Nigerian Standup Comedians and Differently Abled Persons from a Human Rights Lens

Azubike Onuora-Oguno 26th March 2014

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.

 

Author profile

Onuora-Oguno Azubike [LLB, BL (Nig), LLM (Pretoria)] is an LLD candidate in Human Rights (Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa). He can be contacted at: azubike.onuoraoguno@gmail.com. 

Citations

Onuora-Oguno Azubike, ‘Nigerian Standup Comedians and Differently Abled Persons from a Human Rights Lens’ (OxHRH Blog, 26 March 2014) <http://humanrights.dev3.oneltd.eu/?p=5009> [date of access].

Comments

  1. Andrew Turek says:

    What happened to freedom of speech and expression?

    Almost anything that will make one person laugh will offend another person. It’s going to be a very bland form of “humour” which does not.

    Should the UK have banned Bernard manning? Or the Satanic Verses? Or Alf Garnett, if you remember him?

    1. Azubike Onuora-Oguno says:

      Dear Andrew,

      Thank you. Do you not think that the dignity of a human being is more important than laughter. We can sure make jokes but let us think of the psychological effect it would have on people challenged.

  2. Ramchandra Dahal says:

    GREETINGS!!!
    FROM RAMCHANDRA DAHAL
    Good Hands with Differently Abled Persons
    GHDAP-NEPAL

    After long experience in working with Differently Abled Persons in Nepal, I have closely linked with them in Nepal and trying to understand the ground reality of them. Similarly, I have been worked numbers of organizations in different projects. Finally, I have decided to support Nepalese Differently Abled Persons as far as possible. So, I have registered the organization: GOOD HANDS WITH DIFFERENTLY ABLED PERSONS (GHDAP). The organization will give opportunity to all human kind people who are willing to support needy Differently Abled Persons in Nepal.
    As a charter president of Lions Club of Kathmandu Excellence under District 325 B2 Nepal, I have already established: LIONS COMPUTER (AUDIO) LIBRARY & TRAINING CENTER FOR THE VISUAL IMPARIED PEOPLE IN NEPAL where we record the books in audio form and provide to the students and readers as per their demand.
    GHDAP is willing to cover the services which are not properly or regularly function in Nepal. The following are the major priorities of the GHDAP:
    • HEARING AIDS SERVICE IN NEPAL: Till date, there is not Hearing Aids Center in Nepal run by non-profitable organization. Due to lack of hearing aids hard of hearing students are not in the access of the Education. So, I am eagerly waiting your kind cooperation and be the part of GOOD HANDS WITH HARD OF HEARING PERSONS IN NEPAL.

    • SERVICE OF MOBILITY AIDS: There is not production center of mobility aids such as wheelchair, calipers, orthopedic shoes, white canes/blind sticks etc. in Nepal and also do not have regular sources. GHDAP is willing to make either regular sources of the mobility aids or establish the production center in Nepal.

    • EDUCATIONAL & PROFESSIONAL TRAINING: Different Language, Civil Service Preparation Training, Sign Language Training, Computer Training, Sewing & Cutting Training, Accounting Training, Beautician Training, Music Training, Anchoring Training, Local Production Training, CBR Worker Training etc.

    • SCHOLARSHIP & EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT: GHDAP does not have fund to support the needy Differently Abled Students/Children who are studying in schools or colleges. So, in kind support of Individuals/Organizations/Institutions we are supporting needy students.

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