“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”

Wole Balogun, Ado Ekiti

The British Government has said it remains neutral on presidential candidates President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President, ahead of the 2019 elections.

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This comes as international agencies in collaboration with local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure the full inclusion of Persons Living with Disabilities (PWDs) into the electoral system in 2019.

The agencies, which include the British High Commission, the Australian High Commission in Nigeria, British Department for International Development (DFID) and Foundation For Justice and Social Development (FOJSOD), stated that excluding PWDs from the electoral system is not in consonance with global best practices.

DFID Regional Programme Officer Mrs Margaret Fagboyo said the agency has always believed that PWDs should be beneficiaries of sustainable development in Nigeria, a component of which is ease of access to participate in elections.

“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 they 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”.

Speaking at a one-day dialogue programme tagged ‘Enhancing Electoral Participation of PWDs in 2019 General Elections’, the Political Adviser to the country’s Deputy British High Commissioner, Mr Wale Adebajo, said the British government is supporting neither President Buhari nor the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, or any other candidate in the coming election.

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Adebajo said that the National Disability Bill awaiting presidential assent will help in resolving some of the issues bedeviling disabled persons in the country.

Adebajo praised the electoral commission for including PWDs in its strategic plan for 2017-2021 elections, saying the British government and 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 included in our elections, INEC responded positively… 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 Resident Electoral Commissioner, Ekiti State, Prof Abdulganiyu Raji, said INEC has identified areas where PWDs are having problems in the electoral system, saying they are being tackled through policy supported by a strong legal framework.

Raji said Persons Living With Disabilities were effectively sensitized before the July 14 governorship election in the state which, according to him, 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 provisions and policy framework that can support electoral participation, and to engage electoral stakeholders to mainstream PWDs into electoral engagement,” Raji said.

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