By Solomon Odeniyi,
The National President, Joint National Association for Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), Abdullahi Kebbi, in this interview with SOLOMON ODENIYI expresses dissatisfaction with the lack of consideration for PwDs by political parties and candidates as activities heat up for the 2023 general elections
Elections are some days away; what will be your assessment of the various campaigns by candidates contesting different positions in the country?
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 have 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.
But your members were nominated for the various campaign committees of these candidates?
Some political parties, but not all, have included disabled people on their various campaign committees, but it has had no effect.
Personally, I am not satisfied, and the feeling is the same with our members. Many of the candidates included PwDs in their campaign committees just to tick the box. By this, I mean that they did this so that they would be seen as doing it. Many of our members who are on these committees are not being carried along in the scheme of things. We have observed that those on the committee were given no role. These people are just there so that the world can see that Persons with Disability are carried along. Many of them do not know anything that is happening there.
The parties have previously promised to carry you along and have delivered on that promise by appointing PwDs to campaign committees; what do you think went wrong?
I will say that we have been deceived. 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. We do not fully comprehend what they are doing; they are simply deceiving us into believing that we have a representative on their various committees.
The candidates have released their manifestos; do you see them as having consideration for your immediate needs?
The manifestos that some of our members cannot understand. Some political parties, with their actions, do not think we exist. This is despite our large number. We have nothing less than 25 million members live in Nigeria. Have you ever seen any presidential candidate who has written his manifesto in braille for the understanding of people in the blind community? They are just deceiving us by appointing leaders for PwDs at the various parties.
Personally, have you tried to find out what is in their manifestos so as to ensure your members are not being short-changed?
Personally, I have. I have yet to see any that specifically stated he would do this for people with disabilities. What they have done is generalise 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 needs which are special. 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.
Heading into the elections, what impact do you think this will have on your members?
The effect of this is that many of our people will not come out to vote during the 2023 general elections, despite having their Permanent Voter Cards.
For example, all these presidential candidates are busy campaigning, promising this, promising that; how do you think the blind and deaf will understand them and vote for them? Some of our members cannot make informed decisions with what is in place. Honestly speaking, we will have a low turnout of persons with disabilities if these issues are not quickly addressed.
Having low voter turnout on your end is not good enough for our democratic system of government. What is the association doing to address this?
We are trying our best to ensure that we encourage our people to come out for the election, but the parties must make these materials available for our people to make informed decisions on who to vote for. As president, I am not a member of any political party; therefore, I can’t tell our people what party A or B will do if elected. We have been trying to meet some of the parties to make them understand the issue on the ground. We will make them realise that when they are selling themselves to Nigerians, they should do it in a way that people in our community can key into their messages.
What are the things you want the presidential candidates to include in their manifestos?
In 2018, the president signed the Discrimination Against PwDs Act into law and even established a commission. To gain the support of our community, any candidate must guarantee that the law will be implemented in its entirety throughout the country.
Also, we will need a review of the act to bring it in line with current realities. Also, Articles 11, 17, and 20, which talk about inclusive education for PwDs, must be worked on so that we can go to school with the able-bodied.
We currently have segregated schools, which are discriminatory in and of themselves. I want to be in the same school as people who do not have disabilities, and I want the school to be accessible to me. All the schools for handicapped and special needs students are segregated schools, and segregation breeds discrimination.
We also need adequate health care. There are already articles in the law that take care of this, but beyond that, we need it to be fully implemented so that our members can enjoy the best of health care in our medical facilities without being discriminated against. There are situations in healthcare facilities where a pregnant woman with a disability cannot go into the hospital because the doctor is not accessible. We want a president who will ensure that all forms of discrimination are ended. Infrastructures are another thing we would like to have. For example, many government offices and other buildings are inaccessible.
Also, the way roads are constructed in Nigeria, a PwD cannot walk alone; otherwise, he would be knocked down by vehicles. There is no specific path to indicate that this is where a PwD should follow. The absence of all these things is the reason life is very expensive for PwD. As a blind person, you will always need someone to take you around.
Are you satisfied with the measures INEC has put in place to ensure seamless participation in the 2023 elections for many of your members?
Honestly, INEC has tried and done better than many of our political parties to ensure we come and exercise our franchise in the 2023 general elections. We have been with them, and they have promised that the polling units would be accessible to PwDs.
They also promised to assist people who are partially sighted with magnifying glasses so that they can use them to see who they are going to vote for. They promised that in each polling unit, they were going to provide a sign language interpreter. In fact, they made a lot of promises to us, and we have their assurance that they will deliver on them.
We hope they will do all these things they have said, even if they cannot deliver on them all. Let them do a substantial part of them, and we will still be happy with them.
Are you not thinking of sponsoring candidates in future elections so that PwDs’ interests can be well taken care of?
We have financial problems. The political system in place in the country is too expensive. For instance, if I want to contest for president in APC, I will have to cough out 10 million naira to buy nomination and expression of interest forms. In Nigeria, I don’t think we have the kind of money that he would want to spend on that kind of thing. That is the primary problem. If I want to contest for a senatorial position in my constituency and I go to the party executives, the first question they will ask is, “How much do I have?” We have politicians among us. We also have individuals that can transform this country; we would like to be in the executive arm of the government, but the problem is that we do not have the means, which is money, to get there.