Disabilities in Nigeria consists of a brief introduction followed by twelve chapters. The book has a bibliography and is indexed. The authors begin by thanking "Jehovah our creator one whose promise to remove all infirmities and all kinds of disability soon we can rely on" (xix). This is unnerving to a western disability studies scholar whose premise is that disability is a characteristic, not a tragedy with imminent divine intervention. Indeed, there are many instances where disability studies in Nigeria, as part of the Global South, does not align well with the established field in the west. In navigating Disabilities in Nigeria, it is useful to keep in mind the collection of essays edited by Shaun Grech and Karen Soldatic, Disability in the Global South: The Critical Handbook.

Chapter 1, "Understanding Disability," which includes 14 demographic tables, presents people with disabilities as a minority and a group that has faced discrimination historically. The medical and social model are explained. The authors categorize discrimination as severe and less severe acts, with the acknowledgement that both acts violate human rights. They go on to consider discrimination against people with mental disabilities in terms of whether they are "forest-situated" or water-situated (8).

The second chapter, "Disability Perceptions," begins with an overview of some African myths about the causes of disability, specifically blindness and deafness. Ancestral spirits and other spiritual forces such as reincarnation loom large. Beliefs about blindness range from the conviction that God blinded some people so that they might not see evil to blindness as punishment from vengeful deities or evil spirits, witches, and wizards. The authors then outline various beliefs about disability specific to some groups in southern Nigeria. Some southern Nigerian tribes believe that albinism can result from sexual intercourse in the light, or from a pregnant woman looking too long at a Caucasian person. Incest, too is believed by the Ikas to cause a variety of disabilities; the Urhobos believe that if a pregnant woman stares at a person with a disability, she might bear a disabled child.

Chapter 3, also titled "Disability Perceptions," catalogues the scientific causes of disability. In addition to nutritional and congenital factors, the chapter outlines 14 prenatal causes, eight perinatal causes, and 15 postnatal causes.

The fourth chapter is a series of case studies, 18 brief reports (Part 1) followed by 12 detailed reports (Part 2). Part 1 consists of life summaries of 13 people with physical disabilities and five with mental disabilities. Part 2 consists of longer reports of nine people with physical disabilities and three with mental disabilities.

Chapters 5 through 8 all bear the title "Reactions to Disabilities." Chapters 5 and 6 are both subtitled "People with Disabilities to Their Disabilities." The disabilities in question are physical in the fifth chapter and disabilities of sight in the sixth. The effect of these two chapters overall is grim. "I am not happy to have such a defect" (58); "It [stunted growth] makes me feel uneasy" (61); "someone like me is generally regarded as a beggar" (62). A few of the accounts of people with visual disabilities are more positive, usually in terms of experiencing school: "I feel happy to be in the midst of my mates with similar disability [sic]" (80), but these are more than offset by discomfort: a young blind student says "As of now, my past is beyond my grasp, my present a quagmire of confusion, my future looks blink [sic—probably bleak] and uncertain" (83).

"Reactions to Disabilities III" (Chapter 7) and "Reactions to Disabilities IV" (Chapter 8) follow the form of the two preceding chapters, offering the views of family members first to people with physical disabilities (mental disabilities are added) and then to visual disabilities. These two chapters leave an even stronger impression of negativity. A sister writes of having a brother with epilepsy: "In fact, it is an embarrassment" (103). A mother of a mentally disabled daughter writes that she is "ashamed of having such a child" (104). There is a sprinkling of positive impressions in Chapter 8, on attitudes about visually disabled family members. The wife of a blind man says that "I have nothing to regret for marrying him" (118). A few pages later, though, a mother says that she wishes, every day, that her son could see (127).

Chapter 9, titled "Social Implications of Non-adaptability to the Condition of People with Disabilities" takes up the social model, wherein the environment, not the impairment, is the problem. The authors document several kinds of "irritations," or forms of institutionalized discrimination, such as misunderstandings by educators. The main discussion in this chapter is the "irritation" of begging and theft by people with disabilities. Several cases illustrate the role of disabled people in gangs of thieves and dupes. The chapter closes with an observation that "lunatics' resurgence in the state capital could not be unconnected with the incidence [sic] of other neighboring states dumping lunatics in the city in the recent past" (144).

