The Legal Awareness for Nigerian Women, an NGO, has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission to provide viable access and participation for Persons With Disabilities in the nation’s electoral processes.
The Acting Executive Director, LANW, Mrs. Hannatu Ahuwan made this call during the presentation of the 2023 Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections Observation Report in Kaduna.
She stated that the PWDs suffered some form of marginalization during the just concluded 2023 General Elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria.
According to Ahuwan, the action is against the assurance of the provision of disability-inclusive voting materials to ensure their inclusion throughout the exercise.
“In most polling units monitored, there was no provision of suitable means of communication such as braille, large-embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpreters, or off-site voting for the PWDs especially visually impaired.
“In most cases, the PWDs were given priority by other voters and were allowed to be accompanied by someone to help them identify symbols or help in voting.
“In some of the polling units monitored, the PWDs were assisted by political party agents, which ought not to be so. INEC must do something about this in subsequent elections,” she stated.
However, she explained that LANW, with support from Christian Aid, was implementing a project tagged, “Improving Inclusive Participatory Governance Systems,” aimed at improving citizens’ participation in governance processes.
She stated that LANW trained and supported election observers for the 2023 Governorship and State House of Assembly elections in 86 polling units across all wards in Jaba, Jema’a, Kaura, and Zangon Kataf LGAs.
She described the development as part of the activities toward encouraging civic responsibility and ensuring a transparent electoral process.
However, she advised INEC to hold general elections in the future on the same day to cut costs and reduce the untold hardship endured by voters during elections, adding that the move would equally address the issue of low voter turnout experienced during the Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections.
She said, “Also, to reduce the high number of invalid votes recorded in both elections, INEC, government agencies, and civil society, must improve sensitization to educate electorates on how to vote right.
“INEC and law enforcement agencies also need to contain vote buying and voter suppression at polling units by party agents.”
The Director commended INEC for the early start of the March 18 Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections, compared to the Feb. 25 Presidential and National Assembly Elections
However, she maintained that LANW observed that the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections witnessed a very low turnout of voters compared to the Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
The development she attributed to the outcome of the presidential election, which was allegedly fraught with a lot of irregularities, while in other areas it was due to security challenges.
She stated that average, the conduct of the process as observed by LANW was smooth with fewer hitches and irregularities and every stakeholder played their part in a commendable manner.
She however stressed that the task of accomplishing a free and fair election was a collective duty shared by the government, voters, observers, election bodies, and all stakeholders in the elections.
She said, “We look forward to improved performance in future elections, especially from the electoral bodies, especially INEC.”