Weak bones, but energised by desperation. About 30 aged, including a nonagenarian, wait under a tent on a humid Friday morning, eager to register for their National Identity Cards, also known as the Ghana card.
Some arrived at the Mataheko Office of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) as early as 0600 hours, aided by walking frames, clutches, and grandchildren who skipped work to offer them assistance.
Their ultimate goal is to secure the Ghana Card to satisfy important national obligations, including registering their SIM cards before the September 30 deadline, and updating their pension records.
Here, officials of the National Identification Authority (NIA) have dedicated Fridays to register the aged, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and pregnant women – and missing the opportunity would be a nightmare as the clock ticks faster towards the SIM registration deadline.
But the opportunity given to these vulnerable population come at a price. With limited seats reserved for applicants, they are inclined to arrive on time to jostle for space or risk standing for hours.
Osei Ansah, 66, was among the unlucky ones. But the time he got to the registration centre; all the seats had been occupied.
After standing for about an hour, his feeble legs could not spur him on. He found solace in a pile of bricks secured by a young applicant.
Osei said he needed the Ghana card desperately, thus, the struggle.
He could not register his SIM card before the initial deadline of July 31, 2022 (which has been extended for two more months) because he did not have the Ghana Card – the only document required for the registration.
He feared that if he was able to register ahead of the deadline, his SIM could be blocked and would not be able to receive monthly stipends from his son in Tamale, in the Northern Region.
“My son advised me to register. I have not been well so, I could not come to register. I was informed that the deadline for the SIM registration has been extended. I am still not well but I have to make it a priority,” he said.
Osei appealed to authorities to make the SIM registration flexible for the aged by accepting other identity cards, including Voters ID card.
Kwabena, an insurance agent, said he asked for permission from work to accompany his 90-year-old grandfather to the registration centre.
His grandfather, who could not walk without support, had not received his monthly pension stipend, and needed the Ghana Card urgently to rectify the problem.
“For about two months now, he has not received his pensions and when we probed, we were asked to come and register for the Ghana Card before the problem could be resolved,” Kwabena said.
Meanwhile, at the El-Wak Sports Stadium in Accra, where the NIA has dedicated for card replacement and update of records, no special day has been reserved for PWDs and the aged.
Officials at the Centre said they had two officers on standby to serve that population as and when it became necessary.
Esther (not her real name), a lawyer, accompanied her 84-year old father, who is suffering from mild stroke, to the Centre to aid him replace his lost Ghana Card.
“Initially when I entered, I was frustrated, but later, one of the officers came to our aid and they attended to my father in the car because he cannot walk,” she said.
Esther said due to her busy schedule, it would be difficult for her to register her father’s SIM card and appealed to authorities to make flexible arrangements for the sick and the aged.
Another challenge faced by applicants was delays in the printing of the card after a painstaking registration process.
Wofa Kwame Danso, a visually impaired broadcast journalist arrived at the El-Wak Registration Centre to claim his Card after completing the process last month (July) only to be told to return next month (September) because the card was yet to be printed.
The officials told him that they had ran out of blank cards and assured that it would be ready on his next visit.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines PWDs as people who have physical or sensory impairments that, when combined with other obstacles, prevent them from fully and effectively participating in society on an equal footing with others.
In Ghana, PWDs, form eight per cent translating to 2,098,138 of the population, according to the 2021 Population and Housing Census.
The census data indicates that the percentage of the Ghanaian population over the age of 65 years is 3.14 per cent (approximately 967,000 people).
The UN Principles for Older Persons, which was adopted in 1991, recommended that older persons, “should remain integrated in society, participate actively in the formulation and implementation of policies that directly affect their well-being.”
Sixteen years after the passage of the Disability Act 2006 (Act 715), which was intended to ensure total inclusion of PWDs and curb inequalities, that population continue to face discrimination.
Mr Alexander Bankole Williams, Chairman, National Advocacy Committee, Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations, said prior to the commencement of the national identity card registration, the Federation, during a stakeholder engagement, advised the NIA to provide priority services for PWDs and ensure that its centres were easily accessible.
He said checks conducted by the Federation indicated that some NIA officers “are not aware” of the priority service provisions for PWDs.
“The priority service is for PWDs, the elderly, lactating mothers, among a few others. So, where you have a centre accessed by a lot of elderly folks and nursing mothers that becomes a queue on its own,” he said.
Mr Williams appealed to the NIA to set up special registration centres in each of the 16 regions dedicated to PWDs to enhance access.
In an interview, Mr Abudu Abdul Ganiyu, Head of Corporate Affairs, NIA, said NIA officers during trainings were told to offer preferential treatment to PWDs and other vulnerable groups.
He said per the arrangements, PWDs, the aged, and other persons with special needs were to join separate queues at the centre to ensure easy access.
Mr Ganiyu said the challenges faced by some PWDs could be as a result of the “mad rush” for the card, adding that the Authority would address the problem in affected centres if they were brought to its attention.
He also urged the PWDs Federation to formally write to the NIA and indicate its concerns for action to be taken.
As of August 5, 2022, the NIA said it had issued a total of 15,768777 cards out of a total enrolment of 17,138,609.
It is not clear the number of PWDs, aged and other vulnerable groups that have so far successfully registered for their Ghana Cards.
As the deadline for SIM registration nears, the fate of the vulnerable population whose condition may not allow them to compete successfully for the Ghana Card hangs in the air