Only recently in Onitsha, Nigeria, a viral video showing a disabled man being brutalised by soldiers because he wore camouflage clothing caught the eyes of many on social media. In Nigeria, wearing camouflage clothing as a civilian can be a recipe for disaster. This is because criminals have used camouflage to perpetuate all sorts of…
Only recently in Onitsha, Nigeria, a viral video showing a disabled man being brutalised by soldiers because he wore camouflage clothing caught the eyes of many on social media.
In Nigeria, wearing camouflage clothing as a civilian can be a recipe for disaster. This is because criminals have used camouflage to perpetuate all sorts of crimes like impersonation. Even dangerous is when militants use it to carry out attacks.
Section 110 of the Nigerian criminal code says it’s an offence to unlawfully wear uniform of the armed forces or dress having the appearance of such uniforms. It has now been established that the disabled man in the video did wrong, but what that was never established was the structural context in which his brutality took place.
Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against persons with disabilities, and in that video, it was a demonstration that invoked the oppressive ableist politics that revolved around the our treatment of disabled people, especially in Nigeria. It was a violent show of dominance situated in a framework that perceives disabled people as “damaged,” “helpless,” or “useless.” It brought to mind the time U.S. President Donald Trump mocked a disabled journalist during a party rally. Furthermore, it brought to mind the multiplicity and ways this intersects with other axes of oppression, from classism to racism to heterosexism. And able-bodied people (including myself), are complicit in the continued disadvantaging and marginalisation of people with disabilities.
Few weeks ago, I saw a well-groomed disabled man in a wheelchair in Surulere, Lagos. It was a narrow two-lane and he was moving along one side, quite competently, but then he stopped and I could tell that he wished for the cars to stop just so he could cross to the other side. No car stopped, even though there was the faded black-and-white sign of a zebra crossing. He must have felt small, invisible. And then I realised something: he didn’t want anyone’s sympathy. He didn’t want pity. He only wanted to cross the road.
The soldiers that brutalised that disabled man have reportedly been arrested and charged, which I am happy for. But it doesn’t dismantle ableism. It will start by challenging ableist notions and practices in our workplaces, schools, homes, churches, or mosques. It will start by changing attitudes and behaviours that enable disability-specific stigma. Disability representation in politics, fashion, and in the mainstream media will go a long way in the social inclusion of disabled people, and by acknowledging their humanity, skills, intellect, we destroy the mythologies that border on their existence.