The House Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matters on Wednesday advised INEC to address the barriers for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) for better participation in the forthcoming general election.
The Chairman of the committee, Rep. Aishatu Dukku, made the call at the first edition of “Access Nigeria: Disability votes matters’’ quarterly meeting organised by Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) in Abuja.
She said the issue of widespread of barriers to PWD participation in elections, including inaccessible polling units and absence of braille or tactile ballots should be properly addressed, adding there should proper data.
“Nigeria and its citizens must be able to reflect on the barriers that PWD face in political and electoral processes and partner with relevant stakeholders to remove these barriers.
“Nigeria’s 27 million PWDs are willing, able and ready to participate in their country’s political and processes as voters, candidates and election observers,’’ she said.
Dukku said there was need to establish legal rights of people with PWD as bona fide members of the society, saying the society must make certain changes to enable them participate more meaningfully in secular activities which includes the electoral process.
She said voting was not just about casting ballots, it is about belonging to the race, adding that it is important they contribute their quota to national development.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who was represented by the Chairman, Partnership and Outreach of the commission, Mr Adekunle Ogunmola, said the commission had initiated several measures to ensure that PWDs are mainstreamed into the electoral process.
He said it was achieved through the widespread targeted voters education and sensitisation of PWDs in the country.
“The commission is already working on INEC framework on access and participation of PWDs in the electoral process which will be launched any moment from now,” he said.
The Civil Society and Media Specialist of USAID, Mrs Funke Baruwa, said PWDs are key participants in building vibrant, responsive democracy in the country.
She said under the Nigerian law , everyone regardless of social, physical, religious, ethnic, cultural or political affiliation was entitled to participate in the democratic process.
The Executive Director of Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), Mrs Grace Jerry, called on development partners to work together and gather the data that would allow INEC to properly plan and provide material.
“We desire to get commitments from National Assembly on the status of the National Disability Bill which will ensure that PWDs in the country climb above certain barriers.
“Section 56 (2) of the Electoral Act needs to be amended to ensure that off-sight voting, provision of braille and or tactile are mandatory for voters with disabilities.
“Election can only be free, fair and credible when they reflect the representation of the populace, PWDs representation inclusive,” she said.