People With Disability (PWD) are noticeably absent in politics and public offices in Nigeria. Despite an anti-discriminatory law in support of PWDs in the country.
In my opinion, the disability mantra of “Nothing About Us Without Us” would not hold true for PWDs in Nigeria if there are no PWDs occupying key positions in the decision making process. Currently, most of our built-up environment is inaccessible to PWDs.
Quite aptly the declaration of the United Nations Accessibility for the Disabled; A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment rings true: “We are all physically disabled at some time in our lives...As far as the built-up environment is concerned, it is important that it should be barrier-free and adapted to fulfil the needs of all people equally…planning for the majority implies planning for people with varying abilities and disabilities.”
To get an idea of how many PWDs have participated in previous elections; how well they fared and what challenges they encountered, I decided to interview the Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); the Lagos State Chairmen of both the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – the biggest opposition party in Nigeria. I also spoke with Mr Cosmos Okoli, a PWD who previously ran for office under the Labour Party platform and lost.
The Lagos State Chairman of the PDP could not be reached despite repeated visits to the State Secretariat. I have now written to the National Secretariat in Abuja.
I met with Chief Otunba Ajomale, the Lagos State Chairman for the APC. Within the interview, He confirmed that, to his knowledge, only two PWDs had run for political office under the auspices of APC (then called Action Congress of Nigeria -ACN), both candidates progressed only to the election primaries. He was unable to confirm the total number of PWDs currently registered with His party and if any PWD intended to run for office in the upcoming 2015 general elections on the APC platform. Nonetheless, he emphatically stated that his party was aware of the challenges PWDs face and that it operated an equal opportunity platform for all.
At the Lagos State office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) I met with Mr I.J Itegboje, (Administrative Secretary) and Ms. Ijeoma Emeruem, (Deputy Director). When asked how many PWDs are currently registered to vote and if INEC and the Political Parties ever discussed the possibility of having a quota for PWD candidates at all levels of elections, enabling them run with other candidates? Both officers did not have the figures. Because there is no provision for voters to indicate whether they have a disability or not on the voter registration card. They added that INEC did not have the authority to redesign the voters’ card. Only the National Assembly could make both provisions. However, they recounted examples of times INEC gave support to PWDs either as electoral candidates or as voters.
“The most significant challenge was the architectural and attitudinal barrier which slowed my movement and limited the places I could visit for campaign.” Mr Cosmos Okoli.
There is an urgent need to record and keep statistics of PWD currently involved in the electoral process. In view of the foregoing, I would like to proffer the following recommendations:
That the next population census clearly provide a checkbox, allowing PWDs who wish to indicate that they have a disability do so. This will help us know exactly how many PWDs are currently over the age of 18 and eligible for voting.
That the Nigerian Electoral Act of 2011 be reviewed, making provisions for PWDs to indicate if they so decide, whether they have a disability or not.
That the National assembly enact a law that allows every political party to reserve slots for PWDs, who wish to run for political office.
While some persons may argue that making provisions such as the above recommendations may be reverse discrimination, it is important to note that without these data, we really cannot ascertain whether there is any truth to the claim that the Nigerian society Is becoming more enabling for PWDs or not.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds