By-Election: Stakeholders Fear Albinos, Others May be Disenfranchised

As rerun elections hold in 26 states of the federation, on Saturday, albinos and some physically challenged in Oyo State may be disenfranchised from participating in the exercise.

A researcher, Women Research and Documentation Centre, University of Ibadan, Esther Ololajulo, disclosed this at the Inclusive Participation programme series organized by the Sustainable Gender Action Initiative, held at Otunba Subomi Balogun Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, the state capital, on Friday.

Ololajulo, who is also a participant, said, “Many albinos and physically challenged maybe disenfranchised. About 80 per cent of the albino community in Oyo State were not able to exercise their voting rights in the 2023 elections because they could not get to register due to procedural bottlenecks and insensibility of INEC towards their peculiar needs.”

Commenting on it, another participant and Regional Coordinator of Network for International Cooperation and Politics on Education and Training, Ossai Edem, stressed the need to learn from the shortcomings of the 2023 general elections towards a better and all-inclusive electoral process in the future.

Edem, a lawyer, said the 2023 electoral process failed to capture the peculiar needs and challenges of albinos, people with disabilities, and others, thereby disenfranchising them.

She said, “People who are unable to move, for instance, and you suddenly announce new polling units on the day of election. What is the implication? I arrived at my polling unit, expecting to cast my vote there, but I was told that my name was not on that register. I got to the polling centre with the aid of a wheelchair and several people assisted me.

“Of course, I won’t be as able to exercise much mobility in the way that a person who is walking about freely can. So, these are just examples of how the system limits these individuals.

“What about people who are visually impaired? What arrangements are put in place for Braille in terms of the voting exercise? If we really want democracy to work, and we want to be able to record the decisions and choices of all community members, then we have to make sure that the polling process and the electoral process accommodate all.

“There must be braille so that the visually impaired can also vote. The sign language people should be there communicating to people with hearing issues. We don’t see those things when we go to cast our votes. Are we not concerned? We can use our albinism as an entry point but there are others with characteristic peculiarities who need to be engaged, even beyond elections.

“Do we ensure that they are able to interact with their leaders in the community do we reach out to them? Are there channels by which their needs and demands can also be escalated so that it reaches the ears of the government. These are issues and we believe that the 2023 election is a learning opportunity for us.”

Earlier in her keynote address, Mufuliat Fijabi, who is the executive director of SGAI, said that the aim of the conversation was to identify common challenges and develop recommendations for future accountability efforts.

She said, “We are trying to bring back those good days of us not just keeping quiet but holding conversations which are strong enough to bring change.

“Since 2011, we have had a decline in the number of women who are elected representatives. Then it was about 12 per cent in 2007. Today, we have less than 5 per cent of women in elective positions across. This is not encouraging.

“In terms of appointive positions, we have a national gender policy in place that has been there since 2006. It encourages a minimum of 35 per cent affirmative action for these appointive positions. And when you don’t have up to 10 per cent, that means the country is also not fulfilling its own minimum benchmark of 35 per cent affirmative action.”

One of the facilitators, who is also the founder of Iyamopo Centre For Peace, Women and Youths Development, Shareefah Taleat-Arafat, identified the need for women to unite in the demand for the protection of their sociopolitical rights so as to incite the appropriate responses from the government.

“Only women understand women and children, only women get pregnant and nurse kids and take care of their families. Hence, there is a need for active involvement of women in politics and governance. Political offices should be occupied by not any woman but upright , qualified and conscious women who will be committed to advancing the course of women.” She said.

When contacted on the phone, however, the state Public Relations Officer for the Independent National Electoral Commission, Olayiwola Awolowo, said, “I don’t think that is true because the commission made available all the necessary equipment that whoever has any challenge can use, especially albinos in that area, magnified glass were provided for them. I don’t think that’s true, especially in Oyo State.”

The PUNCH reports that the rerun into the Saki West State constituency was a result of the cancellation of results by INEC due to over-voting in polling units 006, by-passing of Bimodai Voters Accreditation System during the 2023 election accreditation and the lead margin between the two candidates which were low compared with the total number of PVC’s collected.