By Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
The British Government has clarified that it will maintain neutrality as Nigerians go to the polls in 2019 to elect a new president.
This is as international agencies in conjunction with local civil society organisations told the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to fashion out ways in which Peoples Living with Disabilities (PWDs) will easily participate in the electoral system in 2019.
The agencies, which include British High Commission and Australian High Commission in Nigeria, British Department for International Development (DFID) and Foundation For Justice and Social Development (FOJSOD), stated that excluding the people living with disabilities from the electoral system is not in consonance with the global best practices.
Speaking at a one-day dialogue tagged: ‘Enhancing Electoral Participation of PWDs in 2019 General Election’, the Political Adviser to the country’s Deputy British High Commissioner, Mr Wale Adebajo, said the British government neither supports President Buhari nor the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, or any other candidate in the election.
Adebajo said the National Disability Bill that is awaiting presidential assent will help in resolving some of the issues bedevilling the group in the country.
He applauded INEC for including PWDs in its strategic plan for the 2017-2021 elections, saying the British Government and the United States Department for International Development (USAID) were favourably disposed to the action.
“When we pointed out in the Ondo governorship election the need to make the PWDs more inclusive in our elections, INEC responded positively to our response by establishing desk officers in INEC offices to take care of the PWDs. This to us was a signal of INEC’s commitment to improving access to electoral system.
“We want to clear the air that the British government is not supporting any candidate in the election. We are neutral when it comes to election in Nigeria,” he said.
The DFID Regional Programme Officer, Mrs Margaret Fagboyo, said the agency has always believed that PWDs should be the beneficiaries of the sustainable development in Nigeria, which unfettered access to participate in elections was part of.
“In 2019, INEC must ensure that ballot boxes are placed where they can access easily. The police shouldn’t harass them; they should be accorded respect. They should be seen as critical stakeholders in any election.
“We commend INEC for noticing where there are lapses and trying to improve on them. We can’t leave these people behind while taking critical decisions just because they are having one form of disability. If this happens, definitely there will be problem,” she said.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Ekiti State, Prof. Abduganiy Raji, said INEC has identified those critical areas where PWDs are having problems in the electoral system, adding that such were being tackled through policy formulation and strong legal framework.
Raji said those with disabilities were effectively sensitised before the July 14 governorship election in the state and that it accounted for the major breakthrough recorded in the poll.
“The overall goal of this programme is to consolidate inclusive electoral process that would be in consonance with the international best practices devoid of any rancour or acrimony but free, fair, transparent and acceptable elections.
“In this programme, we must also identify those critical challenges affecting participation of PWDs in elections. They should understand legal provision and policy framework that can support electoral participation and to engage electoral stakeholder to mainstream PWDs into electoral engagement,” Raji said.