Friday, June 12, 2009

UNDERSTANDING CONSTITUENCY DELIMITATION IN NIGERIA: THE QUEST FOR AN EQUITABLE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM

Being Text of a Paper presented at a Seminar on “Participatory Democracy in Nigeria: The Challenge of Constituency Delimitation” organized by the Rights Monitoring Group with support from the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) holding at the Rockview Hotel, Abuja, October 23, 2008

INTRODUCTION

Currently, there are observed agreements that Nigeria is set to fully institutionalize universally accepted standards of democracy that supports and promotes the development and the happiness of its citizens.  To this end, a number of measures are being taken to fully nurture the seeds of democratic success both in the minds and conduct of our affairs.  For instance, the electoral process is seriously being re-examined, perhaps with the hope of affecting some fundamental reforms in the system; the judiciary is seen to be struggling to deliver justice and fairness; the citizens themselves are increasingly asking questions on some salient and contentious issues in the system to the extent that the Constitution is set for review by the National Assembly. At the level of the National Electoral Machinery, concrete steps are being designed to address some of the contentious issues that have continuously generated arguments in the electoral process and quality of fairness of representation at all levels of governance in the country.  In this direction, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has embarked on the process of reviewing the current constituency delimitation in the country with a view to fulfilling some requirements of the Constitution and addressing the need to ensure  “a level playing field for effective participation of the citizenry in the electoral process” (Electoral Magazine, 2008).

CONSTITUENCY DELIMITATION

Simply put, constituency delimitation is the equitable and balanced segmentation of communities into units for electoral representation in the body politics.  For instance, for the Local Government Chairman, the specific LGA is his/her constituency; for the Governor, the whole State is the constituency while for the President, the country or Nigeria is the constituency.  For those who are in the Legislature, there are also clearly defined boundaries of communities that are segmented to act as their constituencies. A constituency defines the physical boundaries of the specific area for the purposes of electoral administration and possibly for political administration after the elections.

There is no single universally accepted format of constituency delimitation in the world.  Countries adopt individual models that they find suitable to their systems and environments.  For some countries, the delimitation is done by the boundaries authorities; in some others, the assignment is undertaken by the population commission while in others, the independent electoral body does so.  In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution has vested the Independent National Electoral Commission with the powers to review the constituencies in the country after every ten years or after any census conducted by the National Population Commission. Thus, one can easily understand the basis for the current task of the Commission in reviewing the National Electoral Atlas and Constituency Delimitation.

History of constituency delimitation in Nigeria dates back to 1922 during the colonial period.  This was repeated in 1954.  In post Independent Nigeria, the 1963 National census provided the basis for delimitation for the 1964, 1979 and the 1983 National elections.  These exercises consistently attracted virulent condemnations from some stakeholders during the different periods. There were allegations of manipulation, marginalization, unfairness and perceived domination by different segments of the society.

Without doubt, constituency delimitation is of paramount importance in the electoral process and indeed the democratic project.  In the words of one Scholar, “electoral abuses such as malapportioned constituencies can have profound effects on the outcome of an election and the composition of a parliament.  If voters and other stakeholders suspected that the electoral boundaries have been unfairly manipulated to produce a particular political outcome, this will affect the credibility of the delimitation process.  The legitimacy of the electoral outcome itself will be questioned”(Handley, 2007).

 

Here, in Nigeria, we are quite familiar with the usual complaints that accompany our elections, some of which bother on the integrity of the delimitation of constituencies.  There have been contentions on specific constituencies being unfairly demarcated sometimes based on land mass instead of population; arguments of some majority groups being favored against some minorities; bundling of geographically incompatible groups in to same units; manipulative tendencies of some politicians in the exercises; the cracking of ethnic groups across constituencies rendering them disadvantaged and many more criticisms that tend to undermine the credibility of the electoral process and indeed democracy in the land. In view of the foregoing experiences, it is in the greater interest of the Nation and the healthy sustenance of its democracy to ensure that it gets right the current attempt of realigning the constituencies, of course bearing in mind that the exercise is broad based as well as inclusive and participatory. These are minimum critical elements in a federal state like ours where the federating units are not only diverse and complex but to some extent, volatile.

 

YARDSTICKS OF DELIMITATION

Over time, internationally recognized parameters have been widely acknowledged as the minimum guiding principles in the delimitation of constituencies by countries (Handley, 2007). Some of these are:

Impartiality:  The authority drawing up the boundary or making the demarcation should be non partisan, Independent, and professional.  Equality: The populations of constituencies should be as equal as possible to provide voters with equality of voting strength.

Representativeness: Constituencies should be drawn taking into account cohesive communities, defined by such factors as administrative boundaries, geographic features, and communities of interest.

