by Isaiah Benjamin
One of the observers of elections in Kaduna State and Non Governmental Organization, (NGO) Legal Awareness for Nigerian Women (LANW) with support from Christian Aid said, that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) marginalized the virtually impaired Persons through the non provision of disability inclusive voting materials during the elections as monitored in Kaduna State.
Presenting their report at a press briefing, the Acting Executive Director LAWN, Mrs Hannatu Ahuwan said, “as against INEC’s assurance on provision of disability-inclusive voting materials to ensure persons with disability (especially the visually impaired) were marginalized, there was no provision of suitable means of communication such as Braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate cases for the visually impaired and incapacitated voters at the various polling units as stipulated in the Electoral Act”.
We said LAWN is implementing the Improving Inclusive Participatory Governance Systems Project aimed at improving citizens’ participation in governance processes.
“As part of activities towards encouraging civic responsibility and ensuring a transparent electoral process, LANW trained and supported election observers in 86 polling units across all wards in Jaba, Jema’a, Kaura and Zangon Kataf LGAs to observe the 2023 Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections that took place on March 18th, 2023.
“The exercise is an expression of solidarity with communities going through this process and also a way of ensuring that there is credible evidence on the basis of which to evaluate, assess and report on the credibility of the elections in terms of whether they meet the minimum thresholds of democratic participation”.
On the basis of their monitoring, that the observed that the 2023 Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections, compared to the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections started earlier, which is a demonstration that INEC took into consideration and corrected some of the lapses of the previous election.
“INEC officials were reported to arrive on time and voting commenced early in 80 polling units except for 6 polling units in Jema’a and Jaba LGA where materials arrived behind schedule and voting started a bit late.
“The 2023 Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections as observed by LANW, received very low turnout in Jaba, Kaura, Jema’a and Zangon Kataf LGAs of Kaduna state. For example, in Polling unit 008 PRAC. Pri. sch (ungwan Akau) of Jema’a LGA, out of 623 register voters, only 264 votes were cast.
“This may be associated with the outcome of the presidential election which was allegedly reported to be fraught with a lot of irregularities. There were exceptions for some communities in Zangon Kataf, Ungwan Gaiya and Ungwan Wakili which had experienced low turnout as a result of the recent attacks that led to most people fleeing their homes thereby resulting in only a few people participating in the elections.
“It was observed that there were separate queues for men and women across all polling units as stipulated in the Electoral Act, except for units 006 Ungwan Mallam Tete polling unit of Kaninkon ward in Jema’a LGA where voters had only one queue for both male and female.
“In most cases, the visually impaired or persons with any form of disability were given priority by other voters and allowed to be accompanied by someone to help them identify symbols or help in voting while in some polling units they were assisted by political party agents of their choice after informing the presiding officer, which ought not to be so”.
She said, LAWN also observed during the elections that Electoral materials such as ink pads and pens were inadequate in some units but in some cases community members stepped in to provide the materials to ensure smooth running of the voting process.
“In regards to the voting environment and arrangements affecting the safety and security of election officials and voters in the 86 polling units observed were perceived to be safe. There was no evidence of any violence, intimidation, and interference across the polling units of the 4 LGAs.
“In the polling units observed, INEC adhoc staff conducted themselves in a mature and responsible manner throughout the conduct of the polls including accreditation, voting, counting, collation and declaration of results. The security agencies assigned to the polling units alongside the Polling Officials acted professionally.
“Some polling units had either one or two security agents assigned to them. There was no record of interference from them and their conduct did not negatively affect the participation of the people throughout the electoral process.
“Generally, there were no issues with the BVAs machines used in the polling units where elections were observed except for 2 persons who the machines could not capture in polling unit 005 of Chori Galadima, Chori ward unit and polling unit 015 Fai, all in Jaba LGA while only one polling unit (018 Ungwan Nnka Kaura LGA) experienced network problem that resulted in the delay of the process”
LAWN noted that the task of accomplishing a free and fair election is a collective duty shared by the government, voters, observers, election bodies and all stakeholders, adding that averagely, the conduct of the process as observed by LANW went smoothly with less hitches and irregularities and every stakeholder played their part in a manner that is commendable.
“This demonstrates a collective expression of interest in the protection and promotion of common democratic values by citizens and other stakeholders to ensure a peaceful, free and fair electoral process”.
LAWN recommended that in future, INEC should consider conducting all the elections in one day as against the current practice. This is cost effective, will reduce the untold hardship endured by voters during elections and also address the issue of low voter turnout for the Gubernatorial/State House of Assembly elections.