IFES Voter Education Engagement with Persons with Disabilities
Effective democratic development involves safeguarding inclusive and broad participatory processes that make it possible for underprivileged and traditionally marginalized members of society to have a meaningful voice in the affairs of the State. In Nigeria, persons with disabilities, who are often the poorest of the poor, are frequently overlooked and struggle to have a voice in society. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities in Nigeria (JONAPWD) estimates that there are over 20 million persons with disabilities living in Nigeria, which represents a significant portion of society. However, the large majority of these citizens remain on the periphery of Nigerian politics.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is faced with the challenge of enhancing participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process. In order to help INEC fulfil this task, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the electoral commission have begun implementing a series of specialized voter education training workshops and voter forums in partnership with organizations that focus on advancing the interests of persons with disabilities across Nigeria. The intent is to build the capacity of the organizations to conduct targeted voter outreach within their communities and to provide input to assist the INEC in designing voter education materials and devising enhanced strategies to facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities at the grassroots level. With the 2014 national elections approaching, these initiatives are unprecedented and represent INEC’s intent to broaden its voter education outreach and engagement at local and national levels.
In addition to highlighting the importance of increasing the participation of persons with disabilities in electoral processes, the voter education training programs and sensitization forums have produced some significant results. For instance, the Ekiti state branch of JONAPWD was able to independently conduct a voter awareness workshop for its members in the lead up the state’s gubernatorial elections scheduled for June 21. One of beneficiaries of the training workshops, Rotimi Babatunde, a person with a disability who works for Ekiti state television, was able to design and implement a voter education TV program for persons with disabilities that has been broadcast weekly. At a recent forum, Mr Rotimi noted:
“With what I have learned at the training workshops, I have started a voter education TV program at my organization, sensitizing persons with disabilities on the need to come out and vote as well as what is expected of them during the election process… I am also going to be voting in the forthcoming election, which will represent the first time I have voted since 2003.”
In total, IFES and INEC have trained 40 disabled persons organizations in voter education in Anambra and Ekiti states thus far. The initial signs have been encouraging but a great deal of work needs to done by the INEC with the dislocation of persons with disabilities so entrenched in Nigerian society. JONAPWD continues to advocate for the introduction of braille ballot guides and greater involvement of persons with disabilities in the planning process for elections. IFES will continue to support the INEC as the commission continues its efforts to ensure that electoral processes are more inclusive in the coming years.