By Emmanuel Oloniruha
Abuja, March 6, 2021 The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says revision of electoral constituencies/adjustment of their boundaries are joint responsibilities of the commission and the National Assembly.
The commission made the clarification in a statement by Mr Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, in Abuja on Friday.
Okoye said that the clarification became necessary following recent media reports regarding the commission’s responsibilities in the division, revision and adjustment of electoral constituency boundaries in Nigeria.
He noted that the division of the country into electoral constituencies for Senate, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly was the responsibility of the INEC.
Okoye, however, said once the contingencies were established, subsequent revision of the constituencies/adjustment of their boundaries were the joint responsibilities of the commission and NASS.
“Consequently, any such revision or adjustment must be passed by a resolution of the two houses of the national assembly, namely the senate and the house of representatives.’’
Okoye said that as a result, INEC had been in discussion with the relevant Committees of the national assembly to arrange a meeting with the leadership of the assembly to address some of the difficult issues on alteration of electoral constituency boundaries.
He said that the commission had previously brought to the attention of the national assembly, some of the issues including the following:
“That the 1999 Constitution (as amended) do not place an obligation on INEC to revise or alter the boundaries of constituencies every 10 years as being canvassed by some opinions in the media.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 73 (1) of the Constitution provides for that to happen at intervals of “not less than 10 years” this implies that it can only happen from 10 years and above!
“Therefore, the commission is not in breach of the constitution, since the revision can happen in 10 years or more.
Secondly, the constitution also provides that the commission may embark on revision and adjustment after a national census, creation of state or by an Act of the National Assembly [Section 73 (2)].
“None of these conditions actually exists at the moment.
The last population census was conducted in 2006, about fifteen years ago,” he said.
Okoye said that INEC felt that revising and/or altering constituencies based on 15-year-old population data was inappropriate because the well-known rapidity of population changes in Nigeria would make nonsense of any outcome.
“In any case, the National Population Commission is working on conducting another census and it seems reasonable to await its outcome,” he said.
Okoye said that on the other hand, no new states had been created in Nigeria since the constitution came into effect in 1999 nor was there an Act of the national assembly requesting INEC to activate the relevant sections of the constitution on division, revision and alteration of electoral constituencies.
The third issue according to Okoye is on the state constituencies to be created in each state of the federation.
He said that the constitution provided that the number for each state should be three or four times the number of its federal constituencies (seats in the House of Representatives) subject to a minimum of 24 and a maximum of 40.
“The problem is that some states presently have three times the number of their seats in the House of Representatives, others have four times; others have the minimum of 24 and yet others have reached the maximum of 40.
“For some, their present number of state assembly constituencies is neither three nor four times the number of their house of representative seats.
“This motley distribution calls for more clarity in the division, revision and alteration of electoral constituency boundaries, which in fact may require constitutional amendments,” he further said.
Okoye listed fourth issue to be the question of the so-called suppressed constituencies, saying essentially, these are constituencies that existed prior to the coming into force of the 1999 Constitution.
He said the canvassers for those constituencies argued that they had been “suppressed” in the present dispensation.
Okoye disclosed that 42 cases were filed in various courts across the country, requesting INEC to be compelled to restore 62 constituencies.
“The commission has consistently argued that the idea of restoration of a constituency was both legally questionable and practically improbable.
“It is questionable to ask INEC to restore constituencies that existed under an old constitutional order in the present one.
“For example, the present constitution provides for the maximum seats in the house of representatives and the multiples of that for state house of assembly constituencies.
“Restoring all old constituencies from a different constitutional order will definitely mean that the number set by the present constitution may be exceeded,” he said.
Okoye said that besides, there had been many previous constitutional orders, each with its own specification of limits on the number of constituencies.
“ Furthermore, which of the old constitutional provision should we restore?
“Perhaps, some people may even ask for the restoration of the four constituencies in Calabar and Lagos created in 1922 following the Clifford Constitution.
He added that it was a misnomer to talk of suppressed constituencies because some of the constituencies had been divided territorially.
These according to him, are as a result of state creation and boundary adjustments, creation of Local Government Areas as well as creation of the subsisting electoral constituencies.
“Some of the court judgments in the cases on these so-called suppressed constituencies have agreed with the position of the commission.
“Others have gone for the suppressed constituency canvassers. In yet other cases, the commission has appealed the judgments.
“These are some of the challenges that have constrained the commission on the question of revision and adjustment of electoral constituencies.’’
Okoye said yet, INEC was not oblivious of the importance of balanced constituency delimitation on the democratic and electoral processes.
“However, these are complicated legal, political and practical issues.’’
He said that was why INEC requested for a meeting with the leadership of NASS to resolve those issues and build the necessary consensus that would ensure that any revision of electoral boundaries would be passed by the national assembly.
Okoye said that was unlike in the past when the commission’s proposals on revision and alteration of electoral constituencies received no response from the assembly.
He noted that the commission is presently preparing a comprehensive Discussion Paper on these issues to assist in its engagement with the national assembly.
“The commission wishes to put on record the frank and open discussions with the leadership of several committees of the national assembly and their support on these issues
“We also appeal for public support to ensure that the right atmosphere exists for the commission to continue to do its work in this regard.
“For emphasis, the commission also wishes to state that the issue of electoral constituencies is separate and distinct from the ongoing consultation on voter access to polling units in Nigeria.’’