By Joy Odor
The Malawi Electoral Commission, (MEC), led by Justice Chifundo Kachale has visited Nigeria to learn how Nigeria Independent Electoral Commission, (INEC) has been able to manage its voter distribution, ethnicity, and legitimacy of the proportion of voters it requires to constitute a valid constituency.
He stated this on Thursday in Abuja at INEC headquarters during the tour visit to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu.
The Malawian election umpire said it will be good to also know how INEC has been able to carry out its civic education before, during, and after the elections.
Justice Chifundo said they they are in Nigeria to collaboration with Nigeria INEC on the need to share insights and experiences on management of elections matters.
He added that there is a lot of commonality in what they do as election management bodies, noting that the delimitation of constituencies and wards are some of the distinguishing features of the plurality system whereby representatives are chosen from discreet electoral constituencies with districts.
According to him; “Just like in Nigeria, the issue of delimitation of the district is quite a sensitive issue. In our context, the last time we were able to do this successfully was in 1998.
A similar attempt in 2004 was thwarted because of the political sensitivity of the process.
Part of the challenge was that the activity was being conducted too close to the poll. And you know the sensitivity that arises.
And that is why this time around we are trying to do this because our next general election has been scheduled for 2025.
“So we as a commission, we are mandated to undertake this process. We have been delayed in our calendar of implementing this because of the Covid-19 pandemic as you are aware.
And in our concept, we shared with the commission and outlined some of the thoughts that have gone into identifying where we should go and learn.
One of the issues we would love to learn from Nigeria as a commission is an issue of managing the voter distribution, ethnicity, legitimacy of the proportion of voters that you require to constitute a valid constituency.
“In our law, the constitution mandates the commission to ensure that constituencies contained an equal number of voters in order obviously promote the concept of one voter or one man one vote.
However, because of demography and other geographic issues, it is always not easy to attain that ideal. We always know that in the urban settings, we always have higher population density and rural settings.
And also issues of the general topography of the land can affect the accessibility of certain areas compared to others”, he said.
Continuing, Justice Chifundo said nothing has been done in the course of 25 years and the disproportionate distribution of voters is perceived to have failed the quality of representation accorded to every citizen in its jurisdiction.
” We have a scenario as a matter of an indicator where the largest Constituency is 14 times the number of registered voters compare to the smallest constituency.
We would like to try as a commission to mitigate some of the disparities. But we are aware that the whole process is quite a sensitive political process.
“As we come out of this study, we have already started the delimitation exercise. This we have engaged with the political party leadership both for parties that are represented in the parliament and those who have also attended by having representation in traction on the ground and some other stakeholders that are concerned.
Some of the issues we have alluded to in our concept North have arisen as part of the field back from initial engagement.
“So some of the issues, we will like to learn from having to do with the legal framework on delimitation, and if there is any reform that has been contemplated that will make the process much more manageable and legitimate.
What are the key of special stakeholders to the processes and what nature of engagement do you undertake to ensure acceptance of the final outcome of the processes”, he stated.
He disclosed further that in a situation where the voters do not really understand the use of technology, the whole process can be misinterpreted thereby giving room for misinformation and other acts capable of destroying the legitimacy of the process.
” In this era of technology, what kind of technology is being deployed at this stage of the process? And to what extent? Because technology has got a very fascinating impact on a lot of our activities as a people.
But some of the challenges may have to do with the acceptability and legitimacy of the whole process. If there is a perception that technology is subject to manipulation, no matter all the intention and investment, it may not achieve the desired result.
“And what are the main factors that are considered to ensure a bit of achievement of suffrage? How do you rank the different factors? For example, in our law, the primary factor is that there must be the quality of voters within a constituency subject to issues, geographical access, population distribution which issues are given prominence over the others.
Are there any mathematical models that you employed to ensure that your constituencies and wards achieved the right of representation?
“What sort of statistics or data is relevant for the process? In our jurisdiction, there is a national statistical office that has the population data.
As a commission, we also generate our own data as far as registered voters are concerned. Which data is used to determine the projected numbers that you want to use to set on the size of your constituencies?
“And how reliable are the future statistical projections? What are the things that are applied to ensure that you have reliable data? And what measures do you put in place to avoid the actual perception of gerrymandering or other forms of political interference? Obviously, the distribution of the Constituencies has a bearing on who gets into power.
He noted: ‘ In our politics, we kind of pretend as a very strong ethnic dimension to it. If you are perceived to be creating more seats in areas that favor certain parties, how do you manage those issues? And what are the best practices that an authority can employ to resolve issues of geographical features that impact the delimitation process?
“What are state institutions do you collaborate with to ensure the whole process is running smoothly? What scope of civic education before, during, and immediately after the process do you need to undertake? Because the whole process can be undermined by misinformation if the key stakeholders who are the voters do not understand why and how you are trying to do what you are trying to do.
“It can easily be misrepresented by other people undermining the investment in the whole project. Yet, as electoral management bodies, our key mandate is to ensure our democracy grow and thrive to entrench the culture of regular elections in a manner that will actually contribute to building our growing”, he noted.
Responding, the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu the Malawi visit is timely when INEC has just concluded the expansion of voter access to polling units in Nigeria after 25 years of unsuccessful attempt in Nigeria
He told them that the Commission is in the middle of voter registration which is again historic for Nigeria because for the first time, “we are also doing the voter pre-registration online, which will now be completed physically in person at designated centers nationwide. So you are coming at the right time.
He said: ” In malawi, I know that you have been trying to delimit consituencies since 1998, more or less for the same reasons that nigeria has not succeeded in delimiting constituencies, but most especially the polling units. So we will share experiences with you, particularly over what we did with regards to the polling units.
“The major ingredient for success is the fact that we consulted very widely. First, there was a document, so we asked citizens not to judge us on the basis of what they think INEC is trying to do but on the basis of what we are actually trying to do.
There was a publication that we called a discussion paper, and we engaged very widely with all categories of stakeholders, and at the end of the day, it was seamless. We have succeeded in expanding voter access from the 119,974 polling units we had to 176, 872 polling units today. We’ll share this happy experience with you.
“We are a huge country, in terms of voters register, we have the largest database of registered voters in Africa. It is now over 84 million and our hope is that from the ongoing registration of voters, we’ll register at least 20 million more nigerians , and that will take our register to over a 100 million by the time we go into the next general elections, which is less than two years away.
“We have studied your concept note and we tried as much as possible to respond by providing you the kind of information and interaction that you will require. Immediately after this session, there will be a demonstration on the Delimitation of constituencies by our department of Electoral Operations, then thereafter, you will have the opportunity to visit our Electoral Institute where again there will be presentations and discussions.
“The chairman said the visiting team will be introduced to the Chairmen and members of the two Committees dealing with electoral matters at the National Assembly tomorrow and reason is that the Delimitation of Constituencies is not solely the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, it is a joint responsibility between the electoral commission and the National Assembly. so it is also good to engage with the members of the national assembly, he added.