The Access Nigeria: Disability Votes Matter Campaign is a disability rights movement led by the 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 the physical, attitudinal and institutional barriers that make it difficult or impossible for them to participate.
The Access Nigeria Campaign conducted Nigeria’s first-ever polling unit accessibility audits to better understand the challenges that PWDs face on election day, and to conduct evidence-based advocacy based on the representative data collected. These historic audits which were conducted during the 2016 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states and the 2019 Kogi state governorship election, exposed the widespread barriers experienced by PWDs on Election Day. Foremost on the list of challenges observed was the inaccessibility of polling units for PWDs and the limited supply or total unavailability of election in usable formats. For example, Access Nigeria Observers reported that 65 percent of the polling units in Edo state, 77 percent of polling units in Ondo state and 55 percent of those in Kogi state were in places that were inaccessible for PWDs. The 2016 Edo and Ondo and 2019 Kogi state polling unit accessibility audit provided important data for the Access Nigeria campaign’s advocacy to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which has resulted in the historic introduction of new voting aides and the strengthening of PWD-friendly processes.
The Access Nigeria campaign will conduct its fourth polling unit accessibility audit during the November 6, governorship election in Anambra state, to collect new data that will form the basis of advocacy for more accessible elections in 2022, 2023 and beyond.
Electoral Barriers for PWDs
Despite making up 15% of Nigeria’s population, Nigerians with disabilities continue to face challenges with participating in their country’s elections. Polling units are not always accessible to voters with physical impairments. For example, Observer reports showed that there was an absence of ramps and handrails for use by PWDs at 96 percent of polling units during the 2016 Governorship election in Edo, and at 99 percent of polling units during the Ondo governorship election of the same year. During the 2019 governorship in Kogi state, observer reports showed that there were no ramps and handrails for use by PWDs at 93 percent of polling units.
Ballot boxes are often placed on high tables during elections, making it difficult for wheelchair users to cast their ballots independently. The absence and/or inconsistent use of sign language interpreters during voter education and political campaigns makes it impossible for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing to be properly informed. These challenges are in breach of provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 and Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Access Nigeria Advocacy Success
The Access Nigeria campaign collected Nigeria’s first set of representative or statistically valid data on the challenges faced by PWDs during elections. Before the collection of this data, the information with which election stakeholders sought to address the challenges faced by PWDs was anecdotal at best. Data from IFA’s audits has provided INEC and other stakeholders what they need to address the challenges of PWDs, based on what PWDs themselves observed.
The Access Nigeria Campaign also influenced INEC’s introduction of voting aids like the Braille ballot guide and Election Day written instructions (EC 30E PWD) to make it easier for blind and deaf voters to independently participate in elections in 2018. This historic feat was made possible by evidence-based advocacy conducted by the Access Nigeria campaign using the data collected during its polling unit accessibility audits.
Since 2018, the Access Nigeria campaign has successfully engaged INEC to sustain the deployment of these voting aids during off-cycle elections and the 2019 general elections. IFA’s advocacy has also strengthened INEC’s deployment of other voting aids like magnifying glasses; and PWD election day data capturing documents like Form EC 40H PWD. IFA’s advocacy also led to INEC’s collection of PWD data, disaggregated by types of disability. during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) process in Anambra state. It is important to emphasize that all of these achievements were only possible because of IFA’s polling unit audits which allowed us to conduct evidence-based advocacy to INEC and other stakeholders.
As part of its work to ensure the seamless participation of PWDs in the 2021 Anambra governorship election, the Access Nigeria Campaign observed a CVR process in Anambra state from August 11 to September 1. Access Nigeria CVR observers collected 1,840 pieces of data from 20 out of the 21 Local Government Areas (LGA) in Anambra state. Access Nigeria Observers could not observe in Ayamelum LGA due to the lingering crisis there. Positive outcomes from IFA’s CVR observation included observer reports that 70 percent of routes leading to registration centers were accessible to PWDs. Access Nigeria CVR observers also reported that INEC provided priority registration in 95 percent of registration centers and collected the data of PWDs, disaggregated by type of disabilities, as advocated for by the Access Nigeria Campaign. On the downside, Access Nigeria Observers reported that 80 percent of INEC registration centers in Anambra state were inaccessible to PWDs and there were no sign language interpreters to interpret the process to Deaf citizens. Finally, there was a clear absence of security personnel at 70 percent of registration centres observed. The Access Nigeria campaign found this disturbing, considering PWDs mobility challenges and the difficulties they could face in the case of violence and chaos.
