The right to vote and
be voted for is one of the most visible gains of democracy for persons that have attained the age of 18 years in Nigeria.
Observers note that although this right is for everybody in that age group, it seems as though the interests of people living with disabilities are not somewhat protected in electoral process.
They argue that such denial ought not to be because statistics indicates that many people are living with various forms of disabilities across the world.
People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) are persons suffering from either albinism, visually impaired, physically challenged, those with leprosy cases as well those with hearing impairment, among others.
Observers also note that PWDs often experience adverse socio-economic outcomes than persons without disabilities even as the 2006 Population and Housing Census recorded 3.2 million people in that situation who are qualified voters in Nigeria.
With this figure, they insist that the level at which they participate in the electoral process has been very low.
According to them, the right and freedom of PWDs to equally participate in elections with others is provided in both local and international declarations, protocols and instruments endorsed by the United Nations, African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, among others.
They also note that some of the rights are recognised and adequately provided for in the 1999 Constitution alongside some key international human rights instruments.
A non-governmental organisation, Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) says majority of this group of citizens is often excluded from participating in elections due to poor management of political process in Nigeria.
Concerned by this development, the organisation organised a forum recently on elections for the PWDs in Jos to ensure their inclusiveness in the country’s electoral process.
Acting Executive Director of CAPP, Mr Nelson Ananza, suggested the need to educate and sensitise people with disabilities to electoral issues.
He pointed out that such groups of citizens were often excluded from the electoral process due to their seeming physical challenges which had hampered them from occupying the political space.
He regretted that while the constitution does not alienate persons with disabilities from voting and contesting, the society made it so.
“There is a dire need to provide inclusiveness and better informed electorate devoid of any prejudice in Nigeria.
“We are in a society where people segregate and even push away those who are physically challenged from participating in the political process; this trend is not only primitive, but undemocratic.
“No section of our constitution said such persons should be denied the right to participate and contribute their quarter in deepening our democracy as well as building our body polity for the better.
“So, these set of people must be allowed to actively participate and even influence the political process at any given opportunity because they have the potential,’’ he said.
Similarly, a commissioner in the Plateau Disability Right Commission, Mrs Patricia Pam, called on the persons with disabilities to get actively involved in party politics.
She explained that the Disability Right Commission was established to ensure that persons with disabilities were duly placed in the state.
“It is not enough to just go and vote on election days, but it will be very interesting if we begin to participate in politics from the party levels.
“We should register and be card carrying members of political parties; we should be seen participating in political activities at the levels of the parties,’’ she said.
Pam also urged persons with disabilities to take advantage of the continuous voters registration exercise and obtain their voter cards as that would be the weapon to either vote or to be voted for.
Mr Ayuba Gufwan, a person living with disability, urged his fellow colleagues to take their destiny by their hands and get involved in the political process, not minding their physical challenges.
Gufwan, one time contestant for the Plateau House of Assembly on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, said being physically challenged did not mean such person could vie for political positions.
“When it comes to contesting elections, your disability status does not really count.
“Though as a strategy, your opponent may likely use your status to pull you down, but let your antecedents speak for you.
“So, you must not allow your status to deter you from achieving your dreams; when you contest election and lost, don’t attribute it to your status, probably you didn’t work hard,’’ he said.
He, therefore, urged his colleagues to contest elective positions so that they would be able to change the narratives.
In his speech, the Policy Advisor of Actionaid Nigeria, Mr Kenneth Okoineme, advised the electoral umpires to device means of addressing the myriad of challenges that PWDs could face at polling units.
“Total inclusiveness in the electoral process would only be possible when security agencies also adopt strategies that would accommodate and ensure the safety of this group of persons before, during and after elections.
“We know that sometimes, the apathy posed by people living with disabilities arises from poor arrangements to accommodate them even on electioneering period.
“For instance, someone who does not have limbs and is expected to climb stairs to cast his vote or someone who is visually impaired and no guide for him to cast his vote.
“So, the electoral bodies must begin to think of better ways of addressing these obvious negative trends to give these set of persons a sense of belonging in the electoral process.
“Also, the security of their lives must be guaranteed, because we know they are vulnerable; this is a task the security agencies must take very seriously,’’ he said.
However, a member of the Plateau State Independent Electoral commission, Mr Patrick Mangin, assured the public that the forthcoming local government elections in the state would be all-inclusive.
He said the law establishing the commission provided modalities on how persons with disabilities could be catered for and it would ensure their total inclusion in the process.
“The forthcoming council polls in the state will be inclusive; no section of the society will be left out. This is to help us conduct free, fair, credible and acceptable elections.
“This time around we want do things differently, so we shall make people living with disabilities part of the entire process,’’ he promised.
Auta writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).