Mental Health and Disability Law in Nigeria: A Call for Affirmative Interpretation

Akinsola Idowu Akinwumi, Olorunfemi Ogunwobi, Akintayo David OlaOlorun, Adegboyega Ogunwale


Nigeria is the most populous African country, with an estimated population of over 200 million people, with about 20% to 30% of the population experiencing mental health disorder (MHD). Mental disorders have been associated with significant disability. Nigeria’s first mental health regulation came into force in 1916, and it was christened the Lunacy Ordinance.The use of the word, lunacy is not only discriminatory and derogatory; it also falls short of the World Health Organization’s definition of MHDs, violates the rights of persons living with mental disabilities, and discourages their inclusion into the society. Furthermore, since its enactment in 1958, the Lunacy law is yet to be amended, hence its failure to keep pace with modern mental health challenges, and realities. Unfortunately, mental health disabilities are not conspicuously addressed in the current disability law, the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, which appears heavily slanted towards physical disabilities based on the tone of its specific provisions.The crux of this paper is that the legislative intention of bringing mental health-related disability under the general rubric of disability should be given affirmative action in terms of interpretation of the terms of the law and the implementation thereof. The extreme focus of the law on physical disability, being the more obvious variety of functional limitation, will serve to impose double jeopardy on the mentally-ill if their equally disabling state of health is subordinated to physical disability. Therefore, we advocate equivalence of focus in terms of both physical and mental disabilities.

Keywords: Mental health, Disability law, Nigeria, Affirmative interpretation

DOI: 10.7176/JLPG/124-04

Publication date:September 30th 2022

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ISSN (Paper)2224-3240 ISSN (Online)2224-3259

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