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Furies over con­stituency bound­aries

Daily Trust - - VIEWS -

The eighth lec­ture in INEC’s Elec­toral Train­ing In­sti­tute se­ries - held on March 25, 2014, and de­liv­ered by Pro­fes­sor Nu­rudeen Alao - fo­cused on draw­ing con­stituency bound­aries as spa­ces from within which vot­ers cast bal­lots and send politi­cians to leg­isla­tive bod­ies. He warned that in other poli­ties, math­e­ma­ti­cians, car­tog­ra­phers, enu­mer­a­tors of pop­u­la­tions, statis­ti­cians and politi­cians have held bit­ter de­bates over it. Nige­ri­ans should en­gage in sim­i­lar de­bates.

In the his­tory of Bri­tish pol­i­tics, the aris­toc­racy were happy with only three vot­ers in a con­stituency pro­vided they were own­ers of huge tracks of land, re­li­gious piety and in­comes. Their po­lice ar­rested, im­pris­oned and tor­tured vi­o­lent demon­stra­tors de­mand­ing the vote for ur­ban un­em­ployed, lo­cal crafts­men, serfs and other work­ing class per­sons. John Locke, a po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist and owner of su­gar plan­ta­tions in the Caribbean – worked by thou­sands of slaves up­rooted from Africa, ar­gued that those who labour all day get too ex­hausted to worry about pub­lic af­fairs. All they want are bod­ily needs like food, sex and sleep. They should not, there­fore, have the right to vote in elec­tions for run­ning pub­lic af­fairs. Blood and tears widened Bri­tain’s con­stituency bound­aries.

In South Africa, Kenya, South­ern Rhode­sia, Al­ge­ria Euro­pean set­tlers used skin colour and own­er­ship of blood-property to jus­tify the ex­clu­sion of the ma­jor­ity African pop­u­la­tion from voting. Elec­tion bound­aries were limited to ur­ban and farm area where Euro­peans lived. This was a more bru­tal ver­sion of ‘’ger­ry­man­der­ing’’. African par­tic­i­pa­tion in shap­ing elec­tion bound­aries was ig­nored. This legacy must end. The African Na­tional Congress fought bloody bat­tles for the vote from 1912 to 1994 to open up a gun­fenced coun­try-wide racial con­stituency boundary.

Tan­za­nia faced a tyranny of elec­toral bound­aries which in­cited a de­ci­sion by the Tan­ganyika African Na­tional Union ( TANU) to put pol­i­tics back into con­stituency bound­aries. The party was so pop­u­lar that even a goat could have been elected ‘’un­op­posed’’. A pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion re­quired TANU’s mem­bers to con­test against each other to rep­re­sent a con­stituency. Wealth, eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, race or gen­der was pro­hib­ited for in­flu­enc­ing vot­ers. The party screened can­di­dates and cam­paign ac­tiv­i­ties. TANU’s uni­ver­sal le­git­i­macy took bit­ter strug­gles out of elec­tion bound­aries.

The Ja­panese took the op­tion of build­ing con­sen­sus into elec­tions. Elec­tion ral­lies to de­mand for votes were pro­hib­ited be­cause it vi­o­lated vi­tal virtues of shame and mod­esty. Pri­vate vis­its to homes to so­licit for votes was al­lowed – a prac­tice pre­vi­ously banned in Tan­za­nia as likely to en­cour­age bribery and di­vi­sive ap­peals to traits and emo­tions. Its merit was in en­abling at least two and at most three per­sons to be elected to rep­re­sent the same con­stituency if each won sub­stan­tial num­bers of votes. Ac­cord­ingly, large num­bers of vot­ers would not feel that their in­ter­ests had no ad­vo­cacy in the leg­is­la­ture.

This model is a form of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion limited to each con­stituency. It does not use num­bers of to­tal votes scored by a po­lit­i­cal party in a coun­try­wide elec­tion on the ba­sis of which num­bers of seats are al­lo­cated to par­ties which con­tested. It has di­rect close­ness to vot­ers in each con­stituency; mak­ing the widest spec­trum of vot­ers know that their in­ter­ests can be pro­moted by their rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Af­ter Pro­fes­sor Alao’s paper, the mat­ter of arith­meti­cal inequity in rep­re­sen­ta­tion was il­lus­trated with two con­stituen­cies in La­gos State. A con­stituency with over one mil­lion vot­ers and an­other with 117,000 vot­ers each elect one rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Na­tional As­sem­bly. The com­par­i­son is across con­stituency bound­aries. In the Ja­panese model, two can­di­dates with al­most equal votes – one voted for by small farm­ers and the other by in­dus­tri­al­ists - would both be elected to the Na­tional As­sem­bly to rep­re­sent the two fac­tions among 117,000 vot­ers. Changes in con­stituency bound­aries are not im­por­tant here.

Con­stituency de­lim­i­ta­tion could not have solved a prob­lem of a ‘’Curse of Fred­er­ick Lu­gard’’ in Bu­ganda King­dom. In 1961 an arith­meti­cal ma­jor­ity of Catholics voted Bene­dicto Ki­wanuka into power; with the largest num­ber of seats won com­ing from Bu­ganda. Lu­gard had in­vested in the Kabaka (King), his prime min­is­ter and ma­jor chiefs be­ing “Protes­tants’’ (or Angli­cans). They were never elected. The arith­metic of demo­cratic pol­i­tics gave power to the Catholic ‘’bawe­jere’’ ( ta­lakawa). To con­tain a re­sul­tant ‘’re­volt of the aris­toc­racy’’, Bri­tish colo­nial of­fi­cials tol­er­ated thug­gery and vote rig­ging com­bined with guar­an­teed seats in par­lia­ment for the King’s party –‘’ Kabaka Yekka’’ (King Only). The Catholic Church had scored a po­lit­i­cal math­e­mat­i­cal coup by achiev­ing more con­verts than the Protes­tant churches.

Dr. Yusuf Bala Us­man liked to re­call Sir Ah­madu Bello say­ing that he hated Chief Obafemi Awolowo for a po­lit­i­cal in­tru­sion into North­ern Re­gion which forced him - an aris­to­crat of the Sokoto Caliphate - to beg for votes from his own sub­jects - the ta­lakawa. This was the Lu­gard Curse pop­ping up in an­other po­lit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal space. As Alao sug­gested, the arith­meti­cal num­ber 1 in a vote cast hides a bag­gage of so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ries. En­gi­neer­ing the furies in that bag­gage re­quires ac­tions which go be­yond tin­ker­ing with con­stituency bound­aries.

For­eign pol­icy hardly con­sid­ers con­stituency bound­aries. With mem­ber states of the African Union di­vided into five re­gional groups, Nigeria’s Na­tional As­sem­bly should pioneer wel­com­ing from each re­gion’s group of par­lia­ments elect­ing one mem­ber into the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Se­nate. That would be an elec­tion con­stituency boundary an in­vest­ment to­wards other Cen­te­nar­ies.

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