The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 was finally signed into law on the 23rd of January 2019 after years of persistent advocacy. Prior to the passage, a promising Lawyer shared personal views and experiences with regards to disability and the Law:
I’ve been called to the bar since 2009 so this is my 9th or 10th year at the bar. As part of the struggle with the profession and also in school, I had to run around after friends to get them to record for me. Then I used a recorder and a type writer. They had to read their notes and textbooks and then get me to listen to the recorded voices. Now it’s a bit tough too but Alhamdulillah with the aid of technology most the challenges have been surmounted. Now I don’t ask people to read the Law Reports to me.
With the aid of technology, I’m able to do virtually everything on my own. I can type and edit. I can print, I can read books myself just by scanning it and reading. So the technologies have really made life a lot easier.
SO WHAT WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF LAW?
Environmental Law because one way or the other it deals directly with issues of disability. When you talk about how to make public or private buildings accessible, you know that has to do with the environment. For example, how to ensure that the road pavements are well laid out to avoid Injury to visually impaired persons.
I also love Civil litigation a lot. Currently, I am working on a matter where the Federal government of Nigeria sued shell for some oil pollution that happened 6 to 7 years ago.
WHY DO YOU DERIVE SATISFACTION FROM THESE AREAS?
At times you just feel fascinated by certain things and you may not be able to explain it. Maybe because of the nature of my person. Especially the aspect of environment because we physically challenged persons especially the people with visual impairment interact a lot with the environment. Is it the ears? It may interest you that if I’m walking alone and I get into a noisy environment. I would not be able to find my way again. So that’s why I derive so much interest in environmental related issues.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LEGAL PRACTICE? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR MAJOR STRENGTHS?
The advantage I have over some of my colleagues is in the aspect of research. With the aid of the Law report device called Law Pavillion I’m able to research and write briefs. One major disadvantage is that many of my colleagues (even the boss) still doubt my ability to deliver despite the fact that they have seen some of my write ups. It also possible that they do not want to burden me with too much work. I don’t know but that is how I feel.
CAN YOU PLEASE GO INTO DETAIL ABOUT HOW PEOPLE LIKE YOU CAN LEVERAGE ON TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE?
It depends on the exposure. Many of our physically challenged persons are not exposed to this kind of technology so whenever you tell them about it, they are not interested and they feel it would be difficult for them to understand. Then for those that are already exposed, they also need to need to create time to learn. Because you have to learn and relearn. A major problem I think some of us encounter is the issue of finance. Some of these things are very expensive.
There’s this particular device I’ve been trying to get for the past 3 years. It’s called brain note touch. With that device I’m able to interact with you. I’ll be reading braille on the screen while you can be looking at the print copy as well on a different screen. So it produces both braille and electronic format of documents at the same time. A 32 braille display brain note touch goes for about $ 5,500.
There’s another one called Job access with Speech (JAWS). It reads whatever is on the screen to you. Then there’s one called open book. That’s the one that works with a scanner. The Scanner Scans the document with the use of OCR (Optical Character Recognition). It converts it to a readable format for people like us.
BUT HOW WOULD YOU ADVICE LAW FIRMS IN GENERAL TO LEVERAGE ON TECHNOLOGY
Law firms should endeavor to load their files are online in concurrence with this innovation by the current CJN, Onnoghen that Court processes should be electronically filed. I think they’ve started at the Supreme Court but I don’t know how far they’ve gone. In effect, if I produce a brief now or a written address, I would go to the Supreme Court’s site for instance where we pay all the necessary things you need to pay and it will be deemed filed. So all you need to do is to send it to the Lawyer on the other side and that would mean that the other Lawyer has been served.
You send it to Court first, and then a soft copy of that would be sent to the Lawyer on the other side. They’ve already advised Lawyers to key into one Particular e-mail that they would create in your name and office. So you get the email address and send it as it is deemed served.
So if they are able to go on with that and strengthen it, it would go a long way to help people like us. Meaning that I don’t have to get processes scanned before I can read.
