he Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently announced that it has suspended plan for constituency delineation. INEC Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega noted that in the light of doubts over the commencement and conclusion of the exercise before the 2015 polls, it had decided not to go ahead with it. This change of heart on the part of INEC came after Jega assured the nation at an earlier forum that INEC had made all arrangements to ensure a hitch free delineation exercise before the forthcoming polls.
Expectedly, this reversal of policy has opened up several aspects to the matter of election management in Nigeria. Ordinarily, by provisions of both the Constitution and the Electoral Act, the review of the electoral constituencies for the various political offices in the country is to be carried out after every national headcount, or every ten years. Constituency delineation is intended to provide a level playing ground for all political actors, and also deepen the democratic process. It entails the reappraisal of their defining criteria such as increase or decrease in population as well as boundary shits, among other factors.
The justification for the exercise is that there is imbalance in the present sizes and weights of the electoral constituencies in the country. For instance, whereas each of the 360 Federal Constituencies should have a notional population of 388,000, there is one with a population of 122,000, while another has a population of 1.3 million. Meanwhile, the present constituency structure was created 18 years ago, in 1996, and under the military era. It is not surprising that wide disparities now feature among them, which can hardly provide for a fair representation in any electoral process.
Professor Jega blamed the National Assembly for not passing the enabling law for the delineation exercise to take place. He also cited controversy surrounding current census figures.
The abrupt suspension of the exercise betrays inherent weaknesses in INEC’s organizational capacity, given the wide operational latitude that the Constitution grants it. The Commission should have been proactive in providing insights on its efforts with respect to challenges militating against implementation of the joint resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives to empower the Commission to carry out the exercise. This is important when viewed against INEC’s claim that preparation for the 2015 elections, probably with the delineation exercise as part of it, actually started as soon as the 2011 polls were over.
As for the census figures, INEC’s fixation on one set of figures, even in the face of alleged controversy, is not helpful. Census figures all over the world are hardly precise empirical data that must enjoy oracular authority. Rather, the figures are usually subjected to periodic multi-phase and multi-stage reviews that tend to mitigate obvious errors in their capture and processing. INEC’s stated reasons for failure to move forward on constituency delineation since 2011 are therefore inadmissible.
However, INEC should continue with the preparations for the delineation exercise to ensure that it activates it immediately after the conclusion of the 2015 general elections. It is significant that the Commission highlighted the gerrymandering role of the National Assembly in the matter. Because of the importance of the exercise, it is unhelpful that the National Assembly would be the stumbling block to realising fairer constituency delineation than what is currently on ground.
As the nation prepares for the forthcoming elections, it is especially crucial that the processes that lead to them are in place to ensure not only their credibility, but also that a sound foundation is laid through them for future polls. INEC’s constituency delineation exercise is a factor in determining their success in this regard.