To promote inclusion, the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) are fundamental in any election. In Nigeria, in the past, PWDs have alleged marginalisation and disenfranchisement because of the ill-treatment they experience at electoral polls.
Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) lists various civil rights and privileges that PWDs should assert during elections. However, despite the article’s existence, PWDs have remained dissatisfied and excluded during election participation.
To ensure an all-inclusive electoral process, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has set up a Framework for Access for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in 2018.
Listed below are the rights of PWDs entrenched in the Nigerian constitution, electoral act and article 29 of CRPD that must be upheld on election day.
- The right to vote and be voted for.
Article ‘a’ of the list opens up on the legitimacy of the rights of PWDs to either vote, contest or want to occupy a political or public office.
“To ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected,” part of the article reads.
- The right to appropriate, accessible and easy-to-understand election materials.
Section (a) sub-section (i) further instructs that election facilities and apparatuses should be easily accessible to PWDs at the polls, “ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy-to-understand and use.”
Part four, section 54(2) of the electoral act states that “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, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate cases.”
- The right to secrecy of the ballot.
The rights of PWDs should be protected to vote by secret ballot system in elections and referendums, without any form of intimidation.
Section (a) subsection ii. of Article 29 states, “protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation.”
- The right to be assisted to vote.
People with disabilities (PWDs) are to be guaranteed freedom of expression as electors, and where necessary be allowed to be assisted by a person of their choice during the voting process.
Understandably, if PWDs need external help from people in the general organisation of their lives, they will also need help at the polling booth.
Part four, section 54(1)of the electoral act states, “A Voter with visual impairment or other forms 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 in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the Commission.”
- Protection of PWDs during emergencies while voting.
Government should take necessary steps to ensure the protection and security of PWDs during emergencies while voting. According to section 25 of the Discrimination against People with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, “In all situations of risk, violence, emergencies, and the occurrences of natural disasters, the government should take all necessary steps to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities taking cognisance of their peculiar vulnerability.”
While these provisions are made for PWDs, some challenges still threaten their participation on election day.
An advocate for PWDs, Chris Agbo, in a chat with DUBAWA, said although INEC has been forthcoming in its will to get PWDs involved in the election process, they (PWDs) still face some challenges.
One of these challenges is mobility. Mr Agbo said transportation to the polling units is a challenge faced by PWDs because on election day, there is almost no vehicular movement.
He also mentioned insecurity as another disturbing factor. Whenever violence erupts at the polling units, “we can’t run, and we are more vulnerable because, at that point, others are running for their lives. There will be no one to assist PWDs.”
He further asserted that security operatives are yet to understand that when there is an emergency, PWDs should be protected first in accordance with section 25 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.
Mr Agbo also decried the inaccessibility of many polling units and the inappropriate placement of election materials, which significantly inconvenient PWDs. The unavailability of braille ballot guides for the blind, and the absence of inscription posters to direct the deaf on the technicalities of the election process, are many of the flaws and faults committed by the electoral commission to the detriment of PwD.
He also posited that individuals with albinism hadn’t been any safer from the anomalies experienced at the polls due to being physically challenged. He narrated that those affected with albinism are dispossessed of their rights to vote in secret because the needed magnifying glass used for visuality is unavailable or the ad hoc staffers do not know how to use it.
Despite these flaws, he highlighted some efforts by the electoral commission, which include engaging PWDs on different fronts as ad-hoc staff and engaging their organisation as part of Civil Society Organizations (CSO)s to monitor the elections.
While the effort on the part of the commission is visible, Mr Agbo said it wasn’t the same with political parties. Expressing discontent at the reality that political parties have failed to adequately field PWDs in their political agendas. He said, “only 12 PWDs are standing for elections next year.”
Howbeit, he said he was encouraged by the pace at which PWDs were going in their involvement in party politics. According to an article from the Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), PWDs now hold political seats in the country.
He noted that the involvement of PWDs in the campaign councils by some political parties is also a good step in the right direction.