17th November, 2014
The remark on 4 November by Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, the Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner, that Nigeria has not matured enough to fully accommodate persons with disabilities during elections was shocking and further demonstrates that we have abandoned our weakest compatriots.
Ogunmola spoke in Lagos shortly after attending a media launch of “Civic Education on Inclusive Voter Participation” organised by the State Accountability and Voice Initiative, SAVI.
He said there’s no specific arrangement from INEC for the physically challenged electorate when he was asked what specific arrangements the commission had made for them.
He said most persons with disabilities, especially those with visual impairment, are not educated enough to make use of the braille. The population of physically challenged Nigerians that can make use of the braille is very small , he claimed, compared to the total number of those who are visually challenged, adding that even if they could make use of the braille, not all of them will be able to interpret it.
Ogunmola said when physically challenged Nigerians visited him recently, he assured them they would be given the opportunity to vote, but quickly added that the society has not really developed to what obtains in some other parts of the world.
It’s estimated that over 2 million people in Lagos are persons with disabilities, while at least 19 percent of Nigerians are physically challenged. Many of these people have been disenfranchised during past elections. Apart from the fact that there’s no interaction between them and INEC before elections, on the day of voting, most people with disabilities find it hard to access polling units. The deaf, for instance, get to the polling units without interpreters and the blind have to be aided by some other persons to vote.
Those with no fingers cannot register and are not given electoral cards. They cannot therefore vote. Persons with disabilities are not taken into account by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, before, during and after elections. And this is tragic and must change. As a society, we see persons with disabilities as second class citizens, as beggars rather than partners.
We erroneously believe that they are paying for some sins committed by either their parents or their great grand parents. We discriminate against them when it comes to employment or even when planning our cities or constructing public buildings. We relegate their rights to the background and it takes years to pass laws concerning them.
And when we eventually do pass laws like it happened in Lagos, we do not implement those laws very well. We continue to build public offices in Nigeria without taking persons with disabilities into account. And so our public buildings remain inaccessible to most persons with disabilities, our employers continue to discriminate against them and the society continues to despise them. This is very wrong. We need to begin to see persons with disabilities as partners rather than beggars. As a country, we must begin to treat persons with disabilities with the dignity and the love they deserve as it is the situation in the civilised world.