March 17, 2023

Polls: Deploy adequate assistive tools for PWDs, TAF Africa tells INEC

…tasks INEC on the inclusive electoral process

…urges PWDs to come out en masse on Election Day

…begs political parties, and supporters not to disrupt polls with violence

By Gabriel Ewepu, ABUJA

WITH less than 24 hours to the March 18 Governorship and State Assembly elections, TAF Africa, Friday, asked the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to ensure adequate provision of assistive tools to Persons With Disabilities, PWDs, during the elections across all polling units.

The Founder, of TAF Africa, Ambassador Jake Epelle, made the demand during a media briefing held on ‘TAF Africa’s Pre-Election Report on the 2023 Gubernatorial and State Assembly Election’.

Epelle pointed out that TAF Africa’s observers during the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections reported various factors that disenfranchised PWDs including the blind, deaf, albinos, and others.

According to him, the provision of assistive devices, accessibility to polling units, and security concerns in the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections, based on their “assessment of the conduct of the presidential elections viz-a-viz the enablers for the participation of PWDs left much to be desired.”

However, he expressed concern over the increasing clashes among political parties and their supporters which could discourage and disenfranchise PWDs from coming out to vote for candidates of their choice, hence calling on political parties, their supporters and security agencies not to allow any form of violence to disrupt the voting process.

He also disclosed that TAF Africa will adopt a three-faceted technological approach which includes the development of a PWD data dashboard, a user-friendly election observer app, and the development of an election monitoring dashboard.

He added that the PWD Election Hub will serve as a data depot for Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) and the Election Management Bodies (EMBs) to find useful and real-time data on PWDs’ access to voting locations, participation, provision of assistive devices, priority voting, and among others.

He said: “The March 18 gubernatorial and state assembly election presents another opportunity to assess the operational practicability of specific provisions of the Electoral Act as it affects the participation of persons with disabilities, and the commitment of key election stakeholders towards ensuring that the right conditions and enablers are present and operational.

“Based on the commitments made by INEC and security agencies, TAF Africa expects that this election should not be defined by the barriers and challenges of electoral violence, the lateness of polling officials, insufficient provision of assistive tools, and the communication gap faced in the presidential election both at the polling units and at the collation center regarding the transmission of results.

“The challenges in the presidential elections undermined public confidence in the electoral process and can reinforce the already existing voter apathy within the community of persons with disabilities if not addressed.

“We expect the Independent National Electoral Commission, in line with its duty under the law, to deploy adequate assistive tools at the polling units with registered Persons With Disabilities in every state conducting the gubernatorial and state assembly elections, to enable them to exercise their civic rights.” 

Meanwhile, as part of ATAF Africa’s concerns, he (Epelle) said, “The decision to deploy assistive tools will no doubt improve the participation of persons with disabilities in the elections.

“Though the commission promised to deploy assistive tools in polling units with registered persons with disabilities according to disability type, we are worried about the poor implementation during the presidential and National Assembly elections.

“Many polling units with registered persons with disabilities did not have assistive tools deployed. TAF Africa hopes that these gaps and challenges highlighted in our report on the conduct of the February 25th election have been addressed to ensure that eligible PWD voters can vote for their preferred candidate on March 18th.”

However, he appealed to PWDs across the country to out en masse to exercise their franchise as citizens and stakeholders instead of sitting at home.

“We urge every person with a disability in Nigeria to display patriotism during the gubernatorial and state assembly election by coming out and casting their vote in an orderly manner.

“TAF Africa understands that the current situation in the country hasn’t been exactly encouraging, particularly with the conduct of the presidential and state assembly elections but staying at home for the fear of what will happen at the polling unit will deny you the opportunity to perform your civic right as a citizen by voting your choice of candidate,

“We call on security agencies deployed for the election to respect the rights of persons with disabilities, media, and observers, including the right to freedom of movement on Election Day for duly accredited observers and media practitioners.

“Security agencies should work with polling officials to ensure the protection of persons with disabilities, and that they are allowed to enjoy their priority voting as contained in the Electoral Act”, he added.

Also, as part of recommendations, TAF Africa, called on INEC to ensure proper coordination with the security agencies to forestall incidences of violence and ensure the safety of voters and poll officials on Election Day.

“The 2022 Electoral Act stipulates that every person with a disability is entitled to priority voting. INEC should ensure that this right is duly respected by its polling officials and that PWDs are allowed priority voting at their respective polling units”, he said.