PWD-Targeted Voter Education and Get Out Vote Campaign
In addition to the CVR observation, the Access Nigeria Campaign conducted far-reaching voter education and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaigns targeting PWDs. Ahead of the election, the IFA-led Access Nigeria Campaign educated PWDs on assistive materials to be used during the election, how to vote and the importance of adhering to COVID-19 protocols, among others. The campaign also highlighted the importance of voting and called on PWDs in Anambra state to come out and vote. The Access Nigeria campaign conducted its voter education and GOTV campaigns in Anambra state through in-person engagements and media content like jingles.
Polling Unit Accessibility Audit Methodology
The Access Nigeria campaign
will deploy 200 specially trained observers with disabilities to 200 sampled polling units to observe the accessibility of the Anambra governorship election to PWDs. The Anambra polling unit accessibility audit will be conducted across the 21 LGAs in the state through the lenses of observers with different forms of disabilities. Using a specialized checklist, Access Nigeria observers will observe and report on the accessibility of routes (roads) leading to polling units for PWDs; accessibility of the entrance and internal layout of the polling unit for PWDs availability of election materials in usable formats for PWDs; and the accessibility of election day processes to PWDs. The Access Nigeria Campaign trained all 200 PWD observers at nine centers clustering the LGAs according to their proximity and numbers of participating observers with all COVID 19 protocols adhered to. To ascertain observers understand the content of training and to test Access Nigeria systems and readiness, all 200 observers had participated in a simulation exercise on Tuesday 2nd and Thursday 4th November 2021 ahead of the election. Observers sent in practice text messages to the IFA database.
On November 6, Access Nigeria Observers will observe throughout the day at their pre-assigned polling unit and answer 32 questions on their Election Day checklist, each sending a total of five (5) coded text messages to the Access Nigeria audit database system. The audit will measure INEC’s compliance to section 56 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) and Articles 9 and 27 of the CRPD which legally guarantees the rights of PWDs to participate in political and public life.
Call to Action
The Access Nigeria Campaign makes the following call to action for stakeholders in Anambra for a peaceful, accessible and credible governorship election in the State:
Persons with Disabilities
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)
- The Access Nigeria Campaign calls on all PWDs that are registered to vote and have their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to go out en masse and vote for the candidates of their choice. Voting remains one of the major ways to influence policies that would shape their lives.
- PWDs should take safety precautions by leaving voting places when they begin to sense any danger to their lives. They should call designated security numbers when safely out of danger. Our message to the PWD community is to ensure you vote, but in doing that prioritize your safety.
- The Access Nigeria Campaign calls on INEC to stand by its commitment to providing the Braille ballot guide during the Anambra governorship election.
- INEC should also guarantee the provision of other PWD-friendly election materials including the Election Day written instructions (EC 30 E PWD), and magnifying glasses.
- INEC should ensure effective and consistent use of Form EC40H to capture disaggregated data of PWDs voting on Election Day in line with their type of disabilities.
- INEC should fully enforce its policy of priority voting for PWDs so that PWDs are not required to stand in line for long hours as witnessed in previous elections.
- The Access Nigeria Campaign calls on the Police and other security agencies to protect all voters and election observers, especially those with disabilities. Voters and election observers with disabilities face peculiar mobility and other challenges that make it difficult or impossible for them to run to safety during election-related violence and chaos. We are making a special appeal on behalf of the 200 observers with disabilities that we will be deploying on election day. We have met and received assurances from the Anambra State Police Commissioner and State commandant of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) but wish to reiterate this call in view of the security challenges ahead of the Anambra governorship election. The Access Nigeria Campaign and PWDs in Anambra state are deeply concerned about security ahead of the election and call for special protection for voters and observers with disabilities.
- We call on the media to focus on how PWDs are faring as they report on the Anambra governorship election. We understand that the media is often more fixated on election outcomes or results, but wish to note that their reports will be incomplete if they fail to pay due attention to a huge constituency like PWDs. Nigerians need to know what was done to accommodate PWDs, and the media is the gateway to achieving that.
The Access Nigeria Campaign promotes social and human rights approach to disability, which see barriers within society as the impairment, and not a person’s disability. We believe the rights of PWDs are human rights and protected under our constitution and international conventions. PWDs do not want pity, but to enjoy full participation in Nigeria’s electoral and political processes. This cannot be possible without inclusive electoral processes for all.
(Executive Director, Inclusive Friends Association and Convener, of the Access Nigeria Campaign)
The Access Nigeria Campaign is implemented with technical support by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)