The British government has said that it is not supporting any candidate in the 2019 general elections.
The Political Adviser, British Deputy High Commission, Wale Adebajo, said the British government would always be neutral in Nigerians’ bid to elect their leaders.
Adebajo spoke in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, on Monday at a one-day dialogue programme titled, “Enhancing Electoral Participation of People With Disabilities in 2019 General Elections” organised by the Foundation For Justice and Social Development.
He said, “We want to clear the air. The British government is not supporting any candidate in the election. We are neutral when it comes to election in Nigeria.
“The United Kingdom supports a process which ensures that the people of Nigeria can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be voted for. All political parties should adhere to the highest standards of conduct.
“The process needs to be free, fair, credible and peaceful and we are working with Independent National Electoral Commission and other stakeholders to make that happen.”
Adebajo said the National Disability Bill awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent would help resolve some of the issues bedeviling the group in the country.
He praised INEC for including PWDs in its strategic plan for 2017-2021 elections, saying the British Government and United States Department for International Development were favourably disposed to the action.
The international agencies including British High Commission, Australian High Commission in Nigeria and British Department for International Development urged NEC to ensure inclusion of PWDs in the electoral process for easy participation in the 2019 elections and beyond.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ekiti State, Prof. Abduganiy Raji, said the commission, having identified critical areas where PWDs were having challenges in the electoral system, was already tackling them through policy formulation and strong legal framework.
Raji said PWDs were effectively sensitised before the July 14 governorship election in the state, saying the step accounted for the major breakthrough recorded in the poll.
The REC allayed fears of the PWDs, who he described as “persons with special abilities”, saying INEC was working on accessibility to polling units, security issues, and provisions for them including magnifying glasses.
“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,” he said.
DFID’s Regional Programme Officer, Mrs Margaret Fagboyo, said the agency had always believed that PWDs should be beneficiaries of the sustainable development in Nigeria, saying unlimited access to participate in elections was cricial.
Fagboyo said, “In 2019, INEC must ensure that ballot boxes are placed where PWDs can access them 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 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 problem.”