Non-discrimination: The delimitation process should be devoid of electoral boundary manipulation that discriminates against voters on account of race, color, language, religion, or related status.

Transparency and Openness: The delimitation process should be as transparent and accessible to the public as possible. And it must be seen as such by the generality of the population.

Legitimacy: After the whole exercise, the report will go to the relevant body for scrutiny and ratification. In our case, this will be done by the National Assembly.

Inclusivity: All voices and opinions should be fully represented and reflected in the exercise. They should be able to identify with the outcome of the process in the interest of the credibility of the electoral system.

 

INEC AND THE CONSTITUENCY DELIMITATION PROCESS

In pursuit of its constitutional mandate of organizing, conducting and managing a credible electoral system for the country and by extension, safeguarding its democratic status, INEC had in January, 2008 inaugurated a National Advisory Committee on Delimitation of Constituencies (NACDCC) with the responsibilities that include the review of existing and perceived imbalances in the electoral constituencies to make them consistent with the laws of the land (Electoral Magazine, 2008).  At the end, the thirteen members multidisciplinary Committee is expected to provide an action plan that will “form the basis for the conduct of a perfect nation-wide delimitation exercise”. As a guide for the Committee’s assignment, a comprehensive list of guidelines was prepared to ensure that Stakeholders are appropriately guided in their consultation with the Committee on the subject.  These guidelines, among other things sought to address the following:

·                                     Population: There should be reasonable equality between constituencies at any level in relation to the population in each LGA and State.  Equally, it was advised that all adjustments take into consideration the peculiar nature of the socio- cultural realities of a State.

·                                     Equality in Registration and Polling units: Registered voters in Registration areas should be near equal. Polling units are expected to be in the range of 500 – 700 voters depending on the peculiarities of the settlement.  But, it is possible that a polling unit may have below 500 voters in some instances especially on the basis of terrain.

·                                     Equity: It was highly recommended that there should equality in the number of LGAs within a Constituency.

·                                     Common affinities: Historical, cultural and ethnic affinities should be duly considered in the review of constituencies.

·                                     Contiguity of the Constituencies:  There should be consistency in the demarcation to the extent that individual constituencies are not split between different states.

·                                     Natural frontiers and physical features should be considered, particularly in registration areas and polling units.

·                                     Respect existing traditional arrangements: Take note of existing administrative and traditional boundaries.

·                                     Be conscious of common groups and community interests.

·                                     Be guided by the settlement pattern of communities, especially as regards registration and polling areas.

·                                     The State constituencies shall be four times the number of that of the House of Representatives of a State (In line with Section 112 of the 1999 Constitution).  However, members of the State House of Assembly shall not be less than 24 and shall not be more than 40 members. It is hoped that by the time the whole exercise is over, the general public and the stakeholders will be given full account on major decisions about the delimitation of the constituencies. Ignorance usually breeds suspicion and resistance from individuals, just as knowledge can also be a source of strength.

 

CONSTITUENCY DELIMITATION AND AN EQUITABLE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM

 

Democracy thrives on credibility and perceived fairness in its conduct.  When citizens perceive that the system treats them unfairly, they are likely to react possibly by feeling disenchanted, remaining passive or at worst subverting it.  Today, there are expressed sentiments by groups and individuals in the country on issues of equity in terms of political representation at the various levels of governance – from the local government up to the centre.  Some of the complaints bother on inequity on state and local government creation. The complaints are commonly repeated within individual states and LGAs about perceived and real fears on ethnic domination, North/South or East/West divide, rural/urban divide, etc. In the past, such feelings had led to threats of secession and other separatist behaviours. Indeed,  as argued elsewhere, “malapportioned constituencies—constituencies that vary greatly in population—not only violate the principle of equally weighted votes, but may also suggest to stakeholders that intentional bias has been introduced into the delimitation process. This is because malapportionment can be, and not infrequently has been, used to ensure constituency boundaries that favor one group (such as the ruling party) over others. This can be accomplished through active, passive, or systemic malapportionment” (Handley, 2007). Therefore, it is believed that a broad based constituency delimitation based on consensus of the population will help in assuaging such real and perceived inequities in the system.

 

Furthermore, the on-going exercise is expected to facilitate wide interaction between the different segments of the society.  This will engender a sense of participation and ownership in the process by the people.  With this in mind, they may be ready to protect, defend and advance the cause of democracy as exemplified in their participation in determining their constituencies.  It can be recalled that Nigerians did not have the privilege of full participation in the previous constituency delimitation exercises done during the colonial era and past military administrations.

