Ekaete's Story: Fighting the good fight for disability rights in Nigeria

ekaete umoh at her office
Ekaete Umoh (front) with her team outside of her office in Uyo, Nigeria. Photo: UNDP Nigeria

When you meet disability rights advocate Ekaete Umoh, the first thing that comes to mind is how one person can have such motivation. Whether it is engaging with disability rights groups across Nigeria, lobbying parliament to introduce Nigeria’s first Disability Rights Bill, providing training to encourage persons with a disability to run for office, or personally talking with the numerous people who ask her advice on a daily basis, Ekaete’s passion and commitment means that she does nothing half hearted.

In 2013, Ekaete attended a Gender and Election Workshop, held by the Democratic Governance for Development (DGD II) project. The workshop provides a platform to share knowledge and experiences in gender mainstreaming and elections, facilitate opportunities and establish networks that can bridge the gap between the participation of women and men in governance in Nigeria.

Highlights

  • Ekaete is the Executive Director of the Family Centred Initiative for Challenged Persons (FACICP), an organization that provides critical support to persons with a disability throughout Nigeria
  • Ekaete attended a Gender and Election Workshop conducted by the Democratic Governance for Development project
  • The Democratic Governance for Development program is funded by EU, DFID, CIDA, KOICA and the UNDP

At the workshop, Ekaete, who is also a gender rights activist, immediately saw the relevancy of the course to her work in the disability field, and started to make a plan to improve political representation for persons with a disability to make an impact on an issue that she holds dear to her heart.

After suffering from polio as a child, Ekaete was given the loving support from her family who refused to let her disability define her identity.

However, upon arriving at University, Ekaete was placed in a specific block of the hostel  reserved only for students  with a disability. She could not understand and did not accept such an obvious form of discrimination but had to remain since that was the only available accommodation.

‘Given my upbringing, I couldn’t understand why we were being discriminated against. So, my interaction at the University started my career in advocacy,’ Ekaete explains.

Ekaete’s experience is unfortunately not an isolated one in a country whose mixture of beliefs can often produce a severe level of discrimination toward those with a disability. At the same time, basic infrastructure to allow persons with a disability to go about their daily lives is virtually non-existent.

Indeed, one of Ekaete’s colleagues must sit in his wheelchair outside his bank and trust that someone will go for him to collect his money, making him a likely target for fraud or even robbery.

In this light, Ekaete’s motivation to improve the rights of persons with a disability becomes extremely clear.

‘When I was at the DGD workshop I could see every point specifically from the disability perspective. Any woman who is suffering from discrimination is suffering from deeply rooted social practices. So everything is cultural and this is exactly the same for persons with a disability,’ Ekaete explains.

Following the workshop, Ekaete immediately started work on a long dormant idea to create a tool for all stakeholders to increase the political representation of persons with a disability. The clear steps she learned at the workshop were the catalyst in developing the tool, which will be distributed to persons with a disability, political parties and the media nationwide.

‘It covers disability rights issues, accessibility and connects this to politics and how this can lead to affirmative action. Once the tool is fully developed, each party will know what they need to do to move this issue forward. The training provided by DGD made me realise how we could achieve this,’ Ekaete says.

As the current Executive Director of the Family Centred Initiative for Challenged Persons (FACICP), an organization that she founded in 2000, Ekaete provides critical support to persons with a disability throughout Nigeria, through her continued advocacy at local and national level and through her ability to work with people at the grassroots to empower them to create positive change.

One of our major issues is to make them see disability as a development issue rather than a charity issue. So I do training on building knowledge for empowerment and make people see disability as a human rights issue,’ she explains.

It is clear that the rights of persons with a disability in Nigeria will not change overnight. But, with her incredible passion and knowledge Ekaete is making a real difference. The tool is not yet complete, but with the knowledge provided by DGD, she is closer than ever to producing a clear guide on how persons with a disability can gain political representation and bring their issues into the national limelight.

DGD is a joint funded project managed by UNDP in support of deepening democracy in Nigeria. The project is funded with contributions from the European Commission (EC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).