…”If only 60% of PWDs Registered Voters, out of the total registered figure of 19 million should vote, PWDs can determine who becomes what in the next election in this country” Dr. Jake Ekpelle, CEO/Founder, The Albino Foundation and Convener, Disability Inclusion Nigeria is an engaging personality who is always upbeat and brimming with novel
…”If only 60% of PWDs Registered Voters, out of the total registered figure of 19 million should vote, PWDs can determine who becomes what in the next election in this country”
Dr. Jake Ekpelle, CEO/Founder, The Albino Foundation and Convener, Disability Inclusion Nigeria is an engaging personality who is always upbeat and brimming with novel ideas to promote the interest of PWDs. He led his group to launch a new project #ABLE2VOTE in Abuja recently; it speaks to more inclusion of People with Disability in the electoral process. Nigeria Democratic Report (NDR) caught up with him in Abuja recently to interrogate him on some topical national issues including how Persons with Disability will participate in the 2023 election. He was confident, People with Disability will determine the candidates who will emerge winners in the election because of their mobilization and block votes. His group is impressed by the reforms by INEC which has improved on creating enabling environment for PWDs to participate in the elections and bared his mind on the call by a group that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof, Mahmood Yakubu should be relieved of his appointment; he described the idea as dead on arrival stressing that Persons With Disability (PWD) shall resist it with all the resources they have.
You were involved in the amendment of the Electoral Act particularly as it relates to Persons with Disabilities (PWD), has the amendment been able to address the identified lapses? If not, which areas needed to be addressed?
I was involved in the amendment. Has it been able to address the identified lapses? Not holistically. We worked with other CSOs to repeal what we considered draconian clauses in the 2010 Electoral Act and we have addressed the issue of disability in the right legal perspective, which puts more responsibility on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). So now, the issue of inclusivity has a legal implication, they can be taken to court. But fortunately for us, they are doing their best but it’s not enough. I think I should be bold to tell the partners, NGOs that they need more of inclusivity materials; the magnifying glasses are not enough. The Braille not enough, the more the merrier. Data is also another aspect of the intervention that requires urgent attention.
What can be done to make campaigns and elections in the country issues – based?
We need a strategic advocacy that will educate present politicians and the upcoming ones that it’s best for politicians to focus on issues. When that happens, focus is taken off to what that individual can do for the people. For candidates to begin to look at the salient points, what are the things that I can do that the other person is not doing?
Those issues in their manifesto will begin to come into focus when there is peace and harmony between opposing concerns with the realisation that politics is not easy and also, I think it’s high time that government practically make political offices less financially attractive and materialistic. Where people will see political offices as a call to serve and not to develop deep pockets.
Despite signing the Peace Accord, political parties and their candidates have started attacking themselves physically and verbally. What can be done to stop this?
Every step you take is one step less than you need to get to your destination. There has been a whole lot of improvement in the electoral process though we are not there yet. What can be done? – peaceful coexistence, respect, mutual respect, less bitterness. I think the traditional institution also has a big role to play. For instance, in Sokoto state, if there are two leading candidates and tension is growing in the state, because both candidates hold allegiance to the Sultan, imagine a situation where the Sultan calls both candidates and says: “listen, I don’t want you to go ahead with this politics of bitterness and hatred”. That kind of intervention would bring calmness to the polity. Also, the faith-based institutions have a role to play. Everybody has a role to play. You know, influential leaders too. imagine where the likes of former President Olusegun Obasanjo are asking everybody to come to Abeokuta and inside one room talking to them. You see, advice is like a seed once you plant it, it germinates, grows, and brings forth fruit. So I think all hands should be on the deck; the NGOs, we all have a role to play, you know, making sure that there is peace.
On the Bishop Kukah centre’s efforts, there is a need also for them to do feedback. Create a feedback mechanism. How effective is what they’re doing. Which is very, very effective for the follow-up processes that will give us feedback. One of the things that is also being advocated is how to hold these people who have signed this peace treaty accountable. Holding them accountable, ensuring that when people start messing up, they are called to order, they must call their supporters to order. So, they must take ownership of the treaty that they have signed and become the peace ambassadors and ensure that there is peace in the entire process.
How can we address the declining participation of women and youths in the number of candidates for elections?
Well, number one, the process has to be conducive for participation. So, the women need to come out and just don’t bother about the attack, smearing campaign and all that. We need to make the process less economically challenging in terms of investment. It is too expensive. For a woman who probably don’t have godfather or politician behind her to fund a successful campaign and win election. So, we need to make it a situation where it is affordable across board. There’s need for a lot more advocacy for inclusion of women. It won’t be a bad idea to begin to think in terms of affirmative action giving them the opportunity to participate in the process. So, we need more friendly processes. We need more involvement by the youths. We need more education. Further Education for instance, in the project that we are running which is #ABLE2VOTE and we have taken it to the geo-political sensitization level. Now, the state organisations of Persons with disabilities are now calling us to say give us the same template for us to implement. Just today, I got a call from Kogi state, and I got a call from Plateau State too. Once you put the right foot forward the body will follow. And I think that’s what needs to be done. There’s more for us to do around education. Education, more political awareness, more training of not just those who participate in the process but also those who will administer the process. For The Albino foundation, (TAF) we are interested. We are going out to train INEC top management on disability inclusion with the guidelines we have developed for them. In the guidelines, we outlined what needs to be done to ensure we have not only political but effective processes that are inclusive and inclusive – driven.
From your observation now, what are the chances of women, youths, and Persons with Disabilities (PWD) in the current political engagement?
Well before I speak on youths and women, let me speak on PWDs, we have seen that we’re privileged to see an increasing number. One, those who have registered and are on the verge of receiving a PVC have increased tremendously. For instance, by my community, we are actually leading the entire pack of persons with disabilities of 40 something thousand compared to the physically challenged who are under 20,000 but, generally our projection is that we will get over 60% of the entire electorate out of the projected 90 million registered voters. There are over 19 million registered voters. Imagine, if all these over 10 million people exercise their voting rights I am sure we can determine the outcome of this election. I hope and I believe that we will determine the outcome of this election and that’s why no reasonable politician should joke with our number. We have the numbers, and we can determine who becomes what in this country.
Are you convinced that people with disability are ready to take the driver’s seat?
Yes, we are. Yes, we are because not only are we ready to take it, but we are also ready to take leadership in this country. I imagine the person with disability becoming president. We had one contestant, although he didn’t win the ticket of his party. Well, one or two of them also contested for other offices. So that’s the beginning but I can tell you that yes, we are ready to take the bull by the horns.
Finally, a group is clamouring for the removal of INEC Chairman. Are there issues unknown to the public? Are there unseen hands in the clamour?
Listen, though, I don’t even want you to finish the question. Nobody should touch Prof Mahmood. Prof Mahmood has put the right processes in place. And if President Muhammadu Buhari makes the mistake of buying into any pressure and he removes Prof. Mahmood, they will truncate this election. I don’t think it is the right thing to do to remove an electoral umpire few months to election. No way. We will resist it with all the resources we have. We will not have it. I don’t think anybody is thinking of that, however, if it happens, we will resist it. Because one, I speak as in my own opinion and as it concerns my community, there is no INEC Chairman that has done for the disability community more than what Prof. Mahmood has done for persons with disability. I believe that he has the right intentions. And has the right experience that we need to deliver this election. So he shall remain untouchable.