POST-ELECTION PRESS STATEMENT BY TAF AFRICA ON THE PARTICIPATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IN THE OFF-CYCLE GOVERNORSHIP ELECTIONS
Issued: 2:00 pm, Sunday, 12th November 2023.
Location: Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo state
TAF Africa undertook a comprehensive observation mission during the 2023 off-cycle election in Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo states. With a team of 30 trained observers deployed in each state; particularly in polling units with the highest number of registered persons with disabilities, our primary focus was evaluating the compliance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with the deployment of assistive tools for persons with disabilities, access to priority voting in line with the electoral act as well as the overall experience of persons with disabilities at the polls. The specific assistive tools included the Braille ballot guide for the blind, large graphic posters for the deaf, and magnifying glasses for persons with albinism.
In a positive development, there was a notable improvement in the participation and overall experience of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) during the 2023 off-cycle election, in contrast to the general election held earlier in the year. TAF Africa acknowledges the efforts made by INEC in enhancing accessibility and inclusivity for PWDs in the electoral process. However, our observation uncovered certain challenges and incidents that require urgent attention and remedial action.
- Improved Participation and Overall Experience of PWDs:
We acknowledge the commendable efforts made by INEC to enhance the participation and overall experience of PWDs in the 2023 off-cycle election. Compared to the previous election, there was a noticeable improvement in providing necessary assistive tools and ensuring a more inclusive voting process.
- Uneven Assistive Tool Deployment:
Despite the progress, there was uneven deployment of assistive tools across the observed states. Bayelsa state recorded the highest percentage of deployment at 61% based on the 30 selected polling units, while Kogi and Imo state experienced low deployment at 36% and 33% respectively, raising concerns about the consistency of INEC's implementation of disability-inclusive measures.
- Person with Disabilities Voter Inducement:
TAF Africa notes with concern the recorded incident of PWD voter inducement in the off-cycle states. For instance, in St. Luke Sec school, Agudama Epie polling unit, Epie ward 1, Yenagoa LGA of Bayelsa state, some party agents engaged in vote buying, thereby causing chaos and disorderliness in the polling unit. This challenges the integrity of the electoral process and emphasizes the need for heightened vigilance and enforcement of electoral laws to maintain a free and fair electoral environment.
- Security Incident in Imo State:
A critical incident occurred in Dimoma Hall Amambaa polling unit, Ikeduru LGA, in Imo state, where gunmen dispersed voters. TAF Africa condemns any form of violence that disrupts the democratic process, and we call on security agencies to thoroughly investigate the incident and take necessary actions to ensure the confidence, safety, and security of voters in subsequent elections.
- Standardized Deployment of Assistive Tools:
TAF Africa recommends that INEC establishes and enforce a standardized protocol for the adequate deployment of assistive tools, ensuring equitable distribution across all states and polling units with registered persons with disabilities during elections. This will contribute to a more consistent and inclusive electoral process.
- Enhanced Security Measures:
Considering the security incidents in Imo and Kogi states, we urge security agencies to enhance security measures to prevent and respond swiftly to incidents that threaten the safety of voters. This includes proactive measures to deter and respond to any acts of violence that could undermine the electoral process.
- Strict Enforcement of Anti-Inducement Laws:
TAF Africa calls on political parties and relevant authorities to enforce strict penalties for voter inducement. This will help maintain the integrity of the electoral process and foster a transparent and accountable political environment.
- Continuous Stakeholder Engagement:
We encourage continuous collaboration and engagement between INEC, political parties, security agencies, PWDs, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Regular consultations will facilitate the identification and resolution of challenges, promoting a more inclusive and accessible electoral process.
In conclusion, TAF Africa remains committed to advancing the rights and inclusion of PWDs in Nigeria's democratic processes. We commend the positive steps taken by INEC and other stakeholders but emphasize the need for continuous improvement to ensure that no one is left behind in Nigeria’s democratic journey.
Amb. Jake Epelle
CEO/Founder, TAF Africa
Convener, Disability Inclusion Ni