The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared that altering the boundaries of constituencies as part of measures to address concerns over suppressed constituencies will come into effect after the current life tenure of affected Houses of Assembly.
The commission, while assuring that it is addressing concerns over suppressed constituencies, noted that the ultimate decision relating to when and in what manner the constituencies come into force resides with the National Assembly.
INEC, in underscoring the extent of the challenge, said it has so far received not less than 40 petitions from communities alleging suppression of their constituencies.
The commission’s position comes against the backdrop of resolutions by the Senate calling for the restoration of depressed constituencies.
The resolution was sequel to two motions sponsored by deputy Senate president, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central) and Senator Gabriel Suswan (Benue North East), asking INEC to restore three depressed constituencies in Delta and Benue States without further delay.
The lawmakers had, in their motions read on different days on the floor of the red chamber, accused INEC of non-compliance with court orders to restore the following depressed constituencies.
In his motion concerning Abraka State Constituency in Ethiope East local government area, Omo-Agege said, “INEC is yet to comply with the unambiguous decision, declaration and consequential orders of the court made since 5th of March, 2015.”
On his part, Senator Suswam decried the delay by INEC in complying with the orders by a Federal High Court, Abuja and the Supreme Court on the restoration of two state constituencies, Mata and Mbagwa state constituencies from Ushongo and Agasha state constituency from Gums state constituency of Benue State.
He described the delay “as a serious constitutional aberration against the spirit of section 91 and 115 of the 1999 constitution”, having unjustifiably denied the people of the affected “constituencies of their due representation in Benue State House of Assembly.”
Reacting however, INEC national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, told LEADERSHIP that the commission has over the years complied with court orders, citing its enforcement of Court verdicts in respect of Oju local government constituency, wherein the Court of Appeal ordered the commission to restore the suppressed constituency of Uwokwu in Oju local government of Benue State and the constituency was restored.
He added that part of the core responsibilities of the commission as an election management body is the creation and review of electoral constituencies.
He said sections 71, 73, 91 and 112 of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria sets out the guidelines and modalities for the delineation of Federal and State Constituencies.
He recalled that the review of Electoral Constituencies was carried out in 1996 by the defunct NECON in which the existing Constituencies were reduced to reflect the result of the 1990 population census.
He said the commission in 2004 under the leadership of Abel Guobadia took steps at fully implementing the requirements of the Constitution when it attempted to restore the “suppressed” constituencies through a letter to the National Assembly seeking approval for the restoration of 66(Sixty Six) State Constituencies in 19 States of the Federation.
Okoye said, “So far, various communities and interest groups have filed a total of 40 cases against the Commission alleging suppression and claims for additional constituencies in respect of Ninety-Six (96) State Constituencies. Eight (8) of the cases filed in Court were determined in favour of the Commission while four were dismissed and others are pending in various courts.
“The Commission has enforced the judgment of the court in respect of Oju local government constituency as the Court of Appeal ordered the Commission to restore the suppressed constituency of Uwokwu in Oju local government area of Benue State and the Constituency has been restored.
“The Commission is addressing the issue of “suppressed Constituencies”. The Commission is in receipt of petitions from communities alleging suppression of their constituencies and claims for additional constituencies.
“The Commission has complied and will continue to comply with the judgments of the Supreme Court relating to specific constituencies. Based on the judgments of Court the Commission has recalibrated and delineated the boundaries of some State Constituencies after engaging and consulting with the critical stakeholders. In others, the Commission has put in motion mechanisms for compliance and these include robust consultation with the stakeholders relating to the delineation of the boundaries of the Constituency.
“Furthermore, on the 28th day of May, 2016 the Commission made a presentation to the House Committee on Public Petitions at a public hearing stating its willingness to enforce judgments of Court and the challenges with respect to the implementation of some of the judgments.
“However, altering the boundaries of constituencies and or restoring what is now referred to as suppressed constituencies are constitutional matters. Section 91 of the Constitution provides that a House of Assembly shall consist of three or four times the number of seats which that State has in the House of representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible, nearly equal population provided that a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of not less than twenty-four and not more than forty members.
“We acknowledge the fact that section 112, 113 and 114 of the Constitution gives the Commission the power to divide every State in the Federation into such number of State constituencies as is equal to three to four times the number of Federal Constituencies. By section 115 of the Constitution, where the boundaries of any State Constituency are altered, that alteration shall come into effect after it has been approved by the National Assembly and after the current life of the House of Assembly.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission has been proactive in attending to and complying with judgments of the Supreme Court relating to the question of suppressed constituencies. The Commission has also been following and compiling cases of the suppressed constituencies that have gone to court or are in court.
“The Commission has held stakeholders meetings and consultation with the major stakeholders in the Constituencies where the Supreme Court has made a definite pronouncement. The Electoral Operations Department of the Commission has recalibrated and delineated the boundaries of the Constituencies. The ultimate decision relating to when and in what manner these constituencies come into force resides with the National Assembly in accordance with section 115 of the Constitution.
“We must bear in mind that no election shall hold in the Constituencies till the life of the current State Assembly has lapsed as the Commission is not empowered to annul any election already conducted as that will be in breach of section 68© and 133 of the of the Electoral Act”.