Significantly, too, the exercise is expected to address the criticism on disproportionate representation alleged by some communities.  With the new national population figure based on the 2006 census, there are arguments that some areas deserve adjustment to reflect the increase in their population figures.  This argument leads us to the current number of political units representation which some people feel should be re-examined. Proponents of this position argue that the current constituencies of 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies, 990 state constituencies and 120,000 registration centres are inadequate to represent the country’s population. With the review, there may be possible adjustments to accommodate minority groups that might have been fragmented in the past.

 

In the end, the exercise is expected to promote peaceful coexistence, fairness, equity and sense of belonging among the population. As it may, though unfortunately be observed, since the return to the current democratic dispensation, there has been the “reassertion of ethnic, religious and communal identities. Political mobilization of people, even by political forces and their militants seems largely to remain within realm of sectarian and other narrow loyalties” (Ibrahim.2002). Thus, such an exercise is one valid strategy of addressing such negative tendencies for national unity and peaceful coexistence.

 

CHALLENGES

Like any other issue relating to politics and specifically elections in Nigeria, the subject of constituency delimitation is not unconnected with some controversies.  Expectedly, a lot of the controversies are generated by politicians who are major stakeholders in the process.  Already, I have read in the newspapers contentious positions expressing support or opposition to the provisions of the Nigeria Atlas of Electoral Constituencies produced by INEC.  Hopefully, there will be consensus and understanding among the stakeholders for the greater good of democracy in the land.

Previously, I had argued that the greatest threat to democratic sustainability in the land revolves around the behaviour and attitude of the average Nigerian Politician. The level of intolerance, unwillingness to see reason from other perspectives, tendencies of electoral malpractices promoted by the winner takes all attitude and many more negative acts are the greatest threats to the system.  In the case of the constituency delimitation exercise, some vocal individuals who have perceived INEC and its constitutional mandate, either correctly or incorrectly, as inimical to their personal desires may, as part of their fixated attitude, wish to subvert the exercise, not because it is wrong but simply because the “wrong” body is involved.

 

Equally, some forces may wish to undermine the initiative as part of opposition to their individual state or local governments. Out of mischief, they may raise all sorts of queries to justifiably or not, puncture the positions adopted by the various governments.

 

Equally, there may be the possibilities of some individuals raising old ethnic rivalries, religious contentions and other subterranean issues to challenge the proposal at different levels. For such groups, it is hoped that they may view the exercise from the positive perspective than the usual suspicious negative prism.

 

RECOMMENDATION FOR SUCCESS

A lot is at stake that the country and specifically INEC and the major stakeholders dare not fail in the current effort to fundamentally reform the electoral process in the country.  With regards to the constituency delimitation exercise, one may wish to recommend some of the following steps to ensure that the exercise produces the intended result for the sustenance of democracy and greater good of Nigeria.

 

·                    Transparency: INEC and the State governments should be transparent in explaining to the public the criteria for each action or readjustment in constituency delimitation.  There should be wide consultations, and decision reached should be widely publicized. This is to attract and retain public confidence in the whole process and by extension ensure the credibility of future elections outcome.

·                    There should be massive public education to ensure that Nigerians are sufficiently informed about the exercise. Being a highly technical exercise, every effort should be made to explain the exercise to avoid it being hijacked by individuals or groups who may try to religionize or ethnicize the process and outcome.

·                    Engage the media at all levels: The media can be a reliable partner in facilitating effective dissemination of information on the subject. Here, the various stakeholders, who of course include the media, too, can be mobilized to fully understand the subject to be able to inform and educate the general public. Apart from the advantage of publicizing the process now, the media will be there to defend its outcome and the legitimacy of any election that may be conducted in the future.

·                    Engage the civil society sector: The CSOs can be constructively engaged to further advance the cause of the project. With their extensive networks and spread, civil society organizations can facilitate the enlightenment and consensus building process at various levels through advocacy, knowledge dissemination, consensus building and total support for the initiative now and in the future.

·                    Enlightenment activities should emphasize the advantages of the exercise to the sustenance of democracy and peaceful coexistence in the country.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Constituency is a very important component in the democratic process. It provides the basic unit in the selection of representatives in the arena of governance. Thus, constituencies are drawn on the basis of equity, fairness and balance to ensure representation in political participation. It is expected to ensure that the delimitation guarantees equal distribution of seats in the National and State Assemblies in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Hopefully, too, the review is expected to address some of the perceived and real fears of domination, marginalization and inequity in political representation in the land. When the citizens feel that they are fairly and equitably represented in the democratic process, they are most likely going to develop a sense of belonging and be willing to defend the system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

INEC (2008). Electoral Magazine. Abuja:INEC

CFCR( 2002).Contentious Issues in the Review of the 1999 Constitution: 

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