Furies over constituency boundaries
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.