ByÂ Emma Aziken
A proposal by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to redraw senatorial and federal constituencies across the country is raising strong anxiety among legislators.
The proposal by INEC as articulated by a National Advisory Committee on Delimitation of Constituencies (NACDC) constituted by INEC has the potential of reshaping the electoral map and strategies of Senators and House members seeking re-election next year.
Senatorial constituencies in thirteen states are affected under the arrangement that would when effected see some serving Senators and members of the House of Representatives displaced from the present constituencies they have until now represented. Many of them are crying mischief.
The proposal is in accordance with constitutional provisions which mandates the INEC to carry out the exercise every ten years. The report of the NACDC is presently being studied by Senators.
The exercise is the first since the commencement of the fourth republic and follows the 2006 census exercise. Similar exercises in the United States which saw the favouring of some political interests inspired the term Gerrymandering.
The INEC exercise, however, falls short of redistributing federal constituencies along changes in population as prescribed in the constitution a development that was condemned by some Senators. INEC in the report claims political consideration where it fails short of the expected actions.
Senator Nicholas Ugbane (PDP, Kogi East) who under the INEC proposal would be displaced to Kogi Central senatorial district described the proposals as pure mischief by some elements in INEC. His assertion was lapped by several other Senators among them Senator Joy Emodi (PDP, Anambra North) who told Saturday Vanguard that politics was behind the report which is causing distress among many federal legislators.
Even more contentious is the proposal excising the two major oil producing local governments in Edo State from the Bini speaking Edo South senatorial district to the Ishan speaking Edo Central senatorial district.
Senator Ehigie Uzamere representing the Bini speaking Edo South was vehement in his rejection of the proposal while Senator Odion Ugbesia who would be blessed with the addition of the two oil rich local governments preferred to keep quiet on the issue when contacted as he said that he was yet to study the proposal from INEC.
A lone expression of understanding was Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora (AC, Lagos East) who is profiting from the addition of Ikeja and Ifako/Ijaye local governments to his senatorial constituency.
The thirteen states affected by the INEC redistribution of senatorial districts are Adamawa, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Plateau and Lagos States. The others include Anambra, Imo, Abia, Cross River, Edo and Rivers States.
The INEC action is based on section 73(1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution which states thus:
(1) The Independent National Electoral Commission shall review the division of States and of the Federation into Senatorial districts and Federal constituencies at intervals of not less than ten years, and may alter the districts or constituencies in accordance with the provisions of this section to such extent as it may consider desirable in the light of the review.
(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, the Independent National Electoral Commission may at any time carry out such a review and alter the districts or constituencies in accordance with the provisions of this section to such extent as it considers necessary, in consequence of any amendment to section 8 of this Constitution or any provision replacing that section, or by reason of the holding of a census of the population, or pursuant to an Act of the National Assembly.
The fifteen man NACDC committee constituted by INEC at the beginning of 2008 was chaired by Dr. Mohammed Jumare a national Commissioner at INEC whose term lapsed in April 2009 but remains a consultant to the Commission.
Among the guiding principles adopted by the committee were population, contiguity, cultural affinity, administrative and traditional boundaries, natural frontiers and physical features and pragmatism, the report of the committee obtained by Saturday Vanguard deposed.
In senatorial constituencies, the committee was required to leverage population differences among senatorial constituencies in a state to not more than 300,000 while population differences among federal constituencies in a state were not to exceed 150,000.
The committee in its report, however, leaned towards what it admitted as pragmatic realities arising from the countryâ€™s unique complex features.
â€œAlthough population and contiguity are the key factors in the delimitation of constituencies, a complex society like Nigeria requires nuance and pragmatism as much as principle in the exercise. For this reason, cultural affinity, administrative and traditional boundaries, natural frontiers and physical features, as well as socio political, cultural and religious problems need to be taken into account, and were taken into account, where necessary and where feasible.
This ensured that the delimitation of constituencies was sensitive to local circumstances,â€ the committee deposed in its report exclusively obtained by Saturday Vanguard.
Senator Joy Emodi (PDP, Anambra North), however, dismissed the committeeâ€™s assertion of its consideration of the local circumstances in the articulation of its report.
She described the committeeâ€™s report as pure mischief. Under INECâ€™s proposal Ihala local government area presently in Anambra South Senatorial district would be shifted to her Anambra North senatorial district.
â€œIt is clear mischief which will not even work, there is no way you can go and increase one zone and decrease the other for what? You decreased one zone from seven to six and the other one you increased it from seven to eight, it doesnâ€™t make sense.â€
â€œIt was borne out of sheer political mischief and it will not work,â€ Senator Emodi told Saturday Vanguard.
Senator Ikechukwu Obiorah who represents Anambra South could not be reached as at press time on his reaction to the loss of Ihala.
Senator Nicholas Ugbane presently representing the Igala speaking Kogi East Senatorial district under the plan would no longer be a citizen of Kogi East as his local government area, Dekina has been adjusted to Kogi Central Senatorial District dominated by the Igbira. Senator Ugbane argues that the INEC proposal is pure mischief as the people of Dekina have no cultural affinity with the Igbiras of Kogi Central. He argues further that there is no physical boundary between the two local governments to be excised from Kogi East with the present Kogi Central.
The INEC proposal could if adopted be a major blow to Senator Ugbaneâ€™s much talked about dreams of contesting the 2011 governorship election as he would be a minority within his new senatorial district.
In the case of Edo State where the major oil producing local government areas have been transferred from the mainly Bini speaking Edo South senatorial district to the Ishan speaking Edo Central Senatorial district, the Bini legislators are vowing that the proposal would not see the light of day.
The Senator representing Edo South, Senator Uzamere was blunt in his rejection of the INEC proposal saying that he had alongside members of the House of Representatives from Edo South rejected the proposal.
â€œThere is no way we can accept this. The Edo South National Assembly caucus has vehemently rejected this plan,â€ Senator Uzamere told Saturday Vanguard.
Senator Jibril Aminu representing Adamawa Central Senatorial district under the INEC plan would cede part of his constituency, notably Hong Local government area to Adamawa North senatorial district. He puts the brouhaha down to politics.
â€œIt is just politics, it will reduce the size of my constituency and I donâ€™t like it, I like Hong, though I will not be affected as I am from Song.â€
Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora was however, down to earth on the issue saying that the adjustment especially as it concerns Lagos was done to adjust population imbalance.
Presently Lagos West Senatorial district with a population base of 5,650,778 has about double the size of the other senatorial districts. Lagos East presently has 1,913,785 while Lagos Central has 1,549,042.
Under the adjustments proposed by INEC, Ifako/Ijaye LGA with a population of 427,737 and Ikeja LGA with a population of 317,614 would be transferred from Lagos West to join Lagos East. Similarly, Ajeromi Ifeloju LGA with a population of 687,316 and Mushin LGA with a population of 631,857 would also be carved out from Lagos West to join Lagos Central.
If adopted, Lagos Central would have a population of 2,868,215, Lagos East would be 2,659,136 and Lagos West would be 3,586,254.