By Bidon Mibzar, Abuja
The Executive Director of the Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), a person with disability focused Organisation, Miss Grace Jerry, despite several challenges, has commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on improved People Living with Disability (PWD) participation in electoral activities as experienced in Edo and Ondo States.
Jerry in a press statement signed, in Abuja, stated that against all odds IFA observed a high level of priority voting for PWDs during the recent off cycle elections and commended INEC for that achievement.
She said high number of the polling units (PU) visited by her organisation shows clearly the impact of various voter education conducted by IFA and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
While commending the availability of the form EC40H which is used to capture data of PWDs to assist INEC’s deployment for PWDs in future elections and enhance its database, she also stressed that as there was high turnout of voters who were PWDs with young men and women, the aged, nursing mothers expressing their eagerness to cast votes for the candidate of their choice.
Miss Jerry who said, all cannot be perfect despite the considerable improvement in the provision of Braille Ballot Guide (BBG) as compared with the Edo Elections, earlier conducted on the 19th of September, 2020 and having 38% deployment of BBG while Ondo elections conducted on the 10th of October, 2020 improved to 59% also lamented that the absence of flat surface ground voting, Form EC30E PWD (Election Day written instruction for the deaf) as well as insufficient or outright absence of magnifying glasses has being a major set-back for PWDs in performing their electoral rights.
“It was observed from the PUs visited that, the BBG was deployed to some of the PU to enable voters who were visually impaired cast their votes for candidates of their choice independently. Some other PU visited however did not have the BBG at their PU. The Yiaga Africa report captured that, the Braille ballot guide was present in 59% of sampled PU in Ondo as against the poorly deployed 38% of BBG in the Edo Election. An explanation provided by some Presiding Officers however proved that, INEC had used the Data for inclusion submitted to them by Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) in the distribution of the BBG and other assistive materials”.
“INEC deserve commendation for the improvements recorded thus far in areas such as, the provision of braille for voters with visual impairment, training of polling officials in managing the electoral process especially engaging PWDs as part of the ad-hoc staff. PU28/06/04/011 Oke-Ijebo had PWDs as part of their ad-hoc staff this is a good initiative of inclusion in the area of employment”.
“However, the commission should make efforts to address the challenges identified above and especially, make efforts to engage relevant government agencies in providing concrete slabs to ensure accessibility for PUs located in front of residential buildings due to the existing gutter challenges or better still change PUs to more accessible ones, she said”.
PWDs rights campaigner who during the Election, deployed team of PWD roving observers across all eighteen LGAs and the state capital in Edo and also across LGAs and the state Capital in Ondo, further revealed that against all fears and speculations of violence, every PUs had the presence of security officials who also conducted themselves very professionally thereby providing confidence for PWDs to cast their votes.
And on a negative note, the IFA boss revealed that her observers witnessed some activities of vote buying and canvassing at some PUs which are against the voting provisions in Edo and Ondo with so many PU not complying with COVID-19 Protocol and called on INEC to address those challenges identified.