Jega’s delimitation agenda By Emeka Omeihe

For some time now, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been in public show of its zeal to delineate constituencies in the country before the 2015 elections. Basking on provisions of the 1999 constitution and the Electoral Act which require that such exercise be conducted after 10 years or after a national census, Jega has told whoever cares to hear that he is irredeemably committed to the exercise.

The commission is partnering relevant agencies and has already signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) the office of the Surveyor General of the Federation with two committees set up to give effect to the exercise. Through these MOU’s, INEC hopes to tap into the high satellite imagery resolution capacities of these agencies to cover the entire country. It has also sought assistance from the National Population Commission (NPC) among others.

Given the foregoing, it is certain that INEC is not leaving anyone in any doubt that it is pursuing the delimitation agenda with vigour. According to its chairman Prof Attahiru Jega, the overall aim is to ensure that every federal constituency should be as nearly equal in size as possible. What this immediately throws up is the equalization theory of his predecessor and the fact that population is going to be the major factor for this exercise. His immediate past predecessor, Prof Maurice Iwu had proposed the equalization of the constituencies such that population differences above 300,000 between senatorial districts were considered very substantial and were to be adjusted. Similarly population differences of 150,000 in the case of federal districts were also to be adjusted. But the proposal was trailed by controversy with that administration unable to carry it out before Iwu left office.

Ironically, when the Jega-led INEC visited the NPC to seek certified data on the various enumeration areas, he was pointedly told by its then chairman, Festus Odimegwu that there are no certified data for the various enumeration areas. Odimegwu had then said that politicians bought enumeration areas in the same fashion they buy voters’ cards during elections to gain advantage. He also disclosed that it was on account of the unreliability of the 2006 census that the commission decided not to publish it.

Jega seemed to have come to terms with this encumbrance when he said in a recent communiqué that “even though the aspects of the 2006 census have been countered, it remains the most credible source of data to carry out the exercise”. He had also in the same communiqué which he personally signed, stated that the delimitation was meant to engender equality in electoral constituencies and not to create additional sets at the national level.

INEC is within its powers to seek the delimitation of constituencies. This is more so as it is in keeping with its powers as conferred by extant laws. Thus, it is not so much the issue of its right as the wisdom and timeliness in embarking on the exercise now.

First and as rightly admitted by Jega, there is no credible census for the country; that of 2006 inclusive. The 2006 census has been challenged at the census tribunal by sections of the country on account of the manipulation of its figures. Lagos state was so dissatisfied with the outcome that it had to conduct its own version of the census which came out with 18million people as against nine million allotted to it by the 2006 census. There are also other parts of the country where the figures credited to them are at variance with established demographic traits. The South-east is among them. As a matter of fact, an independent preliminary satellite imaging around the Imo area was said to have produced results that would render the outcome of previous censuses a huge joke. Just recently, the figures posted for the 20 local government areas of Lagos State were overturned by the tribunal as they bore no semblance with the actual population on the ground. The point being raised here is very clear. And it is that it will amount to double jeopardy if INEC goes ahead to rely on these flawed census figures to alter the boundaries of the constituencies or set up new ones.

It is about seven years since the last census was conducted. After seven years, significant demographic changes would have occurred such that the 2006 census can no longer be reasonably relied upon. The situation is not helped by the imperfections of that census and our rising population growth rate.

When you add observed distortions in that census to the changes that would have occurred in population dynamics over this time frame, its reliability for the exercise is further whittled down.

For another, the NPC has also been on top gear to give the nation a credible census in 2016. That date is just barely three years away. Does it really make any sense embarking on the delimitation exercise on the eve of a census that is being looked upon to redress glaring inequities of the past? And what is the value in expending taxpayers’ money in the project when it will not fundamentally address observed disparities and can conveniently cue in after the 2016 census?

Matters were not helped by Jega when he said his commission does not intend to create new constituencies but to adjust existing ones. The purport of this is that even where the commission discovers that additional constituencies needed to be created to redress observed imbalances, nothing of sort will happen. This is as curious as it is confounding. It might be interesting to hear from him why he cannot abort the exercise if he is not prepared to undertake the rigour the creation of additional constituencies entails.

Even before he volunteers information on this, suffice it to say that those reasons that make the creation of new constituencies inappropriate now are the same reasons why the delineation in the manner Jega proposes it has to wait. My guess is that Jega wants to run away from envisaged controversy which the creation of additional constituencies will engender especially now people have been sensitized on the inadequacies of our previous headcounts. He sees the balancing of the population among constituencies as less contentious. That could also be. But it comes with its problems.

Again, we are at the threshold of another national conference to redress the imperfections of our federal order. Some of the issues that will feature in that conference include the conduct of a credible census, state and local government creation as well as the unit of representation within the federal arrangement. The way these issues are handled is bound to have very serious impact on the structure and size of our current constituencies.

Since INEC is not prepared to go the whole length in this exercise, it makes little sense approaching it very grudgingly. There is nothing practically urgent in the exercise that it cannot wait after a credible headcount in 2016. The commission should discard the idea of constituency delimitation and concentrate its energies on the challenges posed by the 2015 elections. Delimitation should wait until we have a credible basis for it. Only then will its outcome meet the wishes and aspirations of the peoples of this country.

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In the beginning...Let there be Light http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japheth_J._Omojuwa

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