The Nigerian government has a responsibility to conduct free and fair elections. As well, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is the machinery of the Federal Government to conduct elections, must do so with an absolute inclusive and diverse spirit.
The government must make all-sufficient, all-encompassing ‘accessible’ provisions available for voters with disabilities. No individual must be disenfranchised based on their status or disability. Not in this century. Not at this time—an inclusive era when inclusion and diversity could not have become a ritual all over the world.
In any country, it is crucial to conduct elections of integrity—free, fair, all-inclusive, accessible, and understandable. This is because it provides the procedure that allows Nigerians to choose representatives who will hold positions of authority within it. Given the strangeness of this time—the economy and widespread insecurity—Nigerians cannot afford another shabby election in 2023. Not ever. Not voters with disabilities.
In any democratic system, elections must be free, fair, and all-inclusive. An adequate legal framework has been recognized as a prerequisite for credible, free, and fair elections.
The challenges include among other things include irregularities that put the entire electoral process in doubt; issues with the legislative framework that puts constraints on the electoral process; the inability to male accessible provisions available to voters with disabilities; the inability of various stakeholders to play their roles; lack of room by the electoral system for inclusiveness; lack of independence of electoral commissions; the long process of election dispute resolution; irresponsible behavior by politicians; thuggery and violence; and monetization of politics.
All these have got to stop this time.
The Electoral Act, if passed, will address those challenges and concerns, including how people with disabilities can access polls and cast their votes effectively.
People with disabilities have the fundamental right to vote and be voted for during the forthcoming general elections in the country.
The electoral bill and its provisions for voters with disabilities
The Bill is important to persons with disabilities as it provides in clause (54) as follows:
A Voter with visual impairment or another form of disability who is otherwise unable to distinguish symbol or who suffers from any other physical disability may be accompanied into the polling unit by a person chosen by him or her and that person shall, after informing the Presiding Officer of the disability, be permitted to accompany the voter into the voting compartment and assist the voter to make his or her mark per the procedure prescribed by the National Commission of People with Disabilities (NCPWD).
The NCPWD was established by the Federal Government in 2020 to foster and promote education, healthcare, and the protection of the socioeconomic and other associated matters concerning all people with disabilities in Nigeria. James David is the Executive Secretary of the Commission.
The commission shall take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs, and vulnerable persons are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, Large embossed print or electronic devices or sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate cases.
The electoral bill made strong provisions that are widely believed would enhance access, participation of PWDs in the electoral process, and election integrity in Nigeria. It is important to state that comes 2023, more than 61% of the 31 million voting population of PWDs are willing to take advantage of this improved electoral bill when signed into law to increase PWDs’ participation in democratic governance.
While the wait for a comprehensive electoral bill is just about to be over, it is important for Nigerians with disabilities who are 18 years and above to participate in politics. Tremendous opportunities abound in political participation. There are opportunities to alter the course of human history. There are opportunities to provide leadership and direction for national development.
In one of the political parties in Nigeria, there are more than 1400 positions across the 36 States of the Federation, reserved for persons with disabilities. These positions must be allowed to waste.
Yet, the full implementation of the Disability Rights Act, passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President Buhari on the 17th of January 2019 following 18 years of struggle, will entrench the fundamental freedom of every Nigerian who is eligible to vote, to vote and be voted for, regardless of station or disability.