In most countries of the world, accessing electoral processes poses a serious challenge not only to Persons with Disability (PWDs) but other vulnerable groups in the society.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that there has been a global increase in the population of Persons with Disability (PWDs) from 10% to 15% representing a shift from about 600 million to 1 billion. Approximately 80% of these populations reside in low income environment or developing countries including Nigeria.
It is therefore important to note that over 25-million Nigerians have at least one form of disability or the other out of which 15% are of voting age. This number is too large to neglect as it can influence the outcome of any election.
In preparation for Nigeria’s general elections in 2019, a large capacity building workshop was conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with support of the European Center for Election Support (ECES). Two simultaneous BRIDGE workshops on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process were held in Calabar, Cross River State Nigeria, from 23rd – 27th April, 2018.
The objective of the workshop was to build capacities of the staff regarding inclusive electoral process and to widen participants’ knowledge in the field of their engagements with PWDs. It will also support and foster efforts made by the Electoral Commission in addressing – the issues of under-representation of PWDs in the electoral process. INEC promotes an inclusive electoral management by creating dedicated desk to cater for PWDs issues and is developing a Framework on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process; a document to guide the commission on how to support PWDs throughout the electoral cycle as well as collaborating with Experts in PWDs issues, the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities which is the umbrella body of PWDs in Nigeria, other Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) and CSOs. Therefore, the simultaneous BRIDGE workshops on Access and Participation of PWDs in the Electoral Process were aimed at strengthening the capacities of its desk officers with the view to be effective and coordinated in planning and conducting inclusive electoral process.
The facilitating teams were led by International facilitators Rindai Chipfunde Vava of Zimbabwe and Emmanuel Kawishe of Tanzania supported by high level national facilitators led by Lakunuya Dorothy Bello Deputy Director and Head of Civil Society Organizations Liaison Division of INEC Voter Education Department, Dorathy Inyang, Assistant Director (Designs) INEC Voter Education Department, Kelechi Maduneme and Nnenna Ihijirika both Assistant Directors of INEC Directorate of Administration.
The importance of promoting access in the electoral process, legality of participation by all either as voters or to be voted for as well as strategies to ensure barriers to participation whether legal based, attitudinal or procedural to eliminate these factors hindering access with a view to actualizing an all-inclusive electoral process were discussed during the workshop. On the last day participants drew strategy plans of engagement and collaboration with other stakeholders to achieving inclusive and credible election. The 50 participants who attended the BRIDGE workshop acquired a wealth of knowledge, information, skills and strategies that will enable the organization make positive impact in assisting the PWDs access the electoral processes in Nigeria.
We deeply appreciate ECES and European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria Component 1 and the team that made the workshop a huge success.
However, it is a collective responsibility of all involved to ensure that PWDs and other vulnerable groups access the electoral processes without any impediments or limitations irrespective of their disability, as participation in public life is a right and not a privilege.
We have a responsibility to make it happen.
By Lakunuya Dorothy Bello.