Disabled people have been asking for greater access to Nigerian airports and terminals. This means ensuring accessibility through providing equipment and personnel, as well as creating infrastructure that gives a seamless experience.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is responsible for the construction and maintenance of Nigerian airports. It is also in charge of the administration, regulation, control, and supervision of all air transport services in Nigeria. FAAN has been accused by Disability Rights Associations of failing to meet national and international standards on accessibility at Nigerian airports.
In January 2019 Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari put into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act which had been years in the making.
As a law, the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it. The Act stipulates that any public buildings, structures, and automobiles need to be modified over the course of five years so they are usable by people with disabilities. This law applies to not just airports but also airlines. Despite this law, persons with disabilities continue to face problems when traveling by air in Nigeria.
In 2020, wheelchair-user Chike Okogwu had a violent outburst after allegedly being treated unfairly by Dana Air while at the airline’s check-in facilities. Mr. Okogwu had been denied boarding on the grounds of the airline’s policy “Dana Air does not carry Special (Needs) Passengers at night”. As a result of the rather bizarre policy, the passenger had been offered the option to be rebooked on the 7 am flight the next day.
In 2021, wheelchair-user Gloria Mary Nwogbo was also denied boarding a Dana Air flight on the ground of her disability. “On getting to the airport, Dana Airlines (staff) told me I would not board because I am disabled and in a wheelchair,” the Anambra-based teacher said. “They said it was their protocol. I missed the flight and could not meet up with the appointment.”
Last week, the Coalition for Disability Organization held a sensitization program for the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and other airport-related agencies. The program highlighted the need to improve better access to airports for people living with disabilities.
A presentation on airport access for disabled persons in Nigeria titled “A Public Presentation of Research Findings on Access to Airports for Persons with Disabilities in Nigeria” was delivered during the event. The Convener, Mr. David Anyaele, said that persons with disabilities traveling by air often do not have access to necessary amenities. For example, it may not be possible to use wheelchair ramps in some airports, or accessible restrooms might be too far out of the way that someone in a wheelchair can't reach them. Mr. Anyaele also mentioned a number of cases where disabled passengers were refused boarding by airlines on account of their disability.
Mr. Anyaele said that the seminar stressed the need to sensitize stakeholders about disability-friendly airports and services in Nigeria.
FAAN's International Terminal Manager, Mr. Ayinla Gbolahan, advised stakeholders that the infrastructural complaints they raised would get to the appropriate authorities.