All protocols duly observed.
On behalf of the U.S. government and the American people, it is my pleasure to offer this goodwill message at this important conference on access for persons with disabilities to the electoral process. I would like to commend the Independent National Electoral Commission and the United Nations’ Development Program for taking the time to focus on this critical issue, particularly at the height of such a busy election season.
Our interest in the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Nigeria’s political process stems from the American belief of equal opportunity. Several members of this audience attended the U.S. Embassy’s persons with disabilities program that Ambassador Entwistle chaired earlier this year. Participants, including members of INEC, provided valuable suggestions for areas of improvement. They also committed to continuing the dialogue on electoral access. We look forward to hearing from INEC and others about the progress made since then.
In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, is committed to disability-inclusive development and has focused on expanding access to the electoral process among persons with disabilities. USAID is supporting the work of partners like the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute to ensure that persons with disabilities remain enfranchised.
We have followed with interest the progress of the disability bill through the National Assembly, and we look forward to a law that will have a positive impact on persons with disabilities, in the electoral arena and elsewhere. Of course, the United States and other international partners can provide some support, but the most critical driver of progress for persons with disabilities will come from within Nigeria, from government and civil society representatives like you.
Working with INEC and others to ensure peaceful, credible, and transparent elections in February 2015 is a top priority for the United States. Next year’s vote will only be a true success if it reflects the will of the Nigerian people, including the millions of Nigerian citizens living with disabilities. There are many possible ways to achieve this goal, and I believe the Nigerian people have the will to make progress. For example, election observers from the U.S. Mission in Nigeria have been struck by the patience and willingness of Nigerian voters to provide comfortable arrangements to persons with disabilities and the elderly and allow them to vote first. If that spirit of generosity and goodwill continues, I believe Nigerians with disabilities will be able to participate fully in future elections and other aspects of Nigerian political life.
Once again, I thank INEC for convening this important event and inviting the United States to participate. We sincerely believe the hard work of civil society and the Nigerian government together can ensure electoral access for all. Thank you.