02 Jul Marginalised Groups in The 2023 General Elections
Nigeria has made modest steps towards the inclusion of marginalised groups in elections especially through an electoral legal framework aimed at enhancing inclusive participation. For instance, the 2022 Act includes provisions mandating the electoral commission to take “reasonable steps” to ensure persons facing barriers are afforded greater opportunities to participate. These include Persons With Disabilities and special needs, the visually impaired, and the vulnerable – elderly, internally displaced, persons in detention, the sick, and minority groups.
But how much did these categories of people participate in the last general elections?
Prior to the elections, civil society organisations called for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the election and the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission engaged in these discussions promising interventions to encourage participation of PWDs. Such assistive measures promised include braille ballots, large print posters and magnifying glasses for the visually impaired.
However, it was observed that voter education targeted at PWDs was quite low and limited to the broadcast media. Sign language was used in announcements of election information, as well as in the broadcasting of results. But this was not seen on social media campaigns.
While there are over 19 million persons living with disabilities in Nigeria, INEC’s voter registration data pointed to barely 55,000 voters officially registered with disability nationwide. This is a testament that there was no intentional awareness to encourage participation among PWDs.
Participation was also not encouraging on election days. For instance, some of the buildings used as polling centres were not accessible to PWDs. This was confirmed by the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigerian in its report of the 2023 election released in min-June. The report also noted that Political parties’ candidacy statistics and manifestos showed a lack of will to encourage PWDs to contest for elective positions. It is noted that “few candidates were recorded as PWDs, and only seven candidates were young persons living with disabilities.”
The report stressed further: “Following the 25 February polls, EU EOM noted a high level of dissatisfaction with INEC among disability rights organisations, due mainly to absence or inadequate supply of assistive materials. CSOs also decried braille ballots only being available for the presidential poll, thus denying visually impaired equal treatment and opportunities to vote for other candidates.”
Internally displaced persons (IDPs)
There was also a dearth of publicity targeted at IDPs to encourage them to participate in the elections, even though there are numerous IDP camps across the North and Middle Belt regions of the country, with an estimated 3 million displaced persons.
INEC is mandated under the Electoral Act, 2022, to take reasonable steps to ensure IDPs are assisted at the polling place’ including through suitable means of communication or ‘off-site voting in appropriate cases.’ This leaves undue scope to determine what constitutes ‘reasonable’ steps. INEC also has a legal duty to ensure as far as possible that persons displaced in ‘an emergency affecting an election’ are not disenfranchised, but this does not necessarily encompass all IDPs, with many displaced in circumstances other than affecting an election.
In 2022, INEC issued a revised Draft Framework and Regulations for Voting by IDPs. This promising document pointed to various operational proposals and inter-agency collaborations to identify and classify IDPs by location, for surveys by RECs in affected states, special arrangements for PVC cardholders, the gathering of IDP voting data, and undertaking readiness assurance tests. However, that draft emerged toward the close of the voter registration period and does not appear to have been formalised. The only framework and regulations published on the INEC website at the time of the elections were issued in 2018.
Observers of the European Union Election Observation Mission noted evidence of “weak strategic engagement on IDP-related actions from INEC to the state level, varied degrees of preparedness and planning, and inconsistent procedures for polling units, voter awareness, and IDP voting from various states, including Benue, Niger and Borno. A lack of planning was evidenced in reports of non-distribution of PVCs to large numbers of IDPs, notably in Benue state.
The report also added that the 2023 cash crisis and lack of access to transportation also “impacted participation, while election day incidents of violence and intimidation hampered voting at IDP polling units in Edo, Benin City.