NATIONAL RETREAT ON CONSTITUENCY DELIMITATION
WELCOME ADDRESS BY THE CHAIRMAN INEC, PROF. ATTAHIRU M. JEGA, OFR, AT THE NIKE LAKE HOTEL AND RESORT, ENUGU, ON 2ND MAY, 2013
Today marks another significant step forward in the Commission’s continuous strides for robust and transparent engagement with stakeholders in pursuit of its policy and programmes aimed at discharging its statutory mandate, while strengthening and deepening our democratic culture.
It is therefore with great pleasure and honour that I, on behalf of the Commission, welcome His Excellency the Senate President, the Rt. Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman Senate Committee on INEC, Chairman and Deputy Chairman House Committee on Electoral Matters, our international experts on delimitation, and specialists from the academia and other collaborating agencies, to this Retreat.
The purpose of the Retreat is to sensitize key stakeholders and provide an environment for robust discussions on a unique but vital aspect of the mandate given to the Commission by law, that is: review of Electoral Constituencies. It also provides an opportunity for sharing of experiences and lessons learnt in some sister African countries that have recently undertaken review of their electoral constituencies.
There is no doubt that constituency delimitation, or review of electoral constituencies, is difficult and challenging. But given its importance in expanding the scope of popular participation in representative democracy, and in strengthening good democratic governance, strenuous efforts have to be made to overcome the anticipated challenges. It is possible to successfully review and delimit electoral constituencies, as the experience of some of our sister African countries reveals. The Commission is therefore determined to partner with all stakeholders to execute a transparent, rational and impartial delimitation of electoral constituencies.
The current delimitation structure is a product of the defunct NECON in 1996 under a military regime, using the 1991 census data. It has been severely criticized for manifesting features, which do not meet best standards, including mal-apportionments and large deviations from the population quota as enshrined in the Constitution, and other imbalances. These inequalities challenge in a fundamental manner, the very principle of equal representation.
If the principle of “one man one vote” in a single member representative system such as ours is to be indeed enthroned in our democratic culture, conscious and deliberate effort must be made to review the constituencies in order to eliminate, or at least reduce to a minimum level, the current imbalances.
One of the major flaws identified with previous efforts at review of constituency delimitation was inadequate engagement with major and critical stakeholders. Accordingly, the Commission’s new Delimitation Plan of Action as we shall see during this Retreat, has provided for a robust programme of stakeholder sensitization and engagement. In this regard, a Retreat was held in Sokoto from 16th – 19th April, 2013 with the Senate and House Committees on INEC, where the review of constituencies was vigorously discussed and substantial insights gained and shared. Today’s event therefore is part of a larger programme of consultation, engagement, and sensitization.
Since our inauguration as a Commission in June 2010, we have striven to design and implement necessary and sometimes bold initiatives, systems and processes aimed at improving the electoral process and the sanctity of the ballot. A great deal of good result has been achieved and voter confidence is gradually rising to respectable levels. The Commission owes much gratitude to many stakeholders such as the Legislature, the Judiciary, the Executive, civil society organizations, the NYSC, security agencies, the media and indeed the citizens, who have supported and encouraged our efforts in delivering electoral outcomes that are free, fair and credible, and that substantially satisfy the majority of the electorate.
Certainly, we in the Commission will be the first to admit that the route has been tortuous and arduous but we have attended to the challenges with courage, determination, focus, honesty and sincerity of purpose.
Indeed, it is all these (focus, courage, sincerity and transparency) and more, that we as a Commission are committed to bringing to this project in order to ensure successful and generally acceptable review of electoral constituencies.
We hope that this Retreat will afford everyone present a deeper and clearer understanding of the subject matter, as well as greater insight into the road map to the defined goal. We also hope that all stakeholders would find the resolve and determination to effectively participate and ensure a successful review the electoral constituencies, so that we can eliminate the existing imbalances, bring the constituencies more in line with the constitutional provisions and move the country closer to the global best practice of equal strength for all votes; that is one man/woman one vote.
Let me at this point, express the Commission’s thanks and appreciation to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) for their tremendous support generally to our programmes and projects, and in particular to this Retreat.
Our Special Guests of Honour, the Distinguished Senate President, the Honourable Speaker House of Representatives, other distinguished invited guests, let me once again welcome you all to this Retreat and thank you for accepting our invitation at short notice. I wish us all fruitful deliberations.