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In Nigeria’s Capital a Significant Number of Disabled People Have Taken Residence Under Bridges

by Tahir Sherriff.

Figure 1: Habib – Sweeping the Kubwa/Gwarimpa pedestrian bridge. Photo Credit – Tahir Sherriff.

Habib – 33, sweeps the Kubwa/Gwarimpa express bridge every morning before pedestrians begin their cross-overs to beat the early morning traffic and reach Abuja’s Central Business District. A homeless and disabled man, Habib earns his daily pay from the hands of residents and passer-by’s either taking pity on his condition, or impressed by his resilience in the face of such challenges. Migrating all the way from Nassarawa state, some 200km from the city centre, Habib makes just enough to keep him going.

“When some kind people pass and see me, they can give me N50, or N200, or sometimes even N500” Says Habib who manages the top of the bridge as his business turf. Habib has been operating in the same location for the last three years and is only one of the millions of disabled citizens in surrounding states in Nigeria who have migrated to the capital for economic reasons.

In Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, a significant number of disabled people have taken residence under bridges, in front of ATM machines, beside eateries and restaurants, and often on the roadside overlooking highly active government departments. At city centers and markets, young girls can be seen guiding the hands of their blind parents seeking alms from strangers. The major challenge is that by categorizing these citizens as ‘beggars’ disabled people are perceived from a reference point of pity, ignoring the government’s role to improve on the quality of their lives.

Figure 2: A young boy begging on the Gwarimpa pedestrian bridge Abuja. Photo Credit – Tahir Sherriff

In 2016, the FCT Minister moved to reduce the number of beggars on the streets of Abuja by repatriating some of them to their states of origin. Although largely unsuccessful, this attempt does not hit at the root cause associated with them being on the streets in the first place.

A bill for the protection of persons with disabilities, although passed by the 6th, 7th and 8th assembly remains pending at the House of Representatives. Three successive democratically elected presidents have left Aso Rock without passing it into law. The passage of this bill into law will go beyond solving the problem removing disabled people off the streets, but also ensuring their access to jobs, social inclusion, and healthcare.

Figure 3: Disabled woman receiving food from President Muhhamadu Buhari. Photo Credit – Naij

In March this year, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Disability Matters, Dr. Samuel Ankeli said that President Muhammadu Buhari was ready to sign the bill. As this signatory remains pending, persons with disabilities and several right activist groups have been calling on the President to redeem this pledge.

Like many other areas faced with authentic data challenges, there is still considerable uncertainty around the true number of disabled persons in Nigeria. World report on disability, published in 2011, said about 25 million Nigerians had at least one disability, while 3.6 million of these had very significant difficulties in functioning. These statistics often highlight the alarming number of disabled persons in Nigeria, but mostly fails to point that these numbers are rooted in ‘economics’.


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