A KEYNOTE ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE HON. NATIONAL COMMISSIONER AND CHAIRMAN OUTREACH & PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE (OPC), INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC), PROF. KUNLE AJAYI, ON “THE ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN ENGENDERING INCLUSIVE DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA” AT THE FCT PWD CIVIC AND POLITICAL ORGANIZING LAB, DENIS HOTEL, ABUJA ON TUESDAY 25TH OCTOBER, 2022
Please, allow me to thank the organizers of this program; Inclusive Friends, for inviting me to give a Keynote Address on: THE ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN ENGENDERING INCLUSIVE DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA. Advocacy by Inclusive Friends on how to improve inclusion and promote the mainstreaming of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigera’s electoral process is a commendable initiative. I must emphasise right from the onset that PWDs are an important integral part of the society and have the right to participate in all areas of human endeavours without stigmatization or discrimination.
According to the National Population Commission (NPC) data, there are at least nineteen (19) million Nigerians who are living with disabilities and from our own records, many of them are registered voters who could be mobilized in favour of any inclusive party. This implies that, PWDs have a strong electoral strength
Consequently, when political parties take on the mantle of ensuring inclusive mainstreaming and prioritise the principle of Inclusion in the administration of party affairs, we would begin to see more people from the marginalised groups along with women and youths taking on more executive, political and leadership roles at all levels. Also, vulnerable groups should be given specific quotas in governments at all levels. These actions will help build and maintain a broader base of constituent support and earn citizens trust and believe in democratic governance.
However, for us to tackle some of the challenges that pose threats to inclusion of marginalized groups by political parties in Nigeria, we must first identify the root causes of these problems. According to Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), some of the challenges militating against inclusion by political parties include; bribery and corruption; lack of welfare and social safety nets for marginalized groups; poor infrastructure and lack of assistive devices for PWDs; ethno-religious sentiments, etc.
In the same discourse, the Centre suggested that adopting technological instruments such as e-voting, provision of adequate assistive devices for PWDs, improved democratic institutional legislation such as the Electoral Act, political education, election security and logistics will increase political participation and inclusion. It must however be said that all these interventionist measures must, as a priority, start from the political parties level.
Furthermore, strategic synergy and partnerships with CSOs and NGOs are pivotal to political party inclusion, in line with the continuous efforts geared towards improving the electioneering process in Nigeria. All these factors could aid in engendering inclusive governance, if prioritised by political parties.
On the part of INEC, as an electoral management body, we have taken several practical steps in the direction of inclusivity in the electoral process.
The Commission is particularly pleased to note that, the 2022 Electoral Act underscores the participation of PWDs in the electoral process. Specifically, Section 54 of the Act provides for assistive and inclusive devices, which in a sense, has codified some of the initiatives already undertaken by the Commission. The introduction of assistive devices such as the Braille ballot guide, magnifying glasses and posters for the deaf were all products of INEC’s engagement with the disability community. In implementing the provisions of Sec. 54 of the Act, the Commission will continue to engage with the disability community, without which the Commission cannot provide the appropriate interventions needed to facilitate their full participation in the electoral process.
Also, the Commission has launched the INEC Framework on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process. Beyond that, a new Department of Gender and Inclusivity headed by a female Director was established after the 2019 General Elections. On top of that, with a database of over eighty -four thousand (84,000) PWDs on INEC register, the Commission is making every effort to provide for their specific assistive needs.
Working with political parties, the Commission has also encouraged them to create PWD Desk in all party offices nation-wide. I am glad to know that some of them have also made provision for PWDs as members of their National Working Committees (NWCs). In addition, the Commission is reviewing an inclusive PWD-friendly voting cubicle to ensure a seamless voting experience.
Nevertheless, there is still so much to do to address the persistent gap in political participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in party leadership and nomination of candidates for elections. I urge political parties to do more in providing level playing grounds for all citizens.
To this end, we encourage political parties through the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) to adopt some of the Commission’s successful approach, such as; continuous engagement with the disability community, NGOs and CSO’s like; Inclusive Friends, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Participate Today and Joint National Association of Persons with Disability (JONAPWD) which are integral partners in providing the appropriate interventions needed to facilitate their full participation in the electoral process.
Also, very important, is the use of reliable data on disability, particularly identifying the locations with the largest concentration of PWDs and the disaggregated data by type of disability. For instance, we now know in the CVR exercise the percentages of new registrants with albinism, blindness, hearing challenges, spinal cord injuries, downs syndrome, people with little stature, physically challenged people etc.
On a final note, allow me to humbly submit that, the onus of engendering inclusive democratic governance in Nigeria lies not only on political parties or a particular group, but on the collective efforts of all state-actors and every conscientious Nigerian in ensuring a democracy that reflects the entirety of all Nigerians regardless of their gender, ethnic group, age or challenge.
Finally, once again, I commend the Inclusive Friends for collaborating with INEC and other relevant Stakeholders for working tirelessly towards enhancing the political participation of PWDs in the electoral process in Nigeria.
I thank you all and God bless.
Prof. Kunle Ajayi
National Commissioner & Chairman OPC
25th October 2022