THE British government has given the assurance of the neutrality of the country in the coming 2019 general election in Nigeria.
The Political Adviser to the British Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Wale Adebajo, gave the assurance while speaking at a one-day dialogue programme tagged: “Enhancing Electoral Participation of People with Disabilities (PWDs) in 2019 General Elections,” in Ado Ekiti on Monday.
Adebajo said the British government was supporting neither President Buhari nor the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; or any other candidate in the election.
On the occasion, international agencies in conjunction with a local civil society organisation also charged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to come up with ways for people living with disabilities (PWDs) to easily participate in the electoral system in the polls.
Adebajo said: “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 the election in Nigeria.”
At the event, international agencies including British High Commission and Australian High Commission in Nigeria; British Department for International Development (DFID) and Foundation for Justice and Social Development (FOJSOD), held that excluding the people living with disabilities from the electoral system was not in consonance with the global best practices.
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However, they expressed delight that INEC had taken steps to rectify that, saying “when we pointed out in the Ondo governorship election the need to make the PWDs more inclusive 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 commitment to improving access to the electoral system.”
Adebajo said the National Disability bill that was awaiting presidential assent would help in resolving some of the issues bedevilling the group in the country.
He applauded the INEC for including PWDs in its strategic plan for 2017-2021 elections, saying the British government and United States Department for International Development (USAID) welcomed the action.
The DFID Regional Programme Officer, Mrs Margaret Fagboyo, said the agency had always believed that PWDs should be beneficiary of the sustainable development in Nigeria, which unfettered access to participate in elections was part of.
Fagboyo said: “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 a problem.”
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ekiti State, Professor Abduganiy Raji, while speaking on the occasion, said INEC had identified those critical areas where PWDs are having problems in the electoral system, saying such was 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 and that he said 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 the participation of PWDs in elections, they should understand legal provision and policies framework that can support electoral participation and engage electoral stakeholder to mainstream PWDs into electoral engagement.”