WHAT ABOUT ADVOCACY? WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE?
I go to court. One major challenge I do encounter in Court is reading a particular section of the Law or Judgement . For instance, if the Judge asks you “Please can you read so and so?”, I would have to ask somebody to do that for me. But with that Brain note touch device I told you about, I’ll just tap and read it in Braille. Every other aspect of advocacy had been really fine.
ARE YOU A MEMBER OF ANY VOLUNTEER GROUP?
Naturally, I am a member of the Nigerian Association of the blind which is a cluster of a Larger Association for persons with disabilities. As part of the Corporate Social Responsibility, The Nigerian Association of the blind FCT Chapter is trying to raise funds for the School of the blind in Jabi to help with writing materials and all that.
WHAT ABOUT PERSONAL LIFE TOO. HOW HAS IT BEEN?
You know in this part of the world, it’s all about attitude. Before I got married, I know the number of times I tried to get married to some ladies and before you know it the relationship stops abruptly. Perhaps due to the refusal of their parents to give consent. It was really tough.
But Alhamdulillah, I was able to perhaps get my own woman. It took about 6years to get my own wife. Also, the aspect of cooking was a bit difficult. When I tried once or twice, I burnt my fingers and stopped. I only got back to cooking when I went for my masters. It was easier because they provided electric cookers and microwaves which made it easier to cook.
Mobility is also a challenge. Especially the fact that our people don’t take into consideration the needs of people with disability whenever they are laying out their routes. The walkway here makes it easier for me to find my way but even at that some people would park on it and some miscreants would remove what you call the manhole. So at times you fall into the gutter.
BUT YOU DO DEFINITELY GET SYMPATHY AND GOODWILL FROM TIME TO TIME. FOR EXAMPLE, YOU GOT A SPONSORSHIP FROM YOUR PRINCIPAL (MALLAM) TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN.
Yes. Actually what happened was that when I applied for the first time for my Masters, I got admission but due to financial issues I couldn’t proceed. After two further unsuccessful attempts, Mallam suggested that we inform a notable State politician from my Local Government. The politician promised to do something but when the time came to pay the tuition he was not forthcoming.
So mallam and I agreed that he pays the money and I would pay him back if I got the money from the man. I don’t know if the politician fulfilled his promise or not but in effect you can say I got a scholarship from mallam.
WHAT THE LAW SHOULD BE?
Law in Nigeria is static. It is not evolving. Perhaps due to the nature and caliber of people we have at the National Assembly, some Laws should have been long amended. For example, CAMA and the Police Act.
There is a Provision of the Law in CAMA that states that if a company is owing you 2000 Naira and is unable to pay or refuses to pay, you can proceed to court for a winding up procedure. There are some other provisions on sanctions that stipulate 50kobo or 1 Naira. The Amount should be in the range of Hundreds of Thousands.
The power in the Police is just too centralized at the middle. In a country like Nigeria we need decentralization and that is why I’m in support of the clamour for restructuring. The situation in Kaduna is not the same situation in Lagos. You need people from the specific area that know the topography of that area to be able to deal with the security issues in that area.
I am not a fan of democracy. My own understanding of government is the citizens. Once the Citizens are able to get the basic necessity of life, once they are happy with the government whether it is democratic or military or whatever….. Like what we had in Libya during Gadhafi (then fine). Yes he was a military ruler. Some people termed him despotic but his citizens where enjoying. They removed the man in the name of democracy. Now go to Libya – no peace. And of course there are some countries that are doing well. Maybe because they have been practicing that for long. People should determine the kind of system that suits them.
My name is Kazeem Olalekan Lawal. I am a Lawyer in Abuja. I belong to a family of eight. My dad is late so we are now 7. I got blind as early as a child of 4 years and since then I’ve been struggling with life. I use the word struggle because in this part of the world, once you are suffering from one disability or the other, it is a struggle or better put it a battle.