Ahead of the 2023 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has called on government at all levels, school proprietors and service providers across the country to ensure that People with Disabilities (PWDs) have access to all facilities designated for elections, especially public schools which are mostly used.
Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman made the call at a campaign to promote the mainstreaming of PWDs in the electoral process organised by the Albino Foundation in Abuja on Wednesday.
Yakubu said the commission will continue to engage with proprietors of schools and owners of facilities used during elections to provide equipment such as ramps for citizens in wheelchairs.
He said the PWDs constitute the category of marginalised groups along with women and youths; therefore, all barriers to their inclusion in election must be dismantled.
“In partnership with the disability community, INEC will continue to promote inclusivity, not in a symbolic but practical way.
“Our emphasis is not just on their participation as candidates during elections, but involvement in the electoral process in general. Already, we have taken several practical steps in this direction.
“I recall that a few years ago, the commission accredited PWDs as election observers. By this decision, Nigeria became the first country in Africa where PWDs in their own right observed elections beginning with the Edo and Ondo governorship elections in 2016. The maiden report of their observation entitled “Disability Votes Matter” was launched in October 2017.
“I am glad to note that PWDs have remained active election observers since then. This is significant because the feedback received from their observation reports helped the commission to engage more with the disability community at consultative meetings and to respond to their needs during elections.”
He said the commission has launched the INEC Framework on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process, and also created a new department of gender and inclusivity headed by a director, after the 2019 general election.
“Working with political parties, we also encouraged them to create PWD desk offices. I am glad that some of them have also made provision for PWDs as members of their National Working Committees (NWCs). However, there is so much to do to address the persistent gap in political participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in party leadership and nomination of candidates for elections. I urge parties to do more, Yakubu said.
In his remarks, Jake Epelle, founder of the Albino Foundation, said 700 members of the PWDs would be deployed as observers for the 2023 general election.
“We are deploying for the first time sign language interpreters for the two Houses of the National Assembly and their salary to be paid for three years. We also need to attach a sign language interpreter to the INEC chairman wherever he goes,” he added.