Coming on the heels of the commencement of campaigns for the 2019 General Elections, the British Government has said it is neutral and without any preferred candidates.
The Political Adviser to the British Deputy Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Wale Adebajo, made this known during a public forum in Ado Ekiti, Monday.
The programme tagged, “Enhancing Electoral Participation of Peoples Living with Disabilities (PWDs) in 2019 General Elections,” attracted both international organisations and local civil society organisations.
They included the British Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foundation For Justice and Social Development (FOJSOD).
Adebajo also averred that the National Disability Bill currently awaiting presidential assent, would help in resolving some of the issues affecting the group in the country.
He commended INEC for including PWDs in its strategic plan for 2017-2021 elections, stressing that 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 inclusive in our elections, INEC responded positively to our response 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 the 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 DFID Regional Programme Officer, Mrs Margaret Fagboyo, in her remarks, said PWDs should be beneficiaries of the sustainable development in Nigeria.
”In 2019, INEC must ensure that ballot boxes are placed where they can be accessed easily, the police shouldn’t harass them, and they should be accorded respect.
“They should be seen as critical stakeholders in any election.
“We commend INEC for noticing where there 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 problems,” she said.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ekiti, Prof. Abduganiy Raji, who also spoke at the forum, said INEC had identified critical areas where PWDs were having problems in the electoral system.
He said these were being tackled through policy formulation and strong legal framework.
Raji said those with disabilities were effectively sensitised before the July 14 governorship election in the state, adding that this 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.
”In this programme, we must also identify those critical challenges affecting the participation of PWDs in elections.
“They should understand the legal provisions and policies framework that can support electoral participation and engage electoral stakeholders to mainstream PWDs into electoral engagement,” Raji said.