By Cosmas Okoli
Association for Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disability (ASCEND), a socio-political organization of persons with disability, while encouraging her members to participate actively in politics, is mindful that persons with disability face enormous challenges in active participation in politics.
ASCEND has as one of her cardinal objectives, plans to support her members who want to contest elections, financially and ensure that those who face difficulties are able to exercise their right to vote.
Focusing on the challenges persons with disability face in contesting for an election, I will reflect on my experience in the 2011 general elections when I contested for the Federal House of Representatives for Amuwo-Odofin Federal constituency in Lagos State.
The most significant challenge I faced was architectural and attitudinal barriers which threatened to slow my movement and limit the places I could visit for campaign. For example, when I was a member of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), during the primaries, it was impossible for me to get to the venue of the primaries as the crowd was too much and the party had no plan to ensure that I had access to the venue.
When I managed to get to about 50 meters to the venue, my car could not get any closer and I parked there; the crowd was much that I could not move with my wheelchair, so I was outside for about 3 hours, while other aspirants were inside the venue campaigning. I made several attempts to go in, to no avail.
When I heard that the voting was about to start, I had to do something extraordinary at a great cost. I hired about 4 mobile police officers who escorted me and I was squeezed into the venue with the help of my supporters.
The organizers did not see any reason to make special arrangement for me to get to the venue even when they had collected nomination fee from me.
However, I was consoled by the support I got from party members who fell in love with my antecedents and manifesto. It was the support of these ordinary members that kept me going despite all odds and attempt to frustrate me.
There was also an effort by some party elders to frustrate me out of the party when they realized that I was very popular and a threat to their aspirants.
There were times when they held clandestine meetings with other aspirants without inviting me. It was a lady who had not even met me who sought to see me and then asked me if I was aware of the meetings with the aspirants and elders of the party. I told her I was unaware and she demanded to know who my god father was. I told her that I had non and she was surprised.
I assured her that I had God who can do all things,and with the support of people like her, that I would triumph. She became one of my staunch supporters and worked very hard to ensure that I succeeded. Some elders were solidly behind me but they were in the minority and never participated in the clandestine meetings that excluded me.
However, when I found out that the primary election was a farce and that the candidates were merely selected, I was disappointed,and I left to join Labour Party, where I won the ticket to contest the election.
The inaccessibility of our environment coupled with the attitudinal and architectural barrier and lack of any welfare system to encourage persons with disability, make election contest more expensive for a person with disability than a non-disabled. For instance, for a candidate with disability to access some area for campaign, he would have to spend money to create access or hire people to lift him across barriers in that environment.
Things non-disabled take for granted are big issues for us, for instance, all available podiums for hire for the purposes of campaign, are inaccessible to persons with disability, this prompted me to design and build an accessible mobile podium on a truck for my use—at a relatively huge cost.
However, I wish to appeal to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to formulate a policy that will create a level playing field for persons with disability to participate in elections on equal basis.