The Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), launched the Vote-ability Campaign as a disability rights movement led by IFA for Nigeria’s over 30 million persons with disabilities (PWDs). The goal of the campaign is to increase the participation of PWDs in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes and ensure the full implementation of Section 54 specifically and other general provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended) by reducing all forms of barriers and stigma that make it difficult or impossible for PWDs to participate in elections.
2023 General Elections
The 2023 General Elections are historic as the first general election since the signing of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended). IFA, through the Vote-Ability Campaign, deployed 250 PWDs election observers across 21 states and the 6 geopolitical zones of the federation with the objective to measure the deployment and usage of PWD assistive materials, the accessibility of polling units to PWDs, and the internal layout of polling units, among others. This is to understand the extent of INEC’s compliance with Section 54 of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as Amended), and Section 30 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.
This accessibility audit represents the largest polling unit audit conducted by PWD observers in our electoral history. IFA carefully selected, trained, and accredited PWD observers who documented the physical accessibility of polling units for PWD voters, access to Election Day materials, and the participation of PWDs in Election Day processes. Utilizing PWDs as observers means the audit was conducted through a disability lens, which provides credibility for the data collected.
IFA adopted a purposive sampling technique and deployed 250 PWD observers to randomly selected polling units in 21 states, including the FCT, as part of the states where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be deploying PWD electoral materials. The trained PWDs observers observed the effective deployment and utilization of the PWD assistive materials in the presidential and National Assembly elections. They also observed the setup and physical accessibility of the polling units.
IFA set up a Data Center to collect, analyze, and share real-time information on the accessibility, inclusion, deployment, and use of the PWD assistive materials at the designated polling units by INEC.
The #Vote-Ability Election Observation is undertaken to increase access, inclusion, deployment, and use of assistive materials for PWDs’ effective participation in the political and electoral processes.
The report draws findings as of 5 p.m. on February 26, 2023, with complete responses received from 229 observers’ deployed to the 250 sampled polling units out of the marked PUs for the deployment of PWD election assistive materials by INEC. The 229 observers represent 92% of the sampled PUs IFA deployed its observers. A total of 6,641 pieces of data were sent to the Vote-ability data center.
The Arrival of Polling Officials
IFA observed INEC officials’ late arrival at sampled polling units. The report showed that only 46.8% arrived at about 7:30 a.m. at their polling units while 55.2% arrived later than 8:30 a.m. Consequently, the late arrival of poll officials hindered the opportunity for an early opening of polls and delayed the commencement of accreditation and voting.
Accreditation and Voting
IFA observers reported 49% of the sampled polling units began accreditation and voting between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. While 26% began between 8:31 a.m. and 9 a.m., only 25% of the sampled polling units commenced accreditation and voting between 8 a.m. and 830 a.m.
PWD Inclusion as Ad-hoc Staff
In about 66% of the polling units observed, there were at least 4 polling officials, of which about 26% are PWDs. In about 42% of the sampled polling units observed, there were at most 2 female officials.
At 76% of the polling units (PUs), the IFA Vote-Ability observers saw the presence of security personnel, who were deployed to protect citizens and voting materials.
Internal Layout of PUS
On the internal layout of PUs, IFA observed that 22% of PUs were stationed around corridors and steps. 12% have uneven surfaces and sand piles that make PWD accessibility difficult and impossible in some instances. IFA observers reported that 71% of PUs observed had no ramp or handrails for use by PWDs.
Polling Unit Materials
IFA observers reported that 65% of PUs had no suitable voting cubicles for PWDs on wheelchairs, persons of short stature, and persons on roller skates.
IFA observers reported that 74% of PUs positioning and situating of the ballot box was accessible for PWDs on wheelchairs.
60% of PUs reported had no braille ballot guide for blind voters who could read and understand braille to cast their vote.
In 76% of PUs observed, IFA observers reported the non-deployment of magnifying glasses for voters with albinism and low vision.
IFA observed that 61% of PUs had the INEC form EC30E election guide posters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Election Day Procedures
IFA observed that in 54% of the polling units observed, the Polling Presiding Officers (POs) recorded PWD voters on INEC Form EC40H, while in 21% of the polling units they failed to do so.
In 14% of the sampled polling units observed, there was non-deployment of Form EC40H by INEC, and in 11% of PUs observed, no PWDs were present for the polls.
IFA observers reported that 64% of PUs observed priority voting by PWDs upon their arrival at the sampled PUs.
In 78% of PUs observed, IFA observers reported that ballot boxes were accessible for PWDs to independently cast their votes. This is because the ballot boxes were brought down for persons with disabilities by the Polling officials.
IFA observed that in 46% of the PUs observed, INEC officials assisted PWDs to access the polling unit, while in 39% of the PUs, they did not do so. In 13% of the PUs, no PWDs were present.
