TEXT OF PRESS CONFERENCE
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Management, Staff and Volunteers of the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), I warmly welcome you to today’s Press Conference holding at Elomaz Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos State.
The core mandate of our organization includes: to educate, sensitise, counsel and mobilize persons with disabilities, PWDs, in various areas critical to their survival and progress and support and advocate for respect of the rule of law and due process. It also includes monitoring the formulation and implementation of policies that impact on or are of public interest as relevant to persons with disabilities and publish reports, newsletters, journals or policy papers on same. We equally organize seminars, symposia, conferences on cutting edge issues and trends in socio-political and economic development as they affect persons with disabilities.
Today’s Press Conference is part of the activities for the implementation of our project on Promoting Access to Justice and Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). The project, which is supported by Voice Nigeria has the following objectives:
- To ensure that within the project period, relevant MDAs have a better understanding of the Disability Act/Law and commit to adopting good and accountable practices to advance the implementation including budgetary allocation.
- The media commits to investigative journalism on disability issues that will expose every discriminatory practice, including gender violence against women with disabilities.
- The democratic governance process will be inclusive enough for political participation of persons with disabilities in Lagos State, as a model for other states and there will be accessible education and health services for PWDs in public hospitals in Lagos State.
Recognizing the situation ahead of the 2023 General Elections, persons with disabilities' efforts in participating in the forthcoming General Elections reveals that most political parties’ programs and activities are not inclusive of persons with disabilities, as PWDs are missing in most of the Political Parties hierarchies. Political Party's conventions were conducted with the election of party leaders and flag-bearer from the State Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives, The Senate, Governorship and for the office of the President without any persons with disabilities. A case in point is an aspirant with disability, Mr. Aduku Emmanuel, who won the APC primary election (20 votes) for Ankpa 1 State Constituency for the Kogi State House of Assembly, only for his Party to substitute his name with a name of Mr. Lawal Akus (4 votes) a person without disability. Other Parties in many States did not allow PWDs to near the Party's nomination forms due to high cost of nomination forms.
Through our project on Access to Justice and Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities, we have engaged the leadership of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) in different States, Lagos inclusive, and at the National level on removing barriers to citizens with disabilities participation in the programmes and activities of political parties. The good news is that efforts are being made by IPAC to ensure their members comply with the provisions of the Disability Rights Act and INEC Framework on PWDs.
INEC REGISTRATION EXERCISE
The successful passage and assent to the 2022 Electoral Act has opened space for greater participation of persons with disabilities (PWDs), in the electoral process. In particular, CCD is pleased that the 18 years struggle to secure an Electoral Act that recognizes the peculiarities of persons with disabilities in the electoral process has come to an end with the new Electoral Act. The Act provides in section 54 that the election management body must take appropriate measures to ensure that voters with disabilities access assistive devices that would enhance their participation in the electoral process.
Recent elections conducted by INEC shows that efforts are being made to implement this section of the Electoral Act and other PWDs related frameworks, including the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 and the INEC framework on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the Electoral Process amongst others.
We are pleased to observe in the Osun State Governorship Election, the visibility of magnified lens for visually impaired, improved access to Polling Units, and Braille Ballots for the blind as well as the recruitment of NYSC corps members with disabilities as ad-hoc Staff.
The just suspended new voter's registration by INEC showcased the extent of INEC improvement in data gathering on PWDs, as the registration form made provisions for capturing of disability related information. Based on this milestone, it is on record that INEC has data of over 8,000 voters with disabilities, which would go along way to support the Commission’s efforts to ensure effective deployment of assistive devices during elections.
STATE INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (SIEC)
While we applaud INEC for the significant improvement on inclusivity during elections, State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC) are hovering in darkness on enhancing access to PWDs during elections.
Issues around participation of persons with disabilities in Local Government Elections are nonexistence. From the Abia State Independent Electoral Commission (ABSIEC) to the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), the stories are the same. The major issues include absence of disability friendly election frameworks at the State level, little or no involvement or consultation of organisations representing persons with disabilities before and during elections, and absence of information, education and communication materials targeting the disability community.These are noticeable during the elections as low turnout of voters with disabilities, discrimination of voters with disabilities, inaccessible Polling Units, lack of knowledge of the process, absence of assistive devices were order of the day.
2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS
As the 2023 General Elections approache, CCD as an organisation of, and for persons with disabilities is monitoring trends within the polity, in order to analyse and predict its consequences to the disability community. The forthcoming general elections is not only critical to us as a Nigerian based organisation, but by reason of the fact that we are the premier disability organisation with the mandate to protect the rights of citizens with disabilities.That notwithstanding, we must acknowledge the fact that all the legal and policy frameworks on persons with disabilities in Nigeria are a product of the struggle of organisations representing persons with disabilities and disability rights activist. To the extent that we have laws that seek to protect the rights of PWDs and prohibition of all forms of harmful practices. Therefore, if we must find disability issues in the 2023 General Elections conversations, persons with disabilities and their organisations must as matter of critical importance be pushed through the media to get their voices heard.
