By: Sikiru Obarayese
People with Disabilities (PWDs) have always been affected by years of marginalization. Sikiru Obarayese writes about what marginalisation means for them during elections like the 2023 general elections.
People with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Persons With Disabilities have constantly been discriminated against, treated as less than humans, side-lined, neglected, and seen as objects of pity and instruments for alms begging.
According to the World Health Organization’s 2011 World Disability Report, about 15 per cent of Nigeria’s population, or at least 25 million people, have a disability. Many of them face several human rights abuses, including stigma, discrimination, violence, and lack of access to healthcare, housing, and education.
Following nine years of tenacious advocacy by disability rights groups and activists, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, into law on January 23, 2019, though implementation has not yet fully taken place. Additionally, with varying degrees of implementation, nine of the federation’s states have passed disability laws to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
Nigeria ratified the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities) and its Optional Protocol in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Since then, disabled individuals and civil society organizations have urged the government to implement it. In 2011 and 2015, the National Assembly passed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill 2009, but former President Goodluck Jonathan declined to sign it into law. The bill for the new law was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate joint committee in November 2016, but was not sent to Buhari for his signature until December 2018.
The Act’s Section 28 provides that a person with disabilities shall work on an equal basis with every other individual and has the right to an opportunity to gain a living by working in jobs freely chosen or accepted in the labour market and in an open environment.
Furthermore, Section 29 of the Act stipulates that all public organizations are to reserve at least five per cent of employment opportunities for persons with disability.
The Act establishes the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities as a corporate body with a common seal and perpetual succession. Its responsibilities include policy formulation and implementation, public enlightenment, data collection and record-keeping of information regarding persons with disabilities, the receipt of complaints from persons with disabilities whose rights have been violated, and the institution of schemes that promote the welfare of persons with disabilities.
Nigeria’s 2023 elections and PWDs
Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria, is holding its general election at the moment. The governorship and state house of assembly elections are scheduled for March 11, while the presidential and national assembly elections took place on February 25, 2023.
While all 18 Political Parties stepped up their campaigning and made their manifestos available to voters, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared that it was prepared for the election. There have been promises of improvements to the infrastructure, the creation of jobs, and many other things that should focus on all citizens, particularly women, children, and people with disabilities.
On September 28, 2022, the presidential and National Assembly election campaigns officially began. Five persons with disabilities are running for seats in the Senate, while six others are contesting seats in the House of Representatives.
The INEC in a paper titled “Framework On Access And Participation Of Persons With Disabilities (PWDS) In The Electoral Process” implemented plans to encourage political parties to access and participate in Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process.
Part of the strategic plan listed in the document sighted by the Nigerian Tribune is to “encourage political parties to have quotas or set affirmative action percentages for PWDs for elective and appointive positions. Work with political parties on inclusive campaigns. Design a template to monitor political parties’ compliance level of inclusivity and accessibility standards.”
Checks by this medium show that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) fielded only one person with disabilities who is a senatorial candidate for Senate Nasarawa South, Nasarawa State, while the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has no person with disabilities as a candidate.
Presidential campaigns of Political parties
The Nigerian Tribune monitored the campaign promises of the four main presidential candidates: APC, PDP, Labour Party, and the New Nigeria Peoples Party.
Bola Tinubu, the APC’s presidential candidate, and his campaign team frequently made the pledge that if elected president, they would form a government that represented all of Nigeria. However, they did mention whether or not the government would include people with disabilities.
Atiku Abubakar, the PDP’s presidential candidate, additionally pledged to lead the entire nation if elected.
Atiku while inaugurating the PDP’s PWD national campaign council, was quoted as saying, “I want you to identify your membership and tell them to vote for a party that has recognized you and given them a special place, which is PDP.”
According to the report, Atiku did not make any promises to the PWDs about how they will benefit from his government or how the federal government will cater to their needs.
Presidential candidates of the Labour Party, Peter Obi; the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso, signed the Governance Agenda for an Inclusive Nigeria document, promising the inclusion of women and persons with disabilities in governance.
Obi, who said there was no inclusiveness without women, youths, and persons with disabilities, added that more women were needed in government as they were the most productive part of society.
He also emphasized the need to insist on affirmative action for women and ensure that the agenda was documented and signed into law.
Obi said, “We can’t talk about the development of any society without being inclusive of the three—call them sectors. We cannot talk about development without women, and we cannot talk about development without youth. We can’t talk about it without persons with disabilities.
“For me in particular, women are the most productive parts of society. We need to get them more and more involved. But for a society like Nigeria, we need to insist on affirmative action. I don’t think we can discuss it until people agree to do it. We need to make sure it is documented, signed into law, and everybody will follow through with it.”
Kwankwaso, represented by his running mate, Isaac Idahosa, told journalists that the NNPP had a “total package” plan for women in its government.
He said, “Anyone who undermined women in government did so at his own peril. We have a whole lot—a total package for women. But affirmative action is determined by how many women have already been involved. We are going to use what we have to improve the involvement of women in our government and our governance.
“You see, women have been relegated to the background until now. And we are now coming up with a new Nigerian leadership that is purposeful and concerned with bringing inclusivity to our government. And anyone that undermines women is to his peril.”
Persons with disabilities and 2023 election
Persons with disabilities face difficulties accessing adequate health services, often limited by the availability of accessible hospitals and personnel who are aware of and specialized in disability inclusion and providing services for persons with disabilities.
They also experience poor educational outcomes on account of the absence of adequate facilities, including accessible infrastructure, and learning materials, and high unemployment rates among persons with disabilities, among others, which compound the vulnerability of persons with disabilities.
The National President of the Joint National Association for Persons with Disabilities, Abdullahi Kebbi, expressed dissatisfaction with political campaigns and lamented how political parties were treating them
“We are not satisfied with the way candidates and political parties have been treating us. At how many governorship and presidential campaign rallies have you seen the presence of sign language interpreters? Is it because they cannot afford to hire one, or because they have a general disregard for people with disabilities?
“Apart from this, their campaign materials are not accessible to our people. I am yet to come across any campaign materials that someone with multiple disabilities can access. Even now, not all the campaign venues are accessible to our people,” he said.
He alleged that the PWDs have been deceived by some parties that claimed to have appointed PwDs to campaign committees, saying, “I will say this over and over again: What many candidates did was just use our representatives in the campaign committee to tick the box. They have not been involved in many of their programmes.”
While asked if he has seen the manifesto released by candidates, Kebbi said, “I have. I have yet to see any that specifically stated what they would do this for people with disabilities. What they have done is generalize everything they intend to do, and it does not work that way.
“If they say they will build infrastructures, but they are not accessible to PwDs, how have we benefited from that? I don’t think they know we exist. We have our special needs.
“What we need is special consideration to address some of our needs. From governorship to presidential candidates, I have not seen anyone with a manifesto that states he or she will address A, B, and C problems facing people with disabilities. We are not satisfied with the entire process.”