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‘Election without proper constituency delimitation will engender crisis’

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja
18 April 2017   |   4:22 am
As Nigerians prepare towards another round of general elections in 2019, some senior lawyers have expressed concern over lack of accurate census figures and the consequential inappropriate constituency delimitation.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Ahead of 2019 elections, lawyers have charged the Federal Government on the need to conduct accurate census and proper delimitation of constituencies, warning that neglect of such actions may induce conflict in the system, reports Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja.

As Nigerians prepare towards another round of general elections in 2019, some senior lawyers have expressed concern over lack of accurate census figures and the consequential inappropriate constituency delimitation.

At a roundtable organised by Azinge and Azinge Law firm in Abuja, they warned that holding any election without proper census and delimitation of constituency exercise may spell serious constitutional crisis in the polity. Several presentations were made on the under-representation of states in constituency delimitation in the country as well as socio-legal and political implications of non-compliance with the constitutional provisions as they affect the issue.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), for instance, had queried the failure of the Federal Government to conduct a fresh census exercise after the last head count of 2006. The thrust of his presentation was that for any credible delimitation exercise to take place, there must be a proper census exercise.

On his part, the convener of the programme, Professor Epiphany Azinge (SAN), feared that if something was not done urgently to carry out the two necessary exercises, the country might be heading for a constitutional logjam. He said: “The census is coming up and we do not know how soon we can conclude that before the 2019 elections. If care is not taken, we may box ourselves into a litigation or constitutional quagmire that may derail the 2019 elections because people might start asking questions.”

The SAN further explained that what the country currently uses as constituency delimitation was last done in 1996, which was drawn from the 1991 census exercise. “So, the programme aimed at drawing government’s attention towards ensuring that things are done appropriately and timeously. We want to use this as a way of galvanising the appropriate authorities in this context, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and more importantly, the National Assembly.

“The agencies or organisations responsible are hereby invited in the interest of this country. And for there to be an election that will be acceptable in 2019, it is important that something is done timeously”, Azinge said.

While Professor Paul Idornigie (SAN), decried the widespread under-representation of some constituencies at both federal and states levels, Professor Maxwell Gidado (SAN), shared the opinion that any Nigerian could institute a legal action to challenge the failure of Federal Government to conduct the twin exercise of census and constituency delimitation, should it go ahead to conduct the 2019 elections.

Other speakers including the Professor of Intellectual Property Law and the Head, Private and Property Law, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Adebambo Adewopo, who described the issue of census and constituency delimitation as one of the important constitutional law issues in the country’s political evolution. With emphasis on state constituencies as they affect Senatorial district and Federal constituencies, Adewopo, in his presentation, argued that there has been no compliance with the constitutional provision guiding constituency delimitation for the purpose of election into State House of Assembly and this he said, has resulted into under-representation in the Houses of Assembly of some states.

He noted that since Nigeria has adopted democracy as its preferred form of government, there was need to define the fundamental character of the system and give expression to it with regards to the letters and spirit of the Constitution. This, he added, should take into consideration, the country’s peculiar socio-cultural and political environment. He went further to state that democracy as the best form of government has been associated with its attribute that is characteristically rooted in the idea of representation of the people who are being governed.

According to him, this ensures that government not only trully represents the people it governs in the quantitative sense but also represent their wishes and aspirations in the qualitative sense. “It is not only that they elect leaders or representatives but also that the basis of representation is defined to reflect a given population often refered to as the constituency. Hence, the representation by virtue of the election into specific areas or offices”, Adewopo stated.

With reference to the legislature, Adewopo noted that it is carefully or systematically measured by both physical boundaries and numerical quotas or metrics (referred to as pupolation quota). This he believed, was the reason democracy is often regarded as a game of numbers in the numbers of those who are voted for by the number of those who vote within a given area.

“This is the core of the idea of constituency delimitation as the dominant legal mechanism for measuring representation within a democratic setting. Representation is therefore a true and fair reflection of the people and one which determines the basis and the character of the electoral process. The process is in turn defined by a system of delimitation of electorates within a geographical area for electoral purposes provided for under the applicable instrument.

“If the standard of representation has been set in terms of allocation of population quota for particular level or unit of representation, that standard must be strictly adhered to in order to give validity and integrity to the electoral process and the principles of democracy, social justice and equity established under the constitution and upon which the country is organised are called to question.

“The under-representation therefore is as much a constitutional breach as it is a serious issue, which has bearing on the social and political foundations of our democratic system,” he stated.

According to him, the under-representation in extant context is not defined in vacuum but by the constitutional formula that defines the basis of representation. “Therefore, non-compliance with the constitutional provision has directly resulted to under-representation in those States Houses of Assembly where the prescribed number of members or representatives has not been met”, he said.

Adewopo added that in view of the fact that the adjustment or otherwise of electoral boundaries can greatly affect the outcome of elections, it therefore means that how constituencies are segmented can influence the number of seats political parties hold and what party controls the legislature and to a large extent, affect good governance, democratic dividend and development in terms of the quantity and quality of elected representatives.

His words: “In order to have effective representation of voters, smooth logistics for the conduct of credible polls and timely release of results, easy accessibility to voters and access to collation stations, there should be periodic delimitation of constituencies.

“A constituency outlines the representative physical boundaries of the particular area for the purposes of conducting credible elections, gives voters direct link to the elected for the purposes of holding them accountable. “Delimitation of constituencies must not only be seen to comply with the constitutional provisions but must also ensure that the demarcation of the electoral boundaries between the states, senatorial districts, federal and state constituencies is efficiently and equitably carried out. This will go a long way in strengthening democracy, equal representation, inclusiveness and social justice. ”

In his presentation titled, constituency delimitation and the role of INEC, former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Jos, Joash O. Amupitan (SAN), said constituency delimitation should be seen as part of electoral reform processes. As such, he stated that a review of the process is necessary to address grievances that emanate from stakeholders. “It is therefore as important as conducting elections. We may therefore continue to discuss electoral reforms for the next decade and not get it right except we are able to interrogate some national questions brought about by undue political gerrymandering in Nigeria,” he submitted.

Amupitan noted that the responsibility of conducting elections in Nigeria and of constituency delimitation are trusted on INEC but unfortunately, it has failed in that constitutional responsibility.

He consequently, recommended that the Boundary Commission should cone up with a model for the conduct of constituency delimitation in country, while INEC and political parties are represented in the committee to be set up by the Boundary Commission to undertake the task.