Equality in Legal: Discrimination against physically challenged persons in third world countries - Jennifer Oghenewaire Nikoro

Equality in Legal: Discrimination against physically challenged persons in third world countries - Jennifer Oghenewaire Nikoro

 

"We are humans and we should all be treated equally according to our individuality"

 

I am Jennifer Oghenewaire Nikoro from Nigeria, a Legal practitioner, Arbitrator, and a Mediator. I was born without right forelimbs.

In third world countries, people with one form of disability often are isolated from the mainstream of society and deprived their fundamental human rights. They experience discrimination because of disabilities like denial of basic opportunities in education, to more subtle forms of discrimination, such as segregation and isolation.

 

Disability in my own case, despite the negative treatment from the society and the difficulties I had to face, offered me the opportunity to be resilient. I was born this way and have never had another life of complete body parts. I was compared with people who had complete body parts. It was in very rare cases that I was given an edge over my peers in whatever competition I had faced. In sports we were allowed to compete together, during academic purposes, etc. Despite the stiff competition, I still excelled and survived. Sometimes it got so tough that I would want to break apart. I have fought through life with this situation from birth and I have come to terms with the way one with my condition is treated.

 

In an ideal situation, one would expect that a person who appears disabled should experience some form of preference in the provision of basic amenities; but hell no, everyone is giving the same tools to explore right from primary education even to the point of professional practice. I am not in any way wanting to appear weak, my path to life has really made tough and I can boldly say that I have competed and can still compete anywhere among the best in anything I am set to do in life. But what I am invariable saying is that, not everyone will be able to survive just like I did and escape their enemies. We should be a bit considerate as we draw out policies in our societies. I am not asking for society to pander needlessly but what I am saying is clear, and it remains the fact that we need a levelled playing ground.

I can’t keep quiet from sharing about my own situation. I have had my own share of academic challenges because the society couldn’t help meet my needs. In fact, third world society is not equipped enough to respond to special needs students. Because of these situations, most disabled people are compelled to either drop-out or choose a path of least resistance. Well, I pulled through and proved naysayers wrong and must continue to fight to ensure that the voice of the voiceless are heard in my community and society overall.

I launched an initiative “LIFE BEYOND DISABILITY” which is currently undergoing the process of registration as a nonprofit in Nigeria. The objective is to support people with disabilities especially the several bright minds I have met in our communities suffering a form of discrimination hindering them to achieve their dreams. My team and I have established our strategies and are currently using various media to carry out advocacies to promote disability inclusion. We have some constraints with funding to complete the registration process which we hope to tidy up before the end of the year 2020.

 

Thank God I have finally specialized as a professional, and as I practice as a Solicitor, Arbitrator, Negotiator. I make sure that my work is guided by compassion for the poor and the helpless. Most of the cases I have handled since I commenced practice involved helping to secure bail for clients who were wrongly incarcerated and others suffering from one form of human right abuses. Just imagine if I never scaled through as a Lawyer! The fate of some would have been hanging in the balance.

 

Beyond professional practice, I have also been involved in several rural outreaches to promote resilience for communities in need especially in the northwest Nigeria. Just imagine I never broke through academically and exposed!

I have coached and mentored several young people, providing counselling to escape social vices and also helping several others to develop coping skills to overcome negative peer influences.

I believe that I have become a bastion of hope for so many in my society and would want my voice to be heard until disability inclusion becomes deeply enshrined in every sector of our societies.

From my own experience, the effects of discrimination based on disability have been particularly severe in fields such as education, transportation, employment, etc. What we suffer daily based on our disablement prevents us from the enjoyment or the exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities.

There are even communities where people with disabilities are viewed as cursed, while there are some who see disabled people as having a special kind of disease that cannot be (easily) cured. Most societies in the third world are relatively the same and it keeps me thinking when the story will change. When you look around, people with disabilities are experiencing the same hardships and I think the gap is widening. We are constantly being denied essential life choices by Government, employers and even the society at large. The trauma of rejection and being treated as less-human may never be appreciated from a personal perspective except if you find yourself in such situation. The attitude of the majority towards a physically challenged person should be a source of worry  to put in the best and succeed and not deter.

