By; RAYMOND TEDUNJAYE, Lagos
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and his wife, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, on Wednesday, had a special moment with residents with special needs – People living With Disabilities (PWDs).
It was at an interactive session jointly organised by the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, Ministry of Information and Strategy and Office of Disabilities. The event, held at the State House in Marina, offered the PWDs a golden opportunity to personally intimate the Governor with various challenges facing their clusters.
Rendition of songs of praise by the choir of Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially Sighted Children relaxed atmosphere for a productive discussion, which the clusters of PWDs had with the Governor.
Representatives of each cluster spoke their minds on challenges limiting their members to cope with day-to-day activities, top among which are employment and inclusive education.
The PWDs offered suggestions on how the Government could make life better for them.
An Assistant Director of Programmes at the Lagos State-owned Traffic Radio, Victor Oteri, who represented cluster of visually impaired persons, hailed Sanwo-Olu for creating time for the PWDs amid challenges facing the State, noting that the Governor had devoted time and resources to the weakest people in the society.
Oteri called for an increment in the employment ratio dedicated to PWDs in public and corporate organisations in the State from two to five per cent, while urging the State Government to equip Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) to fully enforce the Special People Law of 2011, which mandated all public and private business establishments in Lagos to absorb physically challenged persons.
This, Oteri said, would help to reduce poverty burden on people living with disabilities and create economic opportunities that’ll help them cater for their immediate needs and families.
Hon. Israel Akiode, who represented dwarf cluster and also representing the PWDs in Lagos chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), made a case for an appointment of a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on PWDs, which would serve as a link between the clusters and the Governor.
Akiode also clamoured for the increase in employment slots reserved for the physically challenged in public service five per cent.
Chairman of Association for the Blind, Mr. Babatunde Mohammed, praised Lagos Government for creating education access for the cluster, but said the current integrated education model had segregated the visually impaired persons.
Mohammed urged the Governor to allow enrollment of the blind for inclusive education to stop the segregation.
Women leader, Lagos State Association of the Deaf, Yemisi Alabi, drew the Governor’s attention to the discrimination against PWDs in healthcare sector, noting that LASODA certificates issued by the Government were not being honoured in the General Hospitals.
The situation, she said, is limiting access to healthcare for residents living with disabilities.
Also, Oyedele Wakil, who represented PWDs in Alimosho, said Local Government Areas had not respected the Special People Law of Lagos of 2011, urging the Governor to prevail on the council chairmen in the State on the issue.
Olajumoke Otitoloju of Iyaniwura Foundation for Children Living with Disabilities drew attention to the dearth of teachers and caregivers for children living with mental disabilities.
She also clamoured for Government intervention at centres for children with intellectual disabilities. This, she said, would help detect the disabilities early in children.
Responding to the issues raised, Sanwo-Olu instantly approved some of the demands of the PWDs and promised to implement others in the course of time. He reiterated his administration’s readiness to empower the PWDs and give them a sense of belonging in ’Greater Lagos’ project.
The Governor said the demands of the PWDs came at a better time when the State Government was about to access the N500 million Disability Fund appropriated in the 2021 Budget passed on Monday by the House of Assembly.
He said the Government would be meeting with each cluster of PWDs on how to maximise the funds for the benefit of their members.
He said: “This Christmas period presents a better time for us to host this special interactive session and felicitate with you. I deliberately asked for the event to be done at the State House, Marina, so that I can share good moments with you in the spirit of the season. We called for this engagement to hear from you all challenges you face.
“After listening to your representatives, we now have better understanding of which intervention we need to make and where we need to improve our relationship with you. We have taken all the points raised. The N500 million Disability Fund in the 2021 Budget will be accessed next year and we will agree with all clusters on better to utilise the funds.”
The Governor said the Government would be working to ensure free quality healthcare services for the physically challenged persons in primary and secondary health institutions in the State, while also giving directive for free Coronavirus (COVID-19) test for PWDs in registered clusters.
Granting the request of the PWDs, Sanwo-Olu approved the creation of the Office of Senior Special Assistant on PWD Affairs, which will be the link between his administration and people living with disabilities.
In January, the Governor said an appointment would be made into the office, which will be domiciled at the Ministry of Youth and Social Development.
In the spirit of Yuletide, Sanwo-Olu and the First Lady donated 50 wheel chairs, 170 walking sticks, 75 white canes and 69 crutches to the clusters to assist the PWDs in mobility. About 364 persons living with disabilities benefited from the gesture.
Groups at the event included Association for the Deaf, Association for the Blind, Association for the Dwarf, Albinism Association of Nigeria, Spinal Cord Injury Association of Nigeria (SCIAN), National Association of Physically Challenged, Intellectual Cluster Groups, comprising Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.