By Simeon Mpamugoh
The International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, recently launched a charter outlining how persons living with disability (PWDs) could participate in elections.
The event was organised under the group’s Strengthening Citizens Engagement in Electoral Process (SCEEP) at the All Seasons Conference Centre, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, with the support of ActionAid Nigeria and UKAid, through the Department for International Development (DFID).
Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said that the rationale for the charter was based on 2006 National Population and Housing Census adding that the sex distribution of PWDs showed that 53 per cent were male while 47 per cent were female.
He observed that, because of institutionalised discrimination, the population of PWDs has remained untapped and majority of them were barely knowledgeable about the rules of the country’s electoral bodies, dynamics of political parties and how to vote without stress.
While assessing the project, which began three years ago, Arogundade said that it had achieved tremendous success.
“We have been able to touch different sectors that actually matter in our society. Apart from the charter, we have worked with women. We encourage them to seek how communities can support them to emerge candidates of political parties.
“We have also worked in areas where projects were either abandoned or some local governments claimed they had done, which they didn’t do. Through our interaction with the communities, they have responded. People are now seeing many solutions as schools are being built, and roads constructed.
“So, for me, what we have done with SCEEP in 10 states, where it is currently covering some local governments, is that when people are organised they are a powerful force on their own and they can get office holders to respond.
Head, health and governance programme, ActionAid,
Nigeria, Mr. Ipoade Omilaju, disclosed that PWDs in Nigeria were estimated at 25 million at the last census.
He noted that, out of the figure, several millions were with one form of disability or the other, and needed people to help them do one thing or the other. He warned that if nothing was done in terms of promoting their participation in the electoral process, millions of them would be disenfranchised in the 2019 general election.
He said that, “25 million might be small out of 177 million Nigerians. But, the figure is the population of about eight countries in Africa. So, when we disenfranchise 25 million visually-impaired persons from voting, we are disenfranchising the population of more than five countries in Africa. And that is our major concern in promoting participation of persons living with disability in electoral process.”
He cited the example of albinos: “They are supposed to be shielded from the sunlight that affects them badly after accreditation before the real voting takes place, ditto the physically-impaired, who cannot walk to the polling booth.
“Government should ensure such people are fed and mobilised to get to the polling booth during election because there is usually no vehicular movement between 6am and 4pm,” he said.
He expressed concern over the kind of support government gives to such people, saying: “Someone who is virtually-impaired and wants to cast his vote for a party needs assistance to thumbprint for his choice party. It is a call to think how government can provide braille voting sheet so that they would be able to vote for their preferred party and candidate.”
Omilaju advised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to engage with the network of persons living with disabilities to ascertain their concerns, urging the electoral body not to leave the charter on the shelf.
“INEC should consider the demands of the charter and include them in election process in Nigeria,” he said.
Assistant director, publicity/protocol, INEC, Mr. Olufemi Akinbiyi, said that PWDs were key to the success of INEC, given their population. he noted that the best step for them in demanding their rights from politicians was to register as voters.
He urged them to vote people they could trust as priority voting for PWDs has been introduced to ensure that they were assisted to vote effortlessly during elections.
Director of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Lagos State, Mr. Waheed Ishola, expressed his organisation’s readiness to ensure that PWDs and other stakeholders’ rights were not infringed upon.
He said that the charter would ensure that government reckoned with and provided a good platform to drive their demands.
The NOA boss noted that disability was not the end of any person. “You must get registered so that you could have a say during election, especially considering your strength and numbers,” he said.
Reviewing the charter, Dr. Dele Seteolu of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University, observed that the charter captured as concise as it could the experiences of different categories of people with disabilities, women with disability, people with physical challenges, people with albinism, people with visual impairment, people with leprosy cases and people with hearing impairments.
“It is a must-read for officials of INEC, executives of government, members of the National Assembly and those in the judiciary,” the reviewer said.
A communiqué issued at the end of the event called on INEC to employ qualified PWDs and task them with ensuring the participation of their constituency in political and electoral processes, adding that they could also serve as election observers and mobilisers of PWDs to participate in elections.
It also advised INEC and political parties to develop clear and simplified voting guidelines for PWDs: braille for the visually-impaired, audios for the blind and television-based sign language for the deaf, suggesting that PWDs should be engaged to perform these roles.