Nigerian Standup Comedians and Differently Abled Persons from a Human Rights Lens
The Nigeria popular art space came to life about a decade ago with the coming of Nollywood. Standup comedy followed closely with various shows in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and other major cities.
The impact of the industry on the corporate image of Nigeria is not one that can be underestimated. The success stories of Nigerian standup comedy have been taken beyond the shores of Nigeria via movies, YouTube, print media and even physically.
Despite the good nature of the industry, I reflect in this piece on the impact that it has had on a class of people. More often than not, a large chunk of the jokes during the shows depict the nature and life style of differently abled persons. People who are hard of hearing or blind; who stammer; who are polio victims/crippled and albinos; have all suffered some form of jokes and caricature based on their abilities and circumstances of birth.
Disability simply put is inability of an individual to perform certain tasks or relate with people because of some form of impairment. It is widely accepted that no one is to be subjected to any form of torture based on any grounds whatsoever. The frequent recourse to disabled people by stand-up comedians in Nigeria amounts to discrimination, mental torture and a deprivation of their dignity.
The question therefore is, to what extent are the Nigeria Standup comedians violating the rights of disabled people? What respite exists nationally or internationally for the disabled in these circumstances?
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for the dignity of the human person. In addition, it prohibits all forms of inhuman and degrading treatment. In my view, this section prohibits any form of attitude and comment that is capable of being considered derogatory of an individual’s perception in the public view. Section 42(2) prohibits mistreating any Nigerian on the basis of birth circumstances and subjection to any form of disability. The 1993 Disability Decree of Nigeria provides for legal aid services. It also provides that the National Commission on People with disability must ‘Work towards total elimination of all social and cultural practices tending to discriminate against and dehumanise the disabled’. Presently, the National Assembly is working towards securing disability rights legislation.
On the regional front, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights prohibits ‘all forms of exploitation and degradation of man’ (article 5). While disability is not specifically mentioned, the use of the words ‘all forms’ is sufficient to cover the exploitation that disabled people suffer at the hands of the comedians. As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Nigeria has an obligation under article 8: ‘States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures: To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities; To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life’. Furthermore, all forms of degrading treatment (article 15) and exploitation and abuse (article 16) are expressly prohibited. Consequently, expressly outlawing the reference to disabled people in comedies for economic reasons will be a step in the right direction towards the fulfilment of the obligations under the Convention.
The present indulgence of stand-up comedians constitutes a violation of the human rights of people with disabilities in Nigeria. The prohibition can be realised by civil society and NGOs working on disabled people’s rights by testing the judicial waters in Nigeria to pursue the development of jurisprudence in bringing an end to the acts of discrimination against people with disabilities. Aside from the courts, the Nigeria National Human Rights Institution can also be approached. Finally, artists should be encouraged to use their skills in fostering the integration of the differently abled in Nigerian society.