Today, on the 12th of February 2022, 3 Organizations of Persons with disabilities observed the Federal Capital Territory Council Elections in the six Area Councils to ensure that the electoral process was not only free, fair, credible, safe, but also inclusive.
The team deployed observers to the 6 area council to measure INEC’s compliance to sections 56 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as Amended) and Articles 9 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which legally guarantee the rights of PWDs to participate in political and public life
The observers documented the physical accessibility of polling units for PWD voters, access to Election Day materials, and the participation of PWDs in Election Day processes using an election Day checklist developed.
Access to Polling Units
We observed that the routes (roads) leading to the areas where most of the polling units were located were inaccessible for PWDs.
We observed that there were neither ramps nor handrails for use by PWDs outside most voting locations.
We observed that it was difficult for voters with disabilities to enter the polling units and vote. This was largely due to barriers like corridors and steps, the internal layout made it difficult for voters with disabilities to participate in accreditation and voting. In some instances, the Polling Officers claimed that all persons with physical disabilities that came to vote were “carried”/ “lifted” by the Assistant Presiding Officers before they could be accredited and allowed to vote.
Polling Unit Materials
We Observed that the Braille ballot guide was designed in a way that was impossible for a blind voter to use effectively.
We Observed that while the ballot boxes were placed on flat surfaces for easy reach in most Pus, the height of the placement in other PUs was not suitable for voters with disabilities, particularly for those who use wheelchairs and rollerblades
The Form EC 40H was not available to collect data of voters with disabilities who voted on Election Day.
At most PUs the INEC Form EC 30E PWD was not pasted for use by voters with hearing impairments.
Magnifying Glasses was seen in very few PUs
Election Day Procedures
At most of the Pus persons with disabilities were not given priority in the queue to vote.
It is important to remark here that covid-19 protocols as required were not complied with in most Polling Units visited. In fact, there was little or no social distance, and many of the voters as well as substantive and Adhoc INEC officials were seen without their face masks, shields, and other important Personal Protective Equipment.
Incidents such as vote-buying were witnessed in areas like Abaji, Bwari, and Gwagwalada Area Councils in the full glare of security personnel and INEC officers present. In some instances too, one of the Accredited INEC Observers was forced by a Police Officer to leave the surrounding of a Polling Unit in Quarters Ward, Gwagwalada because he was seen taking pictures of an incident where a voter was unable to be accredited. His phones were forcefully searched and all the pictures he had taken for the purpose of election observation and reporting were deleted by the Security Officer.
A good number of Polling Officers when asked expressed the fact that they were not aware of some of the mentioned devices such as braille for blind persons and where they were made available, many of the Polling Officers said that they did know how to use them.
Our Recommendation to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)
INEC should categorize the Braille ballot guide as sensitive material to ensure timely and effective deployment for all elections.
INEC should strengthen the training of regular and ad hoc staff to effectively administer accessible 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 Organization of Person with disabilities/disability community to identify areas to be improved for more inclusive electoral processes especially in the production of the Braille Ballot Guide.
It is evident that Nigerians with disabilities want to participate in the electoral and political processes. 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, the gaps that continue to undermine the processes are too evident.
The Joint Organizations commends INEC for its commitments, we are disheartened by the lack of prioritization given to voting materials for voters with disabilities as evidenced by the deployment of the Braille ballot guides that was completely unuseful to the blind voters.