Silas ReubenThursday, May 1, 2014
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he Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has proposed to redraw the electoral maps of all senatorial districts and constituencies in Nigeria. The plan, which is part of the preparations for the 2015 national elections has drawn the commission into seeking partnership with relevant government agencies for assistance. Some of these agencies include the National Population Commission (NPC), Office of the Surveyor- General of the Federation (OSGOF), National Boundary Commission (NBC) and various security personnel. The commission has also constituted a 17-man committee, headed by its chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega to review the present structure of the nation's constituencies.

A country may adopt a constituency delineation model that is most suitable for its local environment. However, in most advanced countries of the world, the use of satellite services in determining population concentrations has become imperative. This is why, INEC's strategic collaboration with the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) remains a crucial step in the overall effort to use modern delineation tools in conformity with best international practices.

Demarcation of electoral constituencies is an important undertaking in a democratic polity. The main purpose is to bring as close as possible a sense of fairness and equality in legislative house representations across the country. There are, however, other benefits of delimitation, such as decongesting voters overcrowding at polling locations and the need to produce credible elections.

The programme is also necessary to address the imbalances or disparities in constituencies which may have been caused by changes in population movements and spatial distributions. For instance, Nigeria's population has continued to grow to its present estimated figure of nearly 160 million people. Such increases will have to be reflected in the new realignment.

Constituency delimitation as part of INEC's mandate is a constitutional exercise required to be reviewed in every decade. The commission's previous efforts in this direction had proved a Sisyphean task. The current plan-if it succeeds- will be coming after 18years since the last one was held in 1996.

Indeed, INEC under its former chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu had attempted to carry out a national electoral restructuring assignment without success. As Professor Jega tinkers with his new task, delineation experts and the voting public are wont to ask what key lessons he has learnt from the past to ensure that the present plan will not merely remain on the drawing board.

Population figures provide useful data for accurate and reliable demarcation projects. But its usefulness will be limited if they are not current. The former military government of Nigeria conducted a national population census in 1991. Though the census results were disputed, the 1996 re-organisation of the country's districts and constituencies, nonetheless, drew immense input from the 1991 population outcome. Now, because of time lapse and other dynamic societal factors, INEC will have to review most of these obsolete cases as the current plan gets underway.

Under the present structure, there are 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies in the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Each state has three senatorial districts but the seats allocations to the Federal House of Assembly and the States Houses of Assemblies differ, due to differences in population sizes. But Jega pointed out that there are wide-ranging disparities in the current arrangement where "some constituencies are as small as 122, 000 and some as large as 1.3 million" in population. The present exercise is however, designed to make adjustments for only electoral districts and constituencies and not to increase legislative seats.

In a heterogeneous society such as Nigeria with over 250 tribes, an exercise in electoral boundary adjustments is bound to stoke some fires of contention and anxiety. There are politicians and community leaders who will oppose or attempt to subvert the scheme because of their vaulting political ambitions. Such groups are often persuaded by greed and other exclusionary pursuits. Yet, others may pooh-pooh INEC's plan as a mere decoy designed to offer electoral advantage to the government at the center.

There may also be cases where some mineral rich communities, in the adjustment process, will be ceded to other senatorial districts. Political representatives in the affected areas will see their constituencies contract or areas of control reduced. This may cause communal ruckus and vehement oppositions. Previous exercises had been discredited on the bias of using land mass as a basis for delimitation instead of population. Others relate to accusations of figure manipulations and lack of objectivity.

Restructuring the electoral maps of Nigeria is a gigantic project- not only in terms of the country's large population, but also the enormous resources that will be expended on its execution. There will be logistic problems. Areas with difficult terrains, no access roads and poor communication services will pose problems for INEC's field officers. The rising cases of insecurity in some parts of the nation will remain as formidable challenges in conducting an exercise of this nature.

Nevertheless, the commission appears determined to succeed. But the effort may become a non-event unless the National Assembly rises quickly to endorse the project. With the general elections slated for February 2015, it is doubtful if the intended scheme can be completed and the results ready for use in next year's elections.

Be that as it may, it is an important exercise which must be conducted, whether for the use of the forth- coming elections or for future ones beyond 2015. Suffice it to say that a representative democracy ought to have a current picture of its districts and constituencies.

As INEC prepares to rise to these challenges, it must begin by carrying out a vigorous public enlightenment campaign in order to build a strong national consensus and support. States Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) will be part of the sensitization tour of their respective states. The message must emphasize the benefits of the exercise to the electoral process in particular, and to the country's democratic growth in general.

Nigerians will support a delineation project that is transparent, non-partisan and encourages public participation by ways of calling for memoranda and open discussions. INEC has to guide against field officers who doctor delimitation figures, and in the process compromise the quality of the data presented.

In rearranging the constituencies, it is necessary to maintain a strong measure of contiguity as an important delineation criterion. This will ensure that no constituency is adjusted in such a way that one part of it is in one state and the other in another. Delineated territories should be thrown to the public sphere for scrutiny before approval.

It is also important that constituencies are redrawn in order to achieve the same or approximate sizes in their populations. Some of the existing disproportions where many constituencies vary in large sizes to others- as noted by Jega -promote inequality in voting strength and representations.

There is a national expectation that INEC should produce a credible electoral delineation document that will remove the flaws of malapportionments in the constituencies, and chart a new course in Nigeria's quest for a better democratic practice. On a wider note, this current plan should also evince to achieve the objectives of reducing the deep seated political animosity in the system, creating a sense of belonging and promoting harmonious coexistence of the various communities in our constituencies. Only then, will INEC extenuate this palpable public skepticism about the programme.