Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), through their launched the Vote-ability Campaign (a disability rights movement) led by IFA for Nigeria’s over 30 million persons with disabilities (PWDs) have released their findings and recommendations in the last general election.
The goal of the Campaign is to increase the participation of PWDs in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes and ensure the full implementation of Section 54(2) specifically and other general provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended) by reducing all forms of barriers and stigma that make it difficult or impossible for PWDs to participate in elections.
In a report signed by The Executive Director of IFA, Grace Jerry, IFA, through the vote-Ability Campaign deployed 250 Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) election Observers across 21 states to measure the deployment of PWD assistive materials, Usage of PWD voter assistive Materials, accessibility to and of the internal Layout of polling units amongst others.
IFA, through previous campaigns conducted its first-ever polling unit accessibility audits to better understand the challenges that PWDs face on election day to drive evidence-based advocacy drawing from the representative data collected. These historical audits, conducted during the 2016 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, exposed the multi-faceted barriers experienced by PWDs on Election Day.
According the report, Topping the list of challenges included lack of available election materials in usable formats for PWDs and polling units without ramps and rails or with physical barriers to entry, with reports showing that 65 percent of the polling units in Edo and 77 percent in Ondo were located in places that were inaccessible for PWDs.
Findings from the 2016 Edo and Ondo audits provided crucial data for advocacy to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), resulting in changes to the way elections are conducted, which is already impacting the lives of PWDs across the nation.
The 2023 General Elections is the first General Election of the country since the signing of the 2022 Electoral Act, which Section 54 thereof mandates the INEC to provide PWDs with aids or assistive electoral materials that eliminate any form of barriers or disablement, which hinders their effective and independent participation in electoral processes.
Hence, the 2023 presidential and legislative elections became historic.
The Methodology applied are: IFA adopted a purposive sampling technique and deployed 250 PWD stationary observers to randomly selected polling units in Abia, Anambra, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Sokoto, Taraba, Plateau, and the FCT, as part of the states where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be deploying PWD electoral materials.
The trained PWD observers observed the effective deployment and utilization of the PWD assistive materials in the presidential and National Assembly elections, as well as the polling unit setup and physical accessibility.
Polling Unit Accessibility Audit Methodology
For the 2023 general elections, IFA deployed a sample based election observation method to measure INEC’s compliance to Section 54 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2022 (as Amended), Section 30 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 and Articles 9 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which legally guarantee the rights of PWDs to participate in political and public life. This accessibility audit represents the largest polling unit audit conducted by PWD observers in history. IFA carefully selected, trained and accredited PWD observers who documented physical accessibility of polling units for PWD voters, access to Election Day materials, and the participation of PWDs in Election Day processes.
They answered 31 sets of questions on their Election Day checklist, which was forwarded to IFA through a database system. Throughout the course of the observation, utilizing PWDs as observers means the audit was conducted through a disability lens, which provides credibility for the data collected.
Accessibility Audit Findings.
From the sampled 250 polling units, IFA Observers successfully sent reports from 220 polling units, representing a 98 percent response rate.
The findings outlined below accurately capture accessible voting or lack thereof, and availability of Election Day materials in accessible formats for voters with disabilities in the sampled states.
Access to Polling Units
● Findings showed that 55 percent of polling units in Nigeria (sampled states) were located in public open spaces, while 45 percent were located in public buildings. Of those polling units including schools, bus stops, markets, court premises, town halls, health centers, etc, 54 percent were found to be inaccessible for voters with disabilities. Lack of accessible spaces and buildings have larger implications beyond elections. For example, if schools are not accessible for voters, then they are not accessible for students with disabilities.
● Observers reported that 51 percent of routes leading to the polling units were inaccessible due to uneven surfaces.
● Ramps and handrails were not available for use by voters with disabilities at 90 percent of the routes to sample polling units.
These overall accessibility challenges raise the larger question of inclusive infrastructure development.
Internal Polling Unit Layout
● At 47 percent of the observed polling units, reports show that it was difficult for voters with disabilities to enter the polling units and vote.
Similarly, at 48 percent of polling units, the layout was difficult for voters with disabilities to participate in accreditation and voting.
● Observers reported that 93 percent of sample polling units did not include ramps and handrails for use by voters with disabilities.
Polling Unit Materials
● At 50 percent of sample polling units, the height of the ballot box was not suitable for voters with disabilities, particularly for those who use wheelchairs.
● Form EC 40H was available at 77 percent of sample polling units to collect data of voters with disabilities who voted on Election Day.
● As at the time of this report, Observers reported that Braille ballot guides were not deployed to 66 percent of sample polling units and magnifying glasses were also not available at 82 percent of sample polling units.
