ADVANCING GOVERNANCE THROUGH THE POLITICAL PARTICIPATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

As the call for disability inclusion grows for a more democratic and progressive government, development experts and disability inclusion advocates have explained why people with disabilities (PWDs) must be empowered to participate actively in Nigeria's political, electoral, and economic landscapes. These explanations were made during the Able to Serve Live television Town Hall Meeting titled, “Advancing governance through the political participation of persons with disabilities”, organized by TAF Africa with funding support from the Macarthur Foundation.   In their separate submissions, the development experts and disability inclusion advocates, who are reputable for their advocacies for good governance and inclusivity in the participation of minority groups in the society, argued that the government must make deliberate efforts to adhere to Nigeria's Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act of 2018, which criminalizes discrimination against persons with disabilities. Speaking on the panel, Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa addressed the need for society to come to the reality of accepting persons with disabilities as parts of the social structure who should be supported and empowered to participate in relevant sectors in the society, particularly in the electoral and political sphere. He further downplayed the charity approach the government uses to engage persons with disabilities by making donations as empowerment instead of feasible empowerment such as inclusion in the budgetary allocations and recruitment into the government employment scheme.   In his words, “Do Nigerian voters believe in the Capacity of persons with disabilities to lead? The Able2Serve campaign is not just for the political class but for the public as well. The government must create grounds and accessibility for the recruitment of persons with disabilities into its institutions. They must check the appropriation bill to see how much is budgeted for Persons with Disabilities. There must also be an evaluation with a level of accountability. Distributing wheelchairs to persons with disabilities is not an empowerment program; they need economic empowerment.” Speaking on the need to provide more grounds for the persons with disabilities, Ene Obi, Development Expert and Former Country Director of Action Aid Nigeria explained that disability issues are not peculiar to some groups of people, but what the populace must pay more attention to which will in turn force the government into paying more attention to the needs of persons with disabilities.   She stated that even though different organizations are advocating for inclusion in the country, and there are results to show for the efforts, there are still many gaps to be filled by the government. She insisted that collective effort must be put into effect to achieve tenable results in governance. She further urged the concerned stakeholders to continue to advocate for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in governance.   In her contribution, Vaneza Udegbe-Gregory, programme lead of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, urged the stakeholders to set realistic milestones when discussing accessibility for persons with disabilities and give progress reports. She also called for accountability from policymakers and people who are placed in positions of leadership in their engagement with persons with disabilities and other minority groups. Dwelling on strategies for inclusive governance, Lois Auta, the founder of Cedar Seed Foundation, pointed out infrastructural and medical barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in sensitive positions in governance. She stated that, despite the existence of Nigerian and international laws mandating disability inclusion in the social structure of society, Nigeria takes a charity approach to dealing with people with disabilities, resulting in a lack of investment in minority groups.   She therefore urged the government to move from a charity style to a human rights style, which will extend to their participation in government. She also charged the persons with disabilities to continue to amplify their voices until they are heard in the country. In his intervention, Dr Chike Okogwu, Founder of the Centre for Ability Rehabilitation and Empowerment in Nigeria (CARE) urged President Bola Tinubu to appoint the required 5% of persons with disabilities to various portfolios to eradicate stereotypical tendencies in society. He also urged the state governors and the local government chairpersons to take a similar route. He also encouraged the community of persons with disabilities across the country to venture into politics, stating that they have the right and capacity to serve in the public and private sectors of the government.   In his words, "If President Tinubu appointed 5% of the PWDs to his government, and the state governors and local governments did the same, many PWDs would be more empowered, and the discrimination we face would be reduced." For instance, the transportation system in the country is not PWD friendly, and both land transport and aviation do not support PWDs in the country: Imagine if the minister of transportation or aviation were a person with disability, that would have been corrected.” Barrister Rex Erameh, the FCT Chairman of the Albinism Association of Nigeria urged the government to comply with the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. He also encouraged the PWDs to remain resilient and disregard the impediments of participation in governance.

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