attached to these special people to assist them.
“The accessibility of the students generally even to the vice-chancellor is to ensure that whenever issues arise, they’ll be able to call for assistance.”
He also stated that the government was doing enough to provide basic necessities for students with disabilities. He noted, “The truth is that if we are given billion, it can never be enough but the way they are being managed matters a lot.’’
Speaking on the building structures for students in wheelchairs, he said, “It is only normal to ensure that ramps are built when any public structure is being built. It is in the law.”