By David O. Anyaele
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be holding elections across the 36 States of the Federation on the 18th of March 2023. While the Governorship elections will be holding in 28 States, the State Houses of Assembly elections will hold in all 36 States. Being the phase 2 of the Nigeria 2023 general elections, the Campaign for Equal Voting Access for Persons with Disabilities (EVA4PWD), a program of the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) would be deploying Observers to observe the elections across the six geopolitical zones of the country. EVA4PWD will equally be partnering with other civil society organisations for harvest of data around persons with disabilities participation on election day. As the premier PWDs election observer group in Africa, EVA4PWD goal is that citizens with disabilities are able to participate in the electoral process on equal bases with other citizens.
The key objectives of the observation of the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections exercise is to observe the extent of improvement from the February 25, 2023 by INEC in the conduct of an election; provisions made by INEC for persons with disabilities’ participation in the elections; and raise awareness on equal voting rights for citizens with disabilities. It is an opportunity to assess the election management body’s compliance to the provisions of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities(Prohibition) Act, section 54 of the Electoral Act 2022, INEC Framework on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities, and the Nigeria Constitution 1999 as amended.
Pre-Election Day: Observations from the February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections indicate that INEC Election Officers (EO) at the Local Government Level were poorly prepared in the deployment of sensitive and non sensitive materials prior to the commencement of the elections. To the extent that on election day, adhoc Staff were seen on the road searching for their Polling Units, which led to late commencement of elections in different parts of the country. This must not repeat again tomorrow. Deployment of Assistive Devices Findings from the February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections shows that the widely publicized devices ((Braille guides, shade and magnifying glasses) to enhance persons with disabilities participation in the elections were invisible. We are calling on INEC Election Officers at the Local Government Areas across the Federation to identify and distribute these materials among the adhoc Staff to ensure that the assistive devices benefit persons with disabilities.
Administration of Form EC40H: INEC was silent on the number of persons with disabilities that voted at the February 25, 2023 general elections. This may not be unconnected with the absence and non administration of INEC Form EC40H to persons with disabilities at the Polling Units as observed by EVA4PWD observers. This error has denied INEC the opportunity of identifying PWDs at Polling Units for future deployment of assistive devices. We are calling on the leadership of INEC to issue strong worded instructions on the administration of this form to ensure that INEC analysis of the results from Polling Units to State Returning Officers are disaggregated by disability.
The Use of Sign Language Interpreters: It was disheartening to EVA4PWD Observers to observe that INEC used only one Sign Language interpreter each at different sections of the Election Collection Centres from the State to the National levels to collect and announce results at the February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections. This is unethical, but an example of how not to deploy Sign Language Interpreters for a job that would last for more than 3 hours. Therefore, we are calling on INEC Chairman to direct all the State Resident Commissioners to make available at list 6 Sign Language Interpreters in each of the State Result Collection centers. This is to ensure that the Deaf Communities are not left behind at the result collection centers across the Federation.
While we look forward to observing that the priority voting accorded to voters with disabilities in the last elections would be sustained tomorrow, EVA4PWD is appealing to persons with disabilities not to be demoralized by the difficulties experienced during the February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly Elections by coming out en-masse to elect those that would pass and implement disability laws at the subnational level. If there is an election that is very important to the Disability Community, it is the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections. Please go out and cast your vote tomorrow. Together, we shall create an accessible country, free from discrimination, exclusion and isolation on the grounds of disability.
David O. Anyaele – Chairman, Campaign for Equal Voting Access for Persons with Disabilities