By Nathaniel Gana
Thursday 9th July 2021
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has agreed to share its technical experience on Constituency Delimitation and expansion of voter access to polling units with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made this known when the Commission received a delegation from the MEC, led by its Chairman, Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale, at the INEC Headquarters in Abuja on 8th July.
The team from Malawi is in Nigeria on a study tour of INEC, focusing on Constituency Delimitation.
Prof. Yakubu said there was no better time for the team to visit Nigeria than now when the Commission has just broken a 25-year-old record of successfully expanding voter access to polling units and in the middle of a historic feat pre-registering eligible citizens online for the first time in the country.
He observed that Nigeria and Malawi shared similar challenging experiences in their attempts to delimit constituencies in the past. He said: “In Malawi, I know that you have been trying to delimit constituencies since 1998, more or less for the same reasons that Nigeria has not succeeded in delimiting constituencies, but most especially the polling units. Therefore, we will share experiences with you, particularly over what we did about the polling units”.
He attributed the expansion of voter access to polling units to the Commission’s comprehensive consultations with stakeholders.
His words: “The major ingredient for success is the fact that we consulted widely. First, there was a publication that we called a Discussion Paper. We asked citizens not to judge us based on what they think INEC is trying to do but on the basis of what we are trying to do. Second, we engaged widely with all categories of stakeholders, and at the end of the day, it was seamless. As a result, 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”.
Explaining the complexities involved in overseeing the electoral process in the most populated black nation on earth to the visitors, Prof. Yakubu said: “We are a huge country. In terms of the voters’ register, we have the largest database of registered voters in Africa. It is now over 84 million, and we hope that from the ongoing registration of voters, we’ll register at least 20 million more Nigerians, and that will take our register to over 100 million by the time we go into the next general elections, which is less than two years away”.
Prof. Yakubu assured the Malawian team that INEC was a willing partner in progress and would share all the information they need in the course of their stay. His words: “We have studied your concept note, and we tried as much as possible to respond by providing you with 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. Thereafter, you will have the opportunity to visit our Electoral Institute where there will be more presentations and discussions”.
The INEC Chairman also hinted that as part of its itinerary, the visiting team would be introduced to the Chairmen and members of the two Committees dealing with electoral matters at the National Assembly. He noted: “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.”
In his welcome remarks earlier, Chairman of the Outreach and Partnership Committee (OPC), Dr Adekunle Ogunmola, noted that Peer Learning had become a widely accepted norm among Election Management bodies”.
Represented by National Commissioner, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, the OPC Chairman observed: “There are many similar experiences between our two Commissions. One of them, of course, is the major reason you are here today, which is Districting and Electoral Constituencies. That is not only one of the most important aspects of our work but also one of the most difficult issues in any Electoral Commission”.
He continued: “In fact, the last districting in Nigeria was in 1996. So we have been working on that. It is also an interesting coincidence that you are also interested in that. I hope that you will get to learn about some of the challenges we have been facing during your stay. Just recently, we had a long session with the National Assembly, trying to grapple with the issue of electoral constituencies and districting”.
The OPC Chairman expressed INEC’s readiness to learn from the exchange of ideas and experience between both Commissions, particularly the Malawian expertise in the business of conducting elections.
Earlier, the leader of the visiting team and Chair of the Malawian Electoral Commission, Justice Dr Chifundo Kachale, who was accompanied by two Commissioners and other Directors of the Commission, had explained that the Malawian Commission plans to embark on a comprehensive review of constituencies and wards boundaries, which entails minimizing disparities across electoral areas riding on the recent data from the 2018 Population and Housing Census in Malawi.
According to him, “the (Malawian) Commission recognizes the complexities surrounding the implementation of delimitation processes and would like to benefit from jurisdiction on how demarcation of electoral areas has been implemented. It is believed that the study visit will assist the Commission in coming up with the best solutions and practices guiding the implementation of the process.”
Justice Kachale outlined about 15 objectives of the team’s visit and the scope of its intended study of INEC. Some of them include: