The Albino Foundation now known as TAF_Africa yesterday officially launched its persons with disabilities election hub.
The founder and CEO of TAF-AFRICA, Ambassador Jake Epelle in his opening remark appreciated EU in Nigeria for their support and INEC for making it possible for PWDs to vote in this election.
He said that INEC has made available some assistive materials such as braille ballot guide, magnifying glasses and election day inscription posters to aid the voting of different clusters of disability.
He urged journalists and observers to also focus on persons with disabilites because INEC need to be held accountable in line with their framework and section 54 of the Electoral Act.
He urged the security agencies to ensure the safety of PWDs at the polling units and plead that INEC adhoc staff and other voters should ensure that PWDs are accorded their right of priority voting.
He introduced their election observation dashboard which he said that INEC provided data of PWDs who registered in the CVR exercise and the dashboard would enable the public to know where PWDs would be voting. It will assist INEC to know where the assistive materials would be deployed. How many PWDs who are contesting in this election, their state, and the post they are contesting.
The dashboard will also provide opportunity for observers to report eye witness event which would be transmitted to the appropriate quarters for prompt action.
He pointed out that 37 PWDs are contesting in this election, he urged the voters to vote for them so that PWDs would also have representatives in the government.
The PWD Election Observation Hub is funding from @EUinNigeria through its @EU_SDGN program.
TAF-Africa in it’s press conference making the launch of the dashboard pointed out few things:
On Participation of PWDs,
This would be the first time INEC, with support from TAFAfrica and other organizations of persons with disabilities, has gathered disaggregated data on disability. For instance, there is available data on the percentages of new registrants with albinism, blindness, hearing challenges, spinal cord injuries, down syndrome, little stature, etc. Based on the just concluded Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), 85,362 PWDs were identified as registered voters nationwide. In line with this, TAFAfrica has developed a PWD Dashboard which showcases data on registered PWD voters captured during the recent CVR and PWD Candidates. This Dashboard presents information of PWDs as voters and candidates based on their States, LGAs, Wards, PUs and disability type. It is available for use by the General Public and can be accessed on https:// https://electionhub.org.ng/.
Aside from their participation as voters, persons with disabilities are also expected to participate as candidates, party agents, and poll officials (INEC Adhoc). However, only a few percentage were captured, leaving a large number of PWDs yet to be identified. Albeit, the reinforced advocacy for PWD inclusion in electoral processes, the increase in the number of candidates with disabilities and the hope of many other PWDs emerging in appointive offices point to the fact that the outcome the polls would have far-reaching implications for the PWDs beyond 2023.
INEC Preparedness and Provisions of Assistive Devices
In line with the Commission’s responsibilities, preparatory activities such as voter education, distribution of PVCs, publication of voters register, have been implemented. An analysis of the available data from the 2021/2022 CVR identifies varied disabilities and the number of polling units where they are situated as follows:
Disability Type No. of Persons No. of polling units
1 Albinism 21,150 16,071
2 Autism 3,481 1,810
3 Visual Impairment 8,103 5.957
4 Cognitive/Learning Disabilities 1,719 1,206
5 Hard in hearing 6,159 5,085
6 Down syndrome 660 606
7 Little stature 2,288 1,497
8 Physical Impediment 13,387 9,463
9 Spinal cord injury 779 750
10 Others 27,636 13,220
Total 85,362 55,665 PUs
While disabilities have been disaggregated according to varied types in the data, in the 2023 elections, assistive devices would only be provided for limited types, as a result of financial constraints. The few groups that would benefit from special devices are persons with albinism and minor visual impairment, persons with visual impairment and persons with hearing impairment.
Consequently, twenty-one thousand, one hundred and sixty-five (21,165) magnifying glasses would be provided nationwide at all polling units for persons with albinism and minor visual impairment, six thousand, one hundred and sixty-seven (6,167) posters would be produced for those with hearing impairment nationwide and eight thousand, one hundred and eleven (8,117) braille ballot guide would be produced for the visually impaired nationwide by INEC.
Accessibility to Polling Units
An assessment of polling units conducted during the Osun/Ekiti Elections in 2022 highlights that majority of polling units across the nation are not physically accessible to PWDs, specifically on the availability of ramps for wheelchair users. As a result of time and financial constraints, adequate plans were not in place for the provision of ramps across all polling units. Nevertheless, INEC has given assurance to the community of persons with disabilities, to ensure accessibility at all levels and locations. In instances polling units where there are no ramps, for example, INEC officials are encouraged to assist PWDs with such needs to gain the required access. At other instances, they are encouraged to move the electoral materials to locations within the polling unit where PWDs can easily access.
Additionally, mobility of citizens is another factor that could render polling units inaccessible. Transport companies may not be as active on the election day as on other days, reasons being that they would also go to vote, fears of violence, etc. The unavailability of vehicles for easy movement to polling units could also affect the participation of PWDs. In addition, the recent scarcity of the Nigerian Naira could make it more difficult for some citizens to easily access their polling units, especially those whose polling units are not within walking distances.
Security threats could impede or discourage the active participation of persons with disabilities in the forth coming elections. So far, there has been several reports by media houses, CSOs, etc. of varied incidents of pre-electoral violence, exhibited through attacks on rallies, hate speech, destruction of properties belonging to political parties, INEC, political candidates, dominantly in States like Imo, Ebonyi, Bauchi, Borno, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Niger and Oyo, etc. While reports of violence were majorly verbal and non-life-threatening earlier in the year, recent news of pre-electoral violence reported especially in the South East records the murder of candidates. An example is the murder of a political candidate in Enugu three (3) days before the elections. A volatile security situation would definitely instill fear in citizens, which would in turn lead to low voter turn out. Security concerns could discourage PWDs from coming out to exercise their rights.
In light of the emerging trends ahead of the 2023 general elections, TAF Africa makes the following recommendations:
To the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC):
1. INEC should ensure that the polling units with registered PWD voters are physically accessible and equipped with assistive devices such as magnifying glasses for persons with albinism, braille ballot guide for visually impaired persons, and posters for the deaf. Also, INEC should ensure that the voting booths are easily accessed by wheel chair and crutches’ users.
2. The 2022 Electoral Acts guarantees priority voting to every person with disability. INEC should ensure that this right is duly respected and PWDs are allowed priority voting at their respective polling units.
3. INEC should ensure that no citizen is denied the chance to exercise his or her civic right. Instances of BVAS malfunction, should such occur should be resolved as early as possible; electoral materials should be made available early enough to enhance an early commencement of accreditation and voting.
To Security Agencies, OPDs, CSOs and other stakeholders:
4. There is need for Security Agencies to register their presence nationwide, especially in locations with records of verbal and physical violence. The presence of security personnel will boost the confidence of citizens and give hope that violent incidents would be easily resolved.
5. In line with their duty as security agents, security officials should ensure the security of citizens. Efforts should be tried as much as possible to discourage violence, destruction of properties, vandalism and attacks on people.
6. OPDs, CSOs and other key relevant stakeholders should not cease to sensitize PWDs on their rights to vote and to be voted for, and to participate actively in the electoral process.
7. There is need for political parties to ensure an inclusive candidate selection process by nominating candidates with disabilities to ensure representation at all levels of government.
8. There is need for more collaboration and engagement with OPDs to identify barriers to PWDs participation in the electoral process and to provide a platform where solutions can be implemented.
9. There is need to continuously monitor the progress of the inclusiveness of the electoral process to ensure improvements are regularly made as when needed.