Remediation, the subject of the tenth chapter, points out the difference between the schools in Nigeria's southwest, where there are many classrooms equipped to teach children with special needs, and the northeast, where such services are lacking. Seven structures of classes that are appropriate for student with disabilities are listed, but their implementation is restricted by parental attitudinal barriers along with the lack of counseling services. The remainder of the chapter summarizes several counseling approaches, from psychoanalytic theory to personal adjustment counseling.

The authors consider legal aspects of disability in Chapter 11, "Legal Instrument and Rights of People with Disabilities, looking at positive rights, which oblige action, and negative rights, which are those of non-interference. While Nigeria adopted the key United Nations international standards of law, implementation of the laws are half-hearted at best. People with disabilities are trafficked as objects in rituals, and disabled children are used as solicitors of alms.

The final chapter, on the protection of rights, outlines six mechanisms of protection. The authors suggest education and advocacy, the improvement of the socio-economic situation of people with disabilities, and awareness training for policy makers. Just as sensibly, they go on to suggest the prosecution of violators, the enactment of disability legislation, and the establishment of a human rights commission.

Disabilities in Nigeria does not flow, either grammatically or, at times, sequentially. The text is rife with typos and grammatical problems. River becomes rover (p. 8), as one of many examples; number and person disagree; prepositions are misplaced. The interviews are presented inconsistently, sometimes in the voice of the interviewee, without commentary, and other times in the voice of the authors, with their interpretation. The chapters do not always complement or build on each other. The interviews are not integrated into the theoretical discussion, leaving some chapters, notably Chapter 9, on the social model of disability, standing alone.

The reasons behind the disjointedness go beyond stylistic problems, and are not entirely in the control of the authors. James Staples and Nikita Mehrota point out that the lived meaning of disability "emerges from people's everyday experiences" (1609). Western models of disability studies are based on independence and autonomy, while disability in the Global South must be based on new models, "rather than hoping simply to adjust models formulated for western settings." (Staples and Mehrota 1609-1615). Staples and Mehrota also emphasize the importance of studying the local context: "Values that might be taken as read in an American or British setting, such as those espoused by the independent living movement, might be anathema to those for whom a notion of the individual self is secondary to … the 'familial self'" (1590-1593). Indeed, Etieyibo and Omiegbe present the differing regional attitudes and concepts in Nigeria clearly, but then attempt to organize the information into a western scenario. On the challenges of disability-inclusive development in the global south, furthermore, Shaun Grech encourages stepping back to question the whole notion of "development," the neo-liberalist concept of which envisions economic growth "premised on strong individualised bodies" (Grech 839).

These criticisms aside, and with the acknowledgement that disability studies in the Global South is in its early stages, Disabilities in Nigeria contains a wealth of information about many varieties of daily life for people with disabilities. Staples and Mehrota suggest that the tension between universalizing tendencies of disability studies and particularizing tendencies of anthropology could work well to develop meaningful disability studies in the Global South (1724-1731). This is encouraging, and surely there are additional ways forward as well. As a starting point and a launching pad, Disabilities in Nigeria is a worthwhile contribution to disability studies in the Global South.

Works Cited

  • Grech, Shaun. "Disability and Development: Critical Connections, Gaps and Contradictions." Disability in the Global South: The Critical Handbook. Ed. Shaun Grech and Karen Soldatic. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2016. Kindle edition, Loc. 540-988. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42488-0_1
  • Staples, James and Nikita Mehrota. "Disability Studies: Developments in Anthropology." Disability in the Global South: The Critical Handbook. Ed. Shaun Grech and Karen Soldatic. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2016. Kindle edition, Loc. 1403-1882. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42488-0_3
Return to Top of Page