Tunde Opalana, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has said it will release the timetable for stakeholder engagement for Permanent Voter Card Collection and other activities in the build up to the November 16th governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states in the next few days.
Chairman of the Commission’s Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC), Barrister Festus Okoye gave the hint yesterday at the opening of a two-day National Strategy Meeting on Capturing Disaggregated Data of Persons with Disabilities [PWDS], organized with support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Abuja.
Okoye said “ In the next few days, the Commission will announce the time table for stakeholder engagement for PVC collection and other activities relating to the states where we are going to have standalone governorship elections and the issue of this data collection will be one of the big issues in relation to whether we conduct good elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states” .
Chairman of the Commission’s Outreach and Partnership Committee (OPC), Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola said the meeting was a needed “platform for knowledge and experience sharing that will ultimately lead to useful input and far reaching recommendations on the best methodology and scientific approach to explore for the capturing of disaggregated data of PWDs to deepen their participation in the electoral process” .
He noted that “according to the world report on disability published in 2011, stated that about 25 million Nigerians have at least one disability. However, with the population figure of Nigeria being put at over 200 million based on the latest United Nations estimates, naturally, there will be an upward swing in the population figure of PWDs in the country”.
“Granted the huge population, PWDs are too important a demographic group to be ignored in planning in all spheres of human endeavor including the processes of election”.
Dr. Ogunmola recounted that in order to promote PWD participation in the electoral process the Commission had transcribed the information and voter education materials into braille; designed special posters specifically to aid persons with hearing impairment understand the voting procedure in writing and graphics;
Procured magnifying glasses to assist the visually impaired as well as albinos in identifying the ballots papers; and Introduced Braille Ballot Guides to enable the visually impaired cast their votes independently, among other interventions.
He said “Going forward, our interventions and approaches to PWDs’ mainstreaming issues in the electoral process need to be empirically guided and hinged on processed information generated from the field to enable proper monitoring and evaluation of performances to achieve optimal results”.
The OPC Chairman gave assurances of the Commission’s commitment towards promoting PWD inclusion in the electoral process. His words: The Commission is fully committed to consolidate its various interventions geared towards promoting the PWDs’ participation in the electoral process using scientific approach”.
He added: “It is fully primed to collaborate with stakeholders to explore ways of capturing disaggregated data of PWDs and utilizing the empirical findings and recommendations of such studies to facilitate access and participation of the PWDs”.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in FCT, Alh. Yahaya Bello, maintained the more people who are included in the electoral process the more acceptable elections are.
Represented by FCT Administrative Secretary, Nick Dazang, the REC observed that there has been a quantum leap in the inclusion of stakeholders, especially disadvantaged groups in successive elections and harped on the need to continue to open the space for more participation by all segments of the society in the electoral process.
The Director of Voter Education and Publicity Department, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi observed that “any system that does not open its doors to full participation by the generality of its qualified citizens cannot be said to be democratic even though it has semblance of elections.
Where you put barriers to the participation to a segment of people or groups of people then you lose the essence of purpose”.
The Director added that “ basically, it is a fundamental human right and Nigeria is signatory to so many regional and international instruments dealing with participation of Persons with Disabilities, participation of Youths, Women and IDPs
and being signatories to that is simply telling the world that we are a democratic model society and we believe in participation of all qualified citizens. We are also telling our citizens that we believe in these things so we hold our selves accountable to those things”.
The Country Director of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Hermann Thiel, also observed that PWD participation in the electoral process in Nigeria has been on the increase over the years.
He said: “over the years the participation of PWDs in the political process in Nigeria has continued to improve and this is more so with the approval of the Framework on access for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)s supported by IFES and also the recent passage into law, the disability bill”.
Mr. Thiel commended INEC for making deliberate effort to mainstream issues of PWDs into the electoral process and assured his organization’s continuous support to an all-inclusive process.