Few days to the 2023 general elections, there is no hope for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in Niger State as the country’s electoral umpire — Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) — turn blind eye to the vulnerable population, WikkiTimes’ Hamzat Ibrahim Abaga, writes.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured total inclusiveness for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in the electoral process before, during and after the 2023 general elections.
In Niger State, the commission had assured PWDs and those at the old Government Orphanage Home, F-layout Area including other similar places of voter registration, but findings revealed otherwise.
“Maybe the government did not consider us human,” Usman Mohammed, Chairman of the Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria (SCIAN), Niger State Chapter, told WikkiTimes.
Mohammed said the only time INEC officials visited the PWDs home in F-layout for registration was on Saturday, June 26, 2022 after several appeals with the commission through the intervention of one Mallam Awwal, PWDs desk officer at the state INEC office.
Mohammed noted that the INEC officials arrived at about 6 pm after several hours of waiting, and registered only four new voters.
“The INEC official arrived around 6 pm and registered four of our members and a few other persons who were there to change their polling units. It seems the machine was programmed because a few minutes after the arrival of the registration officer, the machine went off and that’s how she left,” Mohammed said.
Fifty-two years old Yusuf Nadabo, also a physically challenged person and a resident of F-layout, a community populated by disabled persons, said, on different occasions, they have been told to assemble their colleagues for voter registration but INEC officials failed to turn up.
Expressing his dissatisfaction, Nadabo who is an indigene of Borno State, said he was tired of the registration process after several abortive efforts to get registered.
PROHIBITION ACT AGAINST PWDs
In 2019, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discriminations Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. The law provides for the full integration of PWDs into society and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities.
Despite the act, PWDs’ needs still suffer national priority, let alone at the subnational levels. As a result, PWDs are invariably subjected to discrimination not only during the electoral process but virtually at facets of society.
Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) clearly states the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, and it calls upon state parties to guarantee those rights. This is a vital aspect of combating exclusion and inequality.
INEC’s FAILURE TO MAKE PROVISION FOR PWDs DURING POLLS
Although the commission’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said a large chunk of the estimated 19 million Nigerians with disability were registered voters, this is not the reality for PWDs in Niger State, WikkiTimes can report.
According to INEC, Niger is one of the north-central states with the highest number of newly registered voters — over 1.7 million.
Earlier in 2022, a new Electoral Act signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, introduced provisions for persons with special needs during elections, including the provision of suitable means of communication such as braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, offsite voting in appropriate cases and those to assist the disabled to vote.
Despite the existence of this law, there were no such provisions for PWDs in Niger State in the just-concluded local council (LG) polls.
Ahmed Mohammed of Limawa B ward in Chanchaga local council said even though the just concluded local government election was a mere consensus among the aspirants, he didn’t see any form of provision for PWDs as promised by INEC.
“I was present in my polling in the just concluded LG election but didn’t see any materials which INEC promised to make available to aid the participation of PWDs. Though we didn’t vote because it was later a consensus between the aspirants,” Mohammed told WikkiTimes.
Hearing-impaired Aliyu Abubakar, a resident of Suleja local council said he encountered numerous challenges before he could be registered for his PVC. However, he couldn’t participate in the LG polls because there were no provisions to aid his participation.
“Lack of an observer and agent to help persons with disabilities during the voter’s card registration and election was my problem,” Abubakar lamented, advising INEC to take serious matters of PWDs.
A physically disabled resident of Jere Ward in Paikoro local council, Suleiman Tijjani, told WikkiTimes he participated in last month’s LG polls and didn’t see any form of aid promised by the INEC to aid the participation of PWDs.
“In Sabo 06 polling unit where I cast my vote for the just concluded LG election, even though I didn’t see any blind person or PWDs aside myself, I couldn’t spot any representative of INEC who would assist PWDs, especially the visually impaired,” Tijjani explained.
While urging the electoral umpire, INEC and other concerned authorities to ensure the inclusiveness and participation of PWDs and other vulnerable persons. Lack of assistance and proper provision for PWDs has contributed significantly to the lack of their participation in the polls, Tijjani believes.
PWDs ACCUSED NIGER GOVT OF NEGLECT
“We are not the government’s priority, but I want to let them know that there is ability in disability,” Ahmed Mohammed, another physically challenged Niger resident. “ They do not care about our fundamental human rights.”
WikkiTimes understands there are a number of things that can be done to add value to PWDs’ lives, but it takes a government committed to the needs and plights of vulnerable persons to achieve them.
Mohammed noted that there are loopholes and a lack of proper arrangement in the process of voters’ card registration. “As such the Government must do the needful to protect the rights of PWDs and every other Nigerian,” he said.
According to Victor Ebiloma, a lawyer and disability rights advocate, the challenges encountered by PWDs in the electioneering process are numerous and it can only be corrected with support from political parties, security personnel, Emergency Management Bodies (EMBs) including the ordinary citizens in society.
Ebilema told WikkiTimes that the challenges include poor implementation of government policies and plans including deficiency in the country’s electoral commission’s infrastructure, which has caused a huge setback for the whole system.
“Many persons with disabilities do not know their rights. And you cannot blame them. Over the years, our political antecedents, our political process and our parties have been very exclusive. If persons without disabilities in Nigeria have an apathetic attitude towards elections, you can imagine what it is for PWDs,” Ebilema said.
FEDERAL AND STATE INEC REACT
When contacted, Arthur Adzape, the head, Voter Education & Publicity (INEC office), Minna, claimed the commission did not neglect people with special needs in the Niger State. He added that a registration officer was earlier sent to the government’s old people’s home in F-layout and other locations within the state capital to address their needs.
“WikkiTimes‘ allegation or how will I call it — that PWDs in the state were neglected is not true, because I personally fueled INEC’s Hilux car to the Registration Officers (RO) of Chanchaga LGA to carry out the excise in those places,” Adzape claimed.
Contrarily, INEC Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the state, Usman Abubakar Kuta told WikkiTimes that the ROs team was at the F-layout but there was a misunderstanding between PWDs and the RO which lead to the humiliation of the lady in charge to vow not to return to the area.
But PWDs denied humiliating workers of the commission. Instead, it was an INEC staff (a lady) who was sent to register them (PWDs) that accused a grown-up man of manipulating his age. The matter, according to PWDs who spoke to this paper was resolved, but the INEC staff left [in anger] and vowed never to return.
As for the provision for persons with disabilities, Usman Aliyu, spokesman for Niger State Independent Electoral Commission (NSIEC), said the State has yet to implement it. Hopefully, the commission will take note of it when the elections are held in 2023, he noted.
“Both the state and federal government has provision for PWDs in their electoral guidelines and as such will take cognisance of the rule so it could be implemented in the next year’s general election,” Aliyu said. “But as for now, it is not implemented yet.”
This publication is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation