November 7, 2021
Persons with Disabilities Measure Accessibility of 2021 Anambra Governorship Election for Voters with Disabilities Despite Security Concerns Awka, Anambra State –
The Access Nigeria: Disability Votes Matter Campaign is a disability rights movement led by Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) for Nigeria’s 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 by reducing physical, attitudinal and institutional barriers that make it difficult or impossible for PWDs to participate.
The Access Nigeria Campaign pursues its goal through evidence-based advocacy to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders to make election venues, materials and processes more accessible to PWDs. The campaign also conducts get out the vote (GOTV) campaigns to increase PWD voting. The Access Nigeria Campaign is implemented by The Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) and its allies with technical assistance from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
In 2016 and 2019, the Access Nigeria Campaign conducted Nigeria’s first ever polling unit accessibility audits during the off-cycle governorship elections in Edo, Ondo and Kogi States, using a sample-based observation methodology. These audits revealed enormous barriers for voters with different forms of disabilities. In 2018 and 2019, the Access Nigeria Campaign influenced INEC’s introductions of the Braille ballot guide and election day written instructions for use by voters with visual and hearing impairments respectively. The Access Nigeria Campaign also influenced the strengthening of PWD-friendly voting procedures like priority voting and the capture of data of PWDs disaggregated by type of disability. All of these successes were based on the evidence-based advocacy conducted with data collected during polling unit accessibility audits.
The Access Nigeria Campaign conducted its fourth polling unit accessibility audit during the November 6, 2021, off-cycle governorship election in Anambra State. Below is the methodology deployed, our findings and recommendations.
Polling Unit Accessibility Audit Methodology
For the governorship election in Anambra State, the Access Nigeria Campaign used a sample-based election observation methodology to measure INEC’s compliance to section 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. This accessibility audit represents the largest polling unit audit conducted by PWD observers in Nigeria’s history. On November 16, 200 carefully selected, trained and accredited PWD observers documented physical accessibility of polling units for PWD voters, access to Election Day materials, and the participation of PWDs in Election Day processes. Observers deployed to 200 polling units covering Anambra North (64), Anambra Central (69), and Anambra South (67) and answered 32 questions on their Election Day checklist before sending a total of five (5) coded text messages to the Access Nigeria database system. Throughout the course of the observation, Access Nigeria observers sent approximately 890 text messages, equating to 5,696 individual pieces of data. All observers are PWDs, and therefore the audit was conducted through a disability lens, which provides credibility for the data collected.
Accessibility Audit Findings
From the sampled 200 polling units, Access Nigeria observers successfully sent reports from 178 polling units, representing an 89 percent response rate. Out of the 23 observers that did not observe or complete their observation, six were assigned to polling units that INEC did not assign any voters to, 12 dropped out of the observation due to fear of violence and four sent in incomplete reports. The findings outlined below accurately capture accessible voting or lack thereof, and availability of Election Day materials in accessible formats for voters with disabilities in Anambra State.
Access to Polling Units
- Access Nigeria observers reported that 54 percent of the routes (roads) leading to the areas where sampled polling units were located were inaccessible for PWDs.
- Observer reports also showed that there were neither ramps nor handrails for use by PWDs outside the sampled polling units at 94 percent of voting locations.
- Access Nigeria observer reports showed that 71 percent of sampled polling units in Anambra State were located in public buildings, predominantly in schools (44 percent) and town halls (25 percent). Within these public buildings, the sampled polling units were mainly located on corridors (36 percent), open spaces (34 percent) and town halls (19 percent).
- Access Nigeria observers also reported that 21 percent of sampled polling units were located in public open spaces, especially village squares (16 percent) and roadsides (nine percent).
Internal Polling Unit Layout
- At 54 percent of sampled polling units, Access Nigeria observers reported 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. Similarly, at 49 percent of sampled polling units, the internal layout made it difficult for voters with disabilities to participate in accreditation and voting.
- Observers reported that there were no ramps and handrails inside 90 percent of sampled polling units for use by voters with disabilities.
Polling Unit Materials
- Observers reported that the Braille ballot guide was not deployed at 54 percent of sampled polling units.
- The height of the ballot box was not suitable for voters with disabilities, particularly for those who use wheelchairs, at 36 percent of sampled polling units.
- Form EC 40H was not available at 35 percent of sampled polling units to collect data of voters with disabilities who voted on Election Day.
- At 46 percent of polling units, the INEC Form EC 30E PWD was not pasted for use by voters with hearing impairments.
Election Day Procedures
- At 34 percent of sampled polling units, persons with disabilities were not given priority on the queue to vote.
- At 20 percent of polling units, voting with visual impairments or blindness used the Braille Ballot guide. This number showed that if the Braille ballot guide was available at more polling units, more visually impaired and blind voters would have been able to use it.
Based on the findings of the polling unit accessibility audit, the IFA-led Access Nigeria: Disability Votes Matter 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 Access Nigeria campaign calls on INEC to ensure that newly created polling units are accessible to PWDs and to relocate previously created polling units that are inaccessible. This process can be achieved simultaneously with the allocation of voters to the newly created polling units that were previously not assigned any voters.
- INEC should 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 categorize the Braille ballot guide as a sensitive material to ensure timely and effective deployment for all national and state elections.
- INEC should strengthen 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 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.
The Executive at the Federal and State Levels
- The Access Nigeria 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 by the 2023 deadline to accommodate PWDs in their daily life in accordance with the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act of 2018.
- 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 provide adequate funding in the 2022 budget for INEC to procure assistive electoral materials, equipment, and services like the braille ballot guide, election day written instruction, magnifying glasses etc for the 2022 Ekiti and Osun governorship elections and 2023 general elections.
- The National Assembly should consider the amendment of section 56 (2) of the 2010 Electoral Act to make the provision of accessible election materials for voters with disabilities mandatory in all elections.
- 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 Access Nigeria 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 experience of the 2021 governorship elections shows how much security can determine the outcome of elections.
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 Access Nigeria 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 including PWDs as participants in activities.
It is evident that Nigerians with disabilities want to participate in the electoral and political processes of Nigeria as indicated by their participation as both voters and observers during the Anambra State governorship election. 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.
Access Nigeria commends INEC for its commitments and engagement on these topics, but we at IFA 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 to only 46 percent of the polling units during the Anambra State governorship election.
IFA once again wishes to express its appreciation of the INEC Chairman, National Commissioners, Directors, Resident Electoral Commissioners, and desk officers for their efforts.
Executive Director, Inclusive Friends Association
Convener of the Access Nigeria Campaign
Call: 0803089990 firstname.lastname@example.org