From Joe Effiong, Uyo
More than 1.5 milllion people living various forms of physical disability in Akwa Ibom State are said to have been politically disenfranchised due lack of access to polls during elections.
National Association of the Blind (NAB) spokesman Mr Ubong Udoh, who made the complaint at Ibom Hall, Uyo, during the stakeholders’ briefing on the expansion of voters access and establishment of new polling units in Akwa Ibom State, organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), equally said the figure was based on the United Nations statistics which put the numbers of disabled population in the word at 15 per cent.
Udoh said with a population of about 7 million people, Akwa Ibom should have about 1.5 million people with physical disabilities who have equally been denied access to vote or be voted for, just as more than 30 million persons living with physical disabilities have been disenfranchised in Nigeria through lack provisions to assist them participate in electoral processes.
He lamented that even though more polling units have been created in the state it would not in any way benefit the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb and others with physical disabilities since no effort has so far been made by INEC to provide for them during election.
‘These persons are politically disenfranchised, misrepresented and marginalised. In a meeting like this, we had expected to see a sign intepreter to help the deaf and dumb; but such provision has not been made. During election, if the blind want to vote, they have to be guided by those with sight and wherever they place their finger to thumbprint, that’s they would vote without knowing whether they’re voting for your party or candidate of choice or not,’ Udoh lamneted.
Responding, the State Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom State, Mr Mike Igini, said the solution does not lie solely with INEC since the commission only works based on the rules provided in the electoral act with regard to casting of ballots.
On the expansion of voters access and establishment of new polling units in the state, Igini explained the exercise was last undertaken in 1996, that is, 25 years ago even though it (access to polling units) is key to the electoral principle of participation and central to the practice of democracy
He said since 1922, when Nigeria conducted the first election where only 453 persons registered to vote in Calabar, the number of voters has geometrically increased compared to the number of polling units that has remained static, particularly since 1996 when the last set of polling units were created that brought the total number of polling units of the country to 119,973.
‘By 2023 general election, therefore Nigeria will be conducting a centenary election – one hundred (100) years of efforts at conducting democratic elections. With the astronomical increase in the number of registered voters, the existing polling units created in 1996 that were projected to serve about 50 million registered voters however, served 57.93 million (1999), 60.82 million (2003), 61.56 (2007),73.52 million (2011), 68.83 (2015) and 84,004,084 (2019) registered voters.
‘Akwa Ibom State alone that was only a part of the old Calabar Municipality with just 453 registered voters then, now has 2,119,727 registered voters. This is expected to increase after the commencement of Continuous Voters Registration (CVR)
‘This phenomenal increase in the number of registered voters relative to the limited number of polling units (2,980) has led to over-crowded and over-congested polling units across the country and here in Akwa lbom State. This is the situation the Commission is seeking address given that limited access to polling units have become a discouraging factor for voter participation.
‘To address these problems, the Commission pursuant to its power under section 42 of the Electoral Act to …establish sufficient number of polling units in each Registration Area and allot voters to such polling Units” decided to convert the existing and well-known one thousand, three hundred seventy-four (1,374) voting points to full fledged polling units.
‘This brings the total number of polling units in Akwa lbom State to four thousand, three hundred and fifty-four (4,354). The entire ongoing process is data-driven and based on demographic and spatial considerations,’ the Rec said.