IFA Observed that security officials assist PWDs to access the polling units at 37% of the polling units observed.
In 57% of the PUs observed, PWD assistants/nominees assisted them to cast ballots, while in 30% of the PUs, PWD voters did not come with any assistants.
IFA observers reported that in 58% of PUs observed, blind voters did not use the braille ballot guide for voting. This is because there was no deployment of the BG in most PUs.
IFA observers reported that at 61% of PUs observed, Persons with albinism and low vision did not use the magnifying glasses. This is because there was no deployment of the magnifying glasses at most PUs.
At 68% of PUs observed, the IFA Vote-Ability observers reported that polling Officials capture details of PWD voters in a disaggregated format.
Other Salient Issues:
IFA observed that there is an increase and more robust improvement in PWD political participation. This is because, beyond participating as electorates, PWDs were seen to serve as party agents.
The observation mission of IFA saw the engagement of PWDs by INEC to serve as ad hoc staff. This satisfies the IFA’s demand while also meeting the requirements of Section 29 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities Act (2018).
Based on the findings of the polling unit, the IFA-led Vote-Ability Campaign makes the following recommendations to ensure voters with disabilities can continue to participate in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes:
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)
The IFA-led Vote-Ability campaign calls on INEC to ensure that overpopulated PUs are decongested for ease of implementing priority voting for PWDs in subsequent Elections. This process is important as citizens in overpopulated PUs submerge PWDs and their rights.
INEC should collaborate with other government agencies to ensure the provision of ramps and handrails outside and inside the polling units so that PWDs can cast their vote without any barriers.
INEC should ensure timely and effective deployment of PWDs assistive materials such as; the Braille ballot guide, For EC30E PWD, and magnifying glass for all national and state elections.
INEC should strengthen the training of regular and ad hoc staff to effectively administer assistive Election Day materials and accommodations for voters with disabilities.
INEC should ensure that voting cubicles are designed to enable voters with disabilities to cast their ballots confidentially as well as ensure ballot boxes are placed in areas that allow voters with disabilities to vote independently.
INEC should continue to engage and consult with the disability community, including IFA, to identify areas to be improved for more inclusive electoral processes.
INEC, the Police, and other security agencies under the platform of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) should develop and implement a clear plan for the protection of PWDs during elections in consultation with the disability community.
INEC should continue to gather data on PWDs in a disaggregated format to improve the deployment of assistive materials during elections.
The Executive at the Federal and State Levels
The IFA-led Vote-Ability Campaign calls on the federal and state governments to work with various agencies and the private sector to ensure that public buildings are built and renovated for future elections to accommodate PWDs in their daily life in accordance with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act of 2018.
The Executive should declare a state of emergency on all electoral offenders and ensure full prosecution as a deterrent to other citizens.
The executive, at all levels, should strengthen existing building codes and enforce them to guarantee accessibility for PWDs during and beyond elections.
National and State Assemblies
The National Assembly should ensure that the executive implements specific sections of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Act 2018 through effective legislative oversight.
The National Assembly should also perform its oversight functions of INEC to ensure that all measures for accessibility are implemented in line with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Act 2018.
The IFA-led Vote-Ability Campaign calls on the police and other security agencies to develop a special protocol to protect voters and observers with disabilities during elections. We also call on the police and other security agencies to ensure that whenever these protocols are developed, their personnel are well trained to implement these provisions.
The Nigerian Media
The media should make deliberate efforts to conduct voter education that compliments the efforts of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities in promoting the participation of PWDs in Nigeria’s electoral and political processes
Media executives should consider disability inclusion in its broadcast and news production to promote inclusive practices in Nigeria including the consistent utilization of sign language interpretation.
Elections-Focused Civil Society
The Vote-Ability Campaign commends all organizations working toward safer, more inclusive free, and fair elections in Nigeria. The campaign calls on these organizations to continue to engage with the disability community to ensure their efforts are inclusive and provide opportunities for PWDs to contribute to their work either as advisors to ensure a disability lens on their work or include PWDs as participants in activities.
Persons with disabilities want to be fully involved in the electoral and political processes of Nigeria as indicated by their participation as both voters and observers during the general elections. However, accessibility challenges, stigmas, and stereotypes continue to persist and undermine PWDs’ abilities to participate in electoral and political activities. While INEC has taken great strides to improve its priority voting policy and implement voting accommodations, poll officials consistently fail to understand the significance of inclusion or take actions that promote the participation of all groups. IFA commends INEC for its commitment and engagement on these topics. Nevertheless, we call on all stakeholders, especially INEC to adequately implement extant laws, regulations, and frameworks and the above recommendations to further improve PWDs participation in electoral processes.