Solomon "Lionheart" Okelola is the founding Executive Director of Lionheart Ability Leaders International Foundation. He holds a Bachelor and Masters degree in Special Education and Rehabilitation Sciences from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria. A poet, author, prolific writer and motivational speaker, Solomon was crowned best graduating student of his department in 2010.
In the struggle for social recognition, equality and inclusion, a large number of organisations of and for persons with disabilities encounter challenges which interfere with progress towards accomplishing their goals. One of these challenges is the need to design avenues and means of keeping their members, staff and volunteers safe from Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH), both within the organisation and from outside sources.
In trying to tackle this problem, which has become a primary social vice especially in the wake of the socio-economic turmoil accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations devise various policies and plans on what to do and how to respond to any occurrence of SEAH. However, relatively few of these organisations had a well-documented and practical approach that would ensure the report and adequate handling of SEAH cases or to provide the needed care and guidance for member-victims.
The recent research conducted by the RSH together with Joint National Association for Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) is the first of its kind in the nation, and the first step towards understanding the various avenues employed by organisations of and for persons with disabilities to keep their members safe from SEAH.
The research findings also identify the gaps that exist in the adopted means of achieving this vital aim, and making plans to strengthen and empower the organisations to more effectively prevent, report and respond to this social hazard within and from outside the organisation, especially in the light of the fact that persons (notably women) with disabilities are at a higher risk of SEAH. This is a social trend in recent times that has received little or no attention from government and security officials, and which has led to many victims suffering in silence.
Whereas the research findings show a general weakness in the target participant-organisations’ knowledge and skills regarding reporting, preventing and responding to SEAH, it also shed light on the dire need to strengthen and empower these organisations to more effectively prevent and respond to the occurrence of this social ill among and/or towards their members, particularly members with disabilities.
In this regard, both the research and the enlightenment and empowerment training activities that are likely to follow are very much welcome within the disability community in Nigeria.
On behalf of all organisations for and of persons with disabilities who have benefited from the exposure to more knowledge and skills related to the issue, and those who will yet benefit from what we earnestly hope will be the aftermath of this ground-breaking research, I wish to express profound gratitude to the Safeguarding Research and Support Hub for coming up with such an innovative program and bringing it to Nigeria. More grease to your elbows!