People Living with Disabilities (NAN) in Ebonyi have commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Disabilities Bill into law.
The group also called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recruit its members for the ad-hoc electoral duties for the forthcoming Feb. 16, and March 2, general elections.
Mr Franklin Odumegwu, Sate Chairman of PWDs in Ebonyi made the remarks at a town hall meeting and voter education for Ebonyi Central Senatorial Zone, held in Onueke, Headquarters of Ezza South Local Government Area.
The event, organised by Development and Integrity Goals (DIG) Foundation (DIG), was to sensitise and mobilise marginalised groups including women, youths and PWDs for effective participation in the election.
The group also called on government and other stakeholders to provide transportation facilities to enable their members move to their various polling units so that they would not be disenfranchised.
The meeting was part of the ongoing campaign for tension-free elections, an initiative of DIG foundation in collaboration with INEC under the Civil Society Situation Room, supported by United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).
Odumegwu expressed confidence that the new law would help members demand for their rights.
He also expressed dissatisfaction that people with disabilities were often not taken into account in electoral and other national issues, adding that there were professionals and many enlightened persons among them capable of contributing immensely to the success of national programmes.
He further beckoned on government and other well-meaning individuals to assist PWDs within their areas to access voting centres so as to cast their votes during the elections devoid of discrimination.
He expressed the hope that INEC’s assurances of a tension-free election would be realised so as to provide their members the required safety environment to participate in the elections.
He added that most of the PWDs depended on the goodwill of government and other citizens.
“I am grateful to our dear President for signing the disabilities bill which has suffered several setbacks into law.
“It’s our conviction that this law will help to reduce the marginalisation suffered by majority of us in getting appointments into certain government ministries, departments and agencies.
“We are expecting the government and INEC to involve people with disabilities in the ad-hoc staff for the forthcoming elections.
“The greatest challenge we are having is mobility because without mobility, we cannot move to the various polling centres to vote.
“Most of us do not have wheelchairs, so we want government to provide wheelchairs for us so that it can help us move to the polling units.
“Most often, the people living with disabilities are regarded as not part of the exercise, but many of us are doctors, lawyers and engineers among others.
“Even after elections, they always abandon us; but my appeal is that they should include us in whatever they are doing because some of us can do it better than many able bodied men
“So I am calling on Government to help us; some of us are not doing anything, some are beggars and without them we can do nothing.”
Prof. Godswill Obioma, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, noted that INEC’s partnership with DIG had so far yielded tremendous results in mobilising stakeholders towards all inclusive and tension – free elections.
Obioma represented by INEC Legal Officer, Mr Ibrahim Obiahu, however, noted that more still needed to be done by stakeholders in transmitting the efforts to the grassroots.
He added that INEC adjusted voting procedures to accommodate all categories of the electorate.
The Electoral Officers for Ikwo Local Government Area, Mr Shedrack Offor and his Ezza South counterpart, Mrs Nkem Okoroafor, advised the electorates, especially the vulnerable ones, to take advantage of the present transformations to actively get involved in elections .
They however observed that collection of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) had remained a great challenge.
According to Okoroafor, out of the total PVCs of 23, 676 in Ezza South, only 11, 383 have been collected leaving a balance of 12, 293.
He added that in Ikwo, out of 39, 842 PVCs, 18, 834 had been collected while 21, 008 remained unclaimed by their owners.