A genuine character of democracy manifest when all citizens of a nation are served equal rights to participate in political processes. This right is enshrined in the UN 1966 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, Chapter IV of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and Part IV of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Act 2018.
The political participation of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria is quite limping as the practice has multifaceted challenges that limit their participation. Hence, the status quo has classically positioned PWDs as the most marginalized among marginalized groups in society. The environmental and attitudinal barriers experienced by PWDs in the political space have demeaned their capacities and are sometimes perceived, viewed, and used as ‘objects of pity and ‘charity’ hence leadership opportunities seemed “out of bounds” for PWDs.
Here is Hon. Mike Maikumo Gideon a resident of Karu FCT Abuja. Hon Mike is one of the few courageous PWDs, who has challenged the status quo by registering and emerging as a flag bearer for a renowned political party against all limiting belief systems from the party and family members. He has a physical disability and contested for the councillorship position for Karu Ward in AMAC Area Council on Saturday, February 12, 2022, FCT Area Council Elections.
With this development, the Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) is championing significant advocacies toward the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the civic and political space in Nigeria. Through empirical advocacies, IFA has influenced systems in the country’s democracy and is engaging the government and the community of PWDs to participate in the political space beyond voting and contesting elections.
This article will document the experiences of persons with disabilities who contested elections.
As against other political juggernauts, Hon Mike was caught in the web of intersectionality based on his physical disability and his financial-economic strength that characterized our political system. According to Mike, while announcing his intentions at the party meeting, the atmosphere was filled with snacks of qualms and demoralizing whispers that undermined his ability/credibility to contest the party primary least as the Party’s flag bearer for the council elections. His efforts to clinch the party’s ticket were sabotaged by some of the party folks but his resilience and tenacity delivered his political desires as he was able to prove his ability beyond the physical disability that people see.
“First and foremost, at the primary level of picking the ticket of my party. There were challenges that pointed to the fact that; they never trusted that people with disabilities can actually be able to do what they are doing in terms of; they, represented in government or being included in governance. So, there were challenges to the point that several attempts were made to deprive me of this ticket, but through God’s intervention, and then, of course, The backing of the party, especially at the state and local government level. I was able to scale through.”
Electioneering to win support from electorates came with its challenge to bear. Hon Mike’s public acceptance came with a sip of sweet-sour taste as he gained acceptance which emanated from belief in his course, sympathy, and conviction about his ability by electorates who saw the need to encourage the resilience and capacities of persons with disabilities to hold public offices. However, a junta of bourgeoisies toppled the arena with tempting gratifications and organized intimidations that led to Hon. Mike’s lost at the poll. Hon. Mike claimed.
“..And then coming to the real election which just took place on Saturday, there were also those challenges that made people without disabilities feel we cannot really do it, especially when it comes to the issue of acceptance even though the general perspective, I must say that we got a lot of sympathy from the electorate. There were people who felt we should be given the opportunity so that we can also display what we have. But then, there were other segments of the society, especially those that matter, the bourgeoisie that feels we can’t do it; that feel we can’t be I mean, included in governance and they did everything possible financially in terms of connections, in terms of what have you, to make sure we didn’t win this election”.
The E-day experience
Despite the consistent advocacy for accessibility at polling units for persons with disabilities by IFA, Hon Mike affirmed the ill compliance by the electoral body in providing assistive devices and ensuring accessibility at polling units for persons with disabilities. He claimed that the inaccessibility factor visible at polling units swayed his PWD supporters the chance to exercise their franchise, and some were deprived of their right to vote.
In a general perspective, the polling booths were not generally accessible for persons with disabilities. From the wards I have visited, I didn’t see an interpreter, some of the polling booths were not accessible for persons using the wheelchair, and for those with visual impairment, I saw plain braille. That also affected my vote because I have a considerable number of voters in that community so since these things were not there it made them not exercise their franchise or deprived them of coming to vote.
Noteworthy is the confidence demonstrated by Hon. Mike to have had his name emerging as a flag bearer for a major political party. Basic takeaways from the conversation of the Hon. are:
- Financial constraints
- Absence of the deployment of assistive materials
- Issues of discrimination
- Absence or inability of other PWD voters to demand their rights at polling units
- Voter apathy and
- Internal party rangling.
- Continuous engagement with Political Parties to have an inclusive policy mechanism
- Massive registration of PWDs into a political party of choice
- Sensitize PWDs to take advantage of pre-election phase activities such as voter registration exercises, collection of Permanent Voter Cards, etc
- Identifying political champions and establishing sustained relationships with them ahead of elections and
- Continuous capacity development for relevance in the polity.