I must confess that the road hasn’t been easy at all. I encountered many challenges on my career path. Even after I graduated and got called to the Bar as a lawyer, getting a place to practice was a hurdle. I am not mindful of the fact that there aren't many employment opportunities but my case became more difficult because of my peculiar situation. For instance, I applied to different Law firms for job and I noticed that the responses remained positive until I showed up for interviews. The first thing I notice and which I must say is very factual is that the firms generally start with statements that tend to underrate my capabilities and I am sure this applies to many others in the same situation. You would notice an immediate shock and an unspoken reaction that tend to say “why have you chosen to go to school when the street is the right place for your type,” They instantly forget the brilliant voice they have interacted with several times before the physical meeting.

 

Their attention was always on my deformed hand. Those who are bold enough would ask ridiculous questions like “Are you sure you can do this job? Can you type? Can you cope with the rigors of this profession? We wouldn’t want to carry excess baggage; we are here for business and productivity and not for charity.' While others would simply end the interview as quickly as possible and no matter my performance, they would never call me again.
But, I am intelligent.
Despite my disability I am proficient with the use of basic computer applications, I have enough typing speed to enable me work on tasks even more than those without challenges.
I have never used my disability as a means of avoiding responsibilities, yet, people judge me before even finding out if I can. They wouldn’t even give me a chance to prove my worth.

 

The frustration I often face especially in employment is in being quickly Judged as less-able. This amounts to very painful experiences.

I am confident in my abilities as a professional and I’m proud of my achievements. My advocacy is geared towards ensuring that the physically challenged should have access to good jobs, thriving careers, accessibility into offices, access to good education, access to public utilities and facilities, without discrimination. I recently started a Nonprofit Organization known as Life Beyond Disability with the sole aim building relevancy among persons with disability in Africa particularly in Nigeria. Though at its starting point, I have been able to create awareness with the right of people about  disability in Nigeria, disability inclusion and how organizations needs to embrace the principles that will promote belonging and productivity.

 

I hope to embark on fully funded scholarship opportunities for persons living with disability, influence government policies with respect disability inclusion as I am committed to being a beacon to the growing physically challenged population, who I hope would realize that disability is not a death sentence or something that should interfere with a person’s quality of life.

Everyone, regardless of their physical abilities or lack thereof, deserves to have a safe, secure and equal opportunity existence. No-one should be excluded from competitive or leadership roles, as a result of some perceived limitation on their physical make-up. 

 

Thus, I would like to look for competitive opportunities, such as scholarship opportunities, self-development sessions, programs and interactive sessions, employment and career fairs, networking, social support, grants and other forms of relief, specifically tailored to the disabled and their families.

If provided with a good support system to aid the disabled individual, they perform as well as those without some form of disability.

There is need for more proactive measures to be put in place to create awareness regarding the ability of the physically challenged. The society, government and corporate organizations need to be educated on the capability of the physically challenged.

A collaborative effort by the affected individuals and interested persons would help in setting the pace for achieving this near impossible goal of creating equal opportunity for the physically challenged.

However, we are a long way to achieving equality if we continuously view people with disabilities as less-able.

 

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About the author:

Jennifer Oghenewaire Nikoro, Esq is a legal practitioner base in Lagos State, Nigeria. Born without right fore -limbs. 

Jennifer was called to the Nigerian bar on the 30th November, 2018.

In November 2019, Jennifer became an Associate Member at the Institute of Chartered Mediator and Conciliator (ICMC) in Nigeria.

Jennifer recently  passed the Chartered institute of Arbitrators (Ciarb) online assessment on international Arbitration which has qualified her to apply for associate membership of the institution with the international body in United kingdom.

Aside her legal profession, Jennifer runs an NGO called Life beyond Disability, her foundation helps in Creating a community of persons with Disability who chooses to be relevant to the society despite their disability and also creates purposeful living amidst persons with Disability.

Jennifer advocates for the right of persons living with Disability in Africa particularly in Nigeria. She believes she is the best AMBASSADOR for the disabled.

Jennifer hopes to see EXPERT with good academic background emerge from various works of life in the disabled community

Amongst other things , Jennifer is also a Speaker and a Disability coach.

In Jennifer's view, IMPOSSIBILITY is only in the mind. If provided with good support system to aid the disabled individual, they perform as well as those without some forms of disability.