● The INEC form EC 30E PWD Election Day written instructions were posted at 60 percent of sample polling units.
Election Day Procedures
● Voters with disabilities were recorded on INEC’s form EC 40H at 57 percent of sample polling units.
● Ballot boxes at 53 percent of sample polling units were accessible to voters with disabilities to independently cast their ballots.
● At 63 percent of sample polling units, voters with visible disabilities were given priority to vote upon immediate arrival at the polling unit.
● Observers reported that Braille ballot guides were used at 44 percent of the polling units where the guides were deployed.
Based on the findings of the polling unit accessibility audit, the IFA Vote-Ability Campaign makes the following recommendations to ensure voters with disabilities can continue to participate in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes:
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)
The IFA-led Vote-Ability campaign calls on INEC to ensure that overpopulated PUs are decongested for ease of implementing priority voting for PWDs in subsequent Elections. This process is important as citizens in overpopulated PUs submerge PWDs and their rights.
INEC should collaborate with other government agencies to ensure the provision of ramps and handrails outside and inside the polling units so that PWDs can cast their vote without any barriers.
INEC should work closely with IFA and other organization of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to develop a strategy document for decimating assistive materials in all elections.
INEC should ensure timely and effective deployment of PWDs assistive materials such as; the Braille ballot guide, Form EC30 EPWD , a n d magnifying glass for all national and state elections.
INEC should strengthen the training of regular and ad hoc staff to effectively administer assistive Election Day materials and accommodations for voters with disabilities.
INEC should ensure that voting cubicles are designed to enable voters with disabilities to cast their ballots confidentially, as well as ensure ballot boxes are placed in areas that allow voters with disabilities to vote independently.
INEC should continue to engage and consult with the disability community, including IFA, to identify areas to be improved upon for more inclusive electoral processes.
INEC, the Police, and other security agencies under the platform of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) should develop and implement a clear plan for the protection of PWDs during elections in consultation with the disability community.
INEC should continue to gather data of PWDs in a disaggregated format to improve deployment of assistive materials during elections.
The Executives at the Federal and State Levels
The IFA-led Vote-Ability Campaign calls on the federal and state governments to work with various agencies and the private sector to ensure that public buildings are built and renovated for future elections to accommodate PWDs in their daily life in accordance with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act of 2018.
The Executive should declare a state of emergency on all electoral offenders and ensure full prosecution as a deterrent to other citizens.
The executive, at all levels, should strengthen existing building codes and enforce them to guarantee accessibility for PWDs during and beyond elections.
National and State Assemblies:
The National Assembly should ensure that the executive implements specific sections of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Act 2018 through effective legislative oversight.
The National Assembly should also perform its oversight functions of INEC to ensure that all measures for accessibility are implemented in line with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Act 2018.
The IFA-led Vote-Ability Campaign calls on the police and other security agencies to develop a special protocol to protect voters and observers with disabilities during elections. We also call on the police and other security agencies to ensure that whenever these protocols are developed, their personnel are well trained to implement these provisions.
The Nigerian Media:
The media should make deliberate efforts to conduct voter education that complements the efforts of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities in promoting the participation of PWDs in Nigeria’s electoral and political processes.
Media executives should consider disability inclusion in their broadcast and news production to promote inclusive practices in Nigeria, including the consistent utilization of sign language interpretation.
IFA recommends more data driven engagements to ensure that Nigeria has an established and proven data of all eligible PWD voters in Nigeria.
The Vote-Ability Campaign commends all organizations working toward safer, more inclusive free and fair elections in Nigeria. The campaign calls on these organizations to continue to engage with the disability community to ensure their efforts are inclusive and provide opportunities for PWDs to contribute to their work either as advisors to ensure a disability lens on their work or including PWDs as participants in activities.
In Conclusion, the report indicated that
It is evident that persons with disabilities want to participate in the electoral and political processes of Nigeria as indicated by their participation as both voters and observers during the general election. However, accessibility challenges, stigmas, and stereotypes continue to persist and undermine PWDs abilities to participate in electoral and political activities.
While INEC has taken great strides to improve its priority voting policy and implement voting accommodations, poll officials consistently fail to understand the significance of inclusion or take actions that promote the participation of all groups.
IFA commends INEC for its commitments and engagement on these topics, but we at IFA are disheartened by the lack of accessible polling units, insufficient deployment of voting materials for voters with disabilities as evidenced by the deployment of the Braille ballot guides to only 35 percent of the polling units during the general election.
IFA called on INEC to implement the above recommendations at the next off-cycle elections. IFA once again wishes to express its appreciation of the INEC Chairman, National Commissioners, Directors, Resident Electoral Commissioners, and desk officers for their continuous support in ensuring that PWDs are included in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes.