The ability to vote is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all, regardless of disability status, yet many People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria have been denied this right due to different factors. An estimated 19-29 million PWDs face numerous challenges when it comes to voting, still the Electoral Act, 2010, failed to provide the means for disabled individuals to exercise their voting rights independently and securely.
In addition, the violent nature of Nigerian elections often puts disabled individuals at risk and impedes their ability to access polling stations. This is a problem that will reoccur if necessary improvements are not made to the electoral system. Even with the Electoral Act 2022, there is still a need for the electoral process to be more inclusive.
The National Register of Voters provides a breakdown of disability status by type, which is a step in the right direction. However, the commission did not account for persons who registered before the act came into force. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it captured a little over 85,000 PWDs, and over 8,000 are blind: This is questionable because with a population that has over 1.3 million blind persons, there are definitely more visually impaired persons than those captured in the voters’ register, and an inaccurate record will deny some of them access to braille ballot guides.
This is already a breach of their rights because the commission is expected to provide braille and communication assistance to PWDs. During the 2019 presidential election, many blind persons across the country said they were deprived of agency and secrecy while trying to vote because there were no braille guides, as promised by INEC.
Furthermore, many will find the guides difficult to use because they have not been trained, with the exception of those who participated in off-cycle elections. For physically handicapped persons, wheeling themselves to their polling units will be challenging since many of them use manual wheelchairs; also, some will go to the wrong polling units. If the government wants to enforce movement restrictions, then INEC should organise transportation for persons in this disability cluster.
For those with auditory challenges, it is impossible for INEC to provide enough sign language interpreters in over 170,000 polling units, so infographics and large posters should be used to help them understand what they need to do.
The Electoral Act, 2022, says there can be offsite voting where appropriate. The Act, however, fails to determine what an “appropriate” situation is. Therefore, INEC should make regulations clarifying this and extend it to persons with disabilities, who might find the voting process too arduous.