SECURITY SITUATION IN NIGERIA
We are all aware of the extent of state of insecurity in the country, the worst so far since the foundation of Nigeria. We have all manner of non-state armed men and women threatening the State. If it not Bandits, Boko Haram, Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), Kidnappers and Unknown Gunmen. The recent attack on Kuje Medium Security Correctional Facility in Abuja and the release of high-profile bandits are issues of serious concern to persons with disabilities. Movements in Nigeria by road is no longer safe as all the six geopolitical zones have one security challenge or the other. Kidnapping, mass killing, capturing of communities, unknown gun men, the attack on the Nigerian Army Presidential Guards Brigade in Bwari Area council, FCT, and the attack on the military check point around Zuma Rock bordering FCT and Niger State. As well as threat to kidnap President Buhari is worrisome situations as we approach the 2023 General Elections.
While we recognized that historically, persons with disabilities have been excluded from exercising their human rights, including the right to political participation, this exclusion was global.
The advent of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities responds to this circumstance and provides a holistic solution. Article 29 of this Convention mandates state parties to ensure that PWDs participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others. The Convention went further to address issues around the design and implementation of an electoral process that is non-discriminatory, while also requiring states to provide voters with disability-related accommodations and other facilitative measures to enable their equal participation in electoral process.
While we appreciate that Nigeria being a signatory to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol has made efforts for the full implementation of the Convention with the signing of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018. The Act provides in section 30 that persons with disabilities shall be encouraged to fully participate in politics and public life; Government shall actively promote an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in activities and administration of political parties without discrimination.
While we acknowledged the Electoral Act 2022, Section 54 (2) of the Act provides that the Commission shall take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons, are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or offsite voting in appropriate cases.
While we further recognize that INEC Framework on Access and Participation of PWDs in the Electoral Process is aimed to contribute to the facilitation of access and participation of PWDs in all aspects of the electoral process. The key objectives of the framework include to work with relevant stakeholders to facilitate the development of accessible electoral facilities and infrastructure; Encourage the participation of PWDs in all aspects of the electoral process; and Encourage political parties on access and participation of Persons with Disabilities in the electoral process.
Bear in mind that IPAC, in their communique issued at the end of their 3-day retreat in partnership with the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), in Lagos, called on their members to ensure inclusivity through a deliberate action plan aimed at persuading political parties lagging to amend their respective constitutions to better accommodate PWDs, women and youths.
While further bearing in mind that INEC has registered over 12 million new voters comprised 6,074,078 males and 6,224,866 females, with over 8,000 voters with disabilities being among these new registered voters. These new registered voters have minimal knowledge of the electoral process. What that means is that stakeholders in the electoral process has a new task in their hands.
While considering the vulnerability of PWDs in situation of insecurity and the need to protect and make adequate provisions to boost their confidence to participate in the political process. CCD has observed heightened security presence and major deployment of Security agents in the off-Cycle elections, as observed in Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti, and the Osun States, and as we move into the 2023 elections it is our expectation that the Federal Government of Nigeria would make necessary sacrifice to guarantee security before, during and after the elections.
We are calling on: The organisations of persons with disabilities and their members to begin to organize with the purpose of engaging the political parties and their candidates on disability inclusion, access and participation of persons with disabilities in governance. Persons with disabilities and their organization should articulate their charter of demand for proper engagement of the political party on disability agendas. This is to ensure that issues of critical importance are mainstreamed in the political discuss.
The political parties to take appropriate measure that creates space for equal opportunity by ensuring that persons with disabilities are included in the campaign committees, campaign podiums are accessible to all with the provision of sign language interpreters, access to information, and disability inclusive manifesto etc. This is critical because this time around persons with disabilities will not only like to be seen but they also want to be heard.
INEC should ensure that they take appropriate steps to review all the previous off circle elections reports submitted by organisations of, and for persons with disabilities for the identification of forms and patterns as well as extent of complains on PWDs struggles on election days. This is with the view of finding solutions with scenario building. Findings from previous elections reports shows that bulk of the problems faced by PWDs on election day are as result of what INEC failed to do, even when they claim that everything was provided for PWDs participation on the election day.
The Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to ensure that the Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement for Security Personnel on Election Duty aliens with the provisions of the new Electoral Act 2022 and the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018. This is to secure and guarantee access and priority for PWDs at the Polling Units. It is all imperative for the security agencies to mobilize more personnel, and train/build their capacity around issues that concerns persons with disabilities, to assure inclusivity in the electioneering security architecture.
The donor communities are requested to fund organisations of persons with disabilities on election related projects. A situation whereby organisations of PWDs are excluded from benefiting from funding on elections in Nigeria is another form of advanced exclusion of PWDs and their organisations in international cooperation and development agenda. PWDs and their organisations should not be only good for research studies on elections. They should also be supported to provide solutions to their electioneering challenges.
The media should continue to support the disability community as we approach the 2023 General Elections. The media is our eyes, ears, and legs. With the help of the media, issues of concern to PWDs would be mainstreamed in the 2023 General Elections conversations. Please mainstream issues of critical concern to PWDs in your election narratives to ensure an all-inclusive solution to Nigeria challenges come 2023 and beyond.Together, we shall be a nation where inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in governance is a way of life. Thank you for your attention.
David O. Anyaele (Executive Director) Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD)