Estimated reading time: 19 minute(s)
Few years ago, Kareem Musbau was among the teeming Nigerian youths exercising their constitutional right during the historic 1993 general election.
Then, this 24-year-old, Musbau aggressively campaigned for his favorite candidate, the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, the forerunner in the election.
After the election, the Lagos-based trailer mechanic left the political scene for a while to cater for his family with the hope to dabble in politics when the time is ripe.
Throughout the period Mushau was not active in politics, the now 57-year-old man was still physically fit for all sorts of exhaustive activities involved in the political ecosystem until he was involved in a fatal accident in 2008 along Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, the incident which claimed the spinal cord of the family man.
The Lagos-based man is now confined to a wheelchair and his hope of participating in politics again is withering away.
But, he said, “If there is a supportive and conducive environment, I’ll like to participate [in politics] again. We are all Nigerians but, if there is provision for PLWD to participate in politics well, I’ll like to participate”.
In Nigeria, People Living With Disabilities suffer discrimination, stigmatization and are not well-catered for in the social, economic and political system. Most persons with disabilities are often excluded from national plans and lack access to public facilities. These have made life unbearable for PLWD.
Like Musbau, physically challenged people have a long list of worries and concerns about their survival in the society, and are thereby indifferent to social and political participation, adding that, the system is less friendly to them. This has made many of PWD to be apathetic to politics.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are about 25 million Nigerians living with at least one form of disability. The most common of these are visual, hearing, physical, intellectual, and communication impairments.
Salish Zurmi is a lawmaker in Zamfara State House of Assembly under the platform of a popular political party in Nigeria.
Lawmaker, Salish Zurmi
But Zurmi has limitations as a person living with a disability.
Recently, Zurmi’s hope to contest for Shinkafi/Zurmi Federal constituency in the Federal House of Representatives in the 2023 election was dashed as his party denied him ticket due his physical condition.
The Zamfara lawmaker had also lamented that his colleagues have been intimidating him.
“No member of the party has caught or challenged me against anti-party activities but they are doing everything negative to me because of my health condition”, the lawmaker was quoted.
“I even wrote to the National secretariat of the party, complaining of the injustice of the highest order but nothing was done until the time elapsed”.
The Laws In Nigeria For PWD
Following nine years of relentless advocacy by disability rights groups and activists, in January 23, 2018, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018.
The Act, among other things, states that government shall actively promote an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in election.
It adds: “Persons with disabilities shall be encouraged to fully participate in politics and public life.”
Also, the Electoral Act 2022 (pdf) makes some provisions for people with disabilities.
Section 54, subsection (2) provides that the Commission shall take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or off site voting in appropriate cases.
Brain, Not Body
George Omolola, 34, does not believe in the Nigerian political system partly because of discrimination and disbelief citizens have in persons with disabilities.
If Omolola, a spinal cord injury survivor, nurses the ambition to run for a political office, her fear is that “to get to the top will be very difficult.”
She said, “This is Nigeria; once you are physically challenged, to get to the top will be very difficult.
“People will not want to believe in you. They will be like, ‘how can a disabled person coordinate able person?’.
“People used to look at your physical body to include you in activities.
“Then, I used to tell some of my friends that, ‘it is brain, and not legs’.”
Omolola said she was preparing for Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination when she woke up and felt that she couldn’t walk.
Although she said she had been stuck inside her room for 16 years until she met with this reporter at an event in Abeokuta, Ogun State, however, she’s studying to be a Communicator, her dream job.
Moving from one place to another is one of the challenges people with disabilities are faced with.
Like Omolola, efforts by persons with disabilities to attend a political party’s event or move to polling units to cast their votes are often difficult as they become prey for commercial drivers’ exploits.
“When I go out sometimes, I don’t use commercial vehicles. I use chartered vehicles. The fare to Abeokuta from Ogun waterside is N20, 000. It’s expensive,”she said.
Omolola expressed that Nigeria is yet to attain the stage at which the physically challenged will be well-catered for.
“I have seen some other countries that have presidents that are physically challenged and they run the country very well.
“But in this part of the world we are, Nigeria, we haven’t reached that stage yet.”
Musbau added, “There is no way out of stigmatization. Once one breaks down, a lot of insults happen through friends and unknown people.”
Activist Advocates Implementation of Electoral Act
A Disability Rights and Human Rights Activist, Mr. Peter E. E. argued that persons with disabilities are willing to participate in the elections if an enabling environment is created for them.
Peter noted that if the Electoral Act is fully implemented, it will usher in the active participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process.
His words: “PWDs are willing to participate in elections, all that is needed is an accessible and inclusive environment during election processes to enable them to participate on an equal basis with others.
“With the provision (Electoral Act, 2022), I believe if effectively implemented, will go a long way in ensuring PWDs participation in elections and reduce discrimination which over the years have been a major problem.”
The activist however urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the government to uphold the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“I, therefore, urge the INEC and the Nigerian government to keep to their promises by fully implementing the provisions of the Electoral Act to ensure that PWDs participate on an equal basis with others”, he said.
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