Racing towards rights for the disabled in Nigeria

Cosmas I. B. Okoli
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Nigerians with Disabilities have been struggling for years to end social exclusion, to no avail. In 2007, several interested parties took the bull by the horns. The Association for Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disabilities (ASCEND), in collaboration with Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC) and other organizations of people affected by disabilities, presented a bill to protect the rights of people with disabilities to the National Assembly.

The Association supported the bill with unprecedented advocacy to end the social exclusion of persons with disabilities in Nigeria. In 2008, inspired by Baroness Lynda Chalker, the Association promoted a programme via which certain Nigerian legislators participated in a “One Day Disability Experience”. For just one day, the legislators put themselves in the shoes of people with disabilities.

Some of them were blindfolded. Others had their ears stopped and their mouths muzzled. Yet others used a wheelchair for the day. This generated unprecedented awareness in the upper legislative chamber and helped to ensure the passage of the bill. Unfortunately, it has been awaiting the Nigerian President’s assent for over a year. This situation, coupled with other troubling matters, inspired me to celebrate my 50th birthday in a unique way.

MAARDEC will celebrate my birthday with me, supporting a manual hand-tricycle ride of over 1,300 km, from Lagos to Abuja. I will ride alongside five other young athletes, male and female, with disabilities, and three others, one male and two female, without disabilities.

The athletes will be accompanied and supported by Federal Road Safety Commission officials and the Nigerian police. They will manage traffic and provide security, a medical team, an ambulance, caterers and trumpeters. The ride will take off from Lagos in November. The athletes will cycle through 11 states and end at Abuja on 3 December 2012, to mark the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

This “Hope and Possibilities Ride” – a title borrowed from the Achilles Track Club’s international Hope and Possibility Race – serves to end the social exclusion of persons with disabilities; persuade the president to ratify the disability bill; promote the eradication of polio; and encourage safety on Nigerian roads.

Inclusivity is one way to shape Africa’s transformation. Let’s go, Africa. On your marks, get set, go.


Author: Cosmas I. B. Okoli, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC), Nigeria; Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Nigeria, 2006 


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