News of INEC acting Chairman’s intention to restart the controversial delimitation of constituencies has raised eyebrows over the controversy that would follow writes OKECHUKWU JOMBO.
It is not enough that the controversy generated by the appointment of the Acting National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Hajia Amina Zakari is yet to settle down yet she is about to steer the hornet nest by re-starting the controversial delimitation of constituencies suspended shortly before the general elections in 2015 by its former Chairman, Prof Atahiru Jega.
Her name as substantive INEC chairman has not even been forwarded to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari for screening neither has she proven herself by preparing and conducting creditably the forthcoming Gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States.
What is the rush when she is fully aware that the exercise had not too long ago generated heated controversy to which she alluded when the new Surveyor General of the Federation, Ebisintei Awudu, visited her in Abuja.
Zakari had explained to the visiting Surveyor General that the delimitation of constituencies was suspended due to the high level of controversy it generated at that time. “Now that the elections are over, we have to dust our Memorandum of Understanding and process the agreement to commence the delimitation, “she said.
She explained that apart from the Office of the SGF, the commission had also signed partnership agreement with Nigerian Postal Service, NIPOST.
Zakari said INEC also signed MOU with the National Space Research and Development Agency, the National Population Commission and others for collaboration on the project.
She stressed that the MOU with OSGOF was for the provision of maps and for technical support.
Earlier, Awudu said the visit was aimed at dusting the earlier MoU INEC and his office signed and to discuss other issues of mutual Interest relating to surveying and mapping. He said his team was in INEC to discuss what the OSGOF could do to support the constituencies’ delimitation and the conduct of Kogi and Bayelsa States’ governorship elections. Awudu pledged to support INEC with satellite imagery map of the whole country, settlement data, training, technical and other logistics.
INEC had under its former Chairman Atahiru Jega attempted to carry out the exercise which gave undue advantage to some part of the country over others and was resisted till he was compelled to drop it. Jega never reopened the matter until his tenure ended in June. Prof Jega, at the heat of the controversy trailing the proposed creation of 30, 000 polling units across the country, suspended the exercise because it was close to the 2015 general elections but promised that the exercise would be revisited after the elections so that any controversy that may arise might be settled before the next general elections.
Political observers in the country are curious that with all the controversy why does Hajia Zakari think that she can conduct the same exercise and not polarize the country more than it has already done. The Acting INEC Chairman’s decision is considered ill-advised in several quarters, especially since INEC is not properly constituted after the tenure of majority of the National Commissioners had expired.
INEC has repeatedly told Nigerians and the international community that it has set for itself the goal of conducting Nigeria’s most credible election in Kogi and Bayelsa state and this should be the primary focus of the commission instead of engaging in the controversial delimitation of constituencies.
Indeed, section 73 of the amended 1999 Constitution empowers INEC to review electoral constituencies after an interval of not less than 10 years. For now, the 2015 general elections has come and gone with the world over praising them for a good job even when they didn’t use the results of the delimitation exercise.
Even when the former Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega made it clear that part of the efforts is to fine-tune the procedures that will, ultimately, deliver a credible electoral contest in 2015, was the plan by the commission to embark on constituency delimitation this year. A credible election has been conducted without delimiting the constituencies. However, the exercise has its advantages as it was to create a fair balance of the voting population which was attained during the election but the timing must be right.
In mid-March, 2013, the former INEC boss held discussions with representatives of about 20 political parties on its plan to embark on the exercise ahead of the 2015 polls.
Jega had told his audience that the commission had already worked out a plan for the exercise, and that it would strive to achieve this before the 2015 election.
Earlier, Jega had reportedly said that the electoral agency would not create new senatorial districts and federal constituencies because that is a constitutional matter.
According to him, “I think we should understand that even the powers that are given to us to delimit constituencies by the constitution and the Electoral Act are limited. For example, senatorial districts are already known. They are three per state, so we cannot create additional senatorial constituencies because these are constitutionally defined, but what we can do is that we can look at the relative sizes in terms of the population of the senatorial district and we can seek to adjust them in order to have equality of representation or near equality because you cannot have perfect equality of representation.”
He further stated that all INEC could do is to redraw boundaries of constituencies in accordance with population quota and other variables adding that it is important for people to understand what the Commission could do and the limitations imposed by the law.
“If you want to have more than 360 federal constituencies, it has to be done through a constitutional amendment. If you want to have more than 109 senatorial districts, it has to be constitutionally amended. Our job is to ensure that the sizes of constituencies in terms of population are as nearly equal as possible in order to achieve the ideal representative democracy.”
The current constituency structures were carved out 18 years ago by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON under the military junta of late Gen. Sani Abacha.
Experts have argued that the growth in population and demographic shifts warrant a review of constituencies. They have also posited that the current constituency structure has manifested features that are at variance with international best practices, including mal-apportionments and other inequalities that challenge, in a fundamental manner, the principle of equal representation.
It has also been argued that if the principle of one man, one-vote in a single member representative system, which is practiced in Nigeria is to be indeed enthroned in our democratic culture, conscious and deliberate effort must be made to review the constituencies in order to eliminate, or at least reduce to a minimum level, the current imbalances that have been noticed.
They have also pointed out that in addition to the population criteria other variables that have to be put into consideration include geographical location, socio- cultural affinity and physical barriers like mountains, rivers and so on.
Jega had observed that ”In the case of Nigeria, because of population dynamics which were noticed even in the last census that was conduced in 2006, there are now remarkable inequalities in terms of the size of constituencies. So, it is important, therefore, that electoral constituencies are delimited.”
Nevertheless, watchers of the nation’s political landscape have opined that one of the major challenges INEC is likely to face in its effort to conduct the exercise is skepticism on the part of the public and the tendency of political actors to manipulate the process.
The current INEC boss is aware of the situation and has expressed concern that similar exercises in the past had been politicized, saying “unfortunately in Nigeria, delimiting constituencies has been politically volatile and controversial because it is confused with administrative boundaries.”
She explained that constituency delimitation is different from adjustment of administrative boundaries adding that the latter are used for resource allocation, political or even traditional authorities.
Many Nigerians believe that Zakari at this time instead of stirring up another controversy should allow the National Population Commission, NPC, that are about to conduct a census to do its work first before any delimitation will be accepted by all and sundry.