Jega and His Traducers -WAZIRI ADIO

Posted: Updated:

Of recent, Professor Attahiru Jega has come under a hail of criticisms over the distribution of the newly-created polling units. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been accused of sundry things, ranging from unfairness to insensitivity, prejudice and favouritism. I believe that Jega, like other public servants, should constantly be put to task on their actions and inactions. On this issue, however, I believe that the charges hauled at the INEC chairman are clearly unfair to his person and the important commission that he heads, and certainly unhelpful for national cohesion. Before proceeding, let me say that I do not think that INEC is totally blameless on this issue. Despite that it is headed by a professor of Political Science whose research interests included identity politics, INEC took a lot for granted. It is easy to see how the outcome of this exercise could play into the hands of identity entrepreneurs, awaken latent suspicion, and inflame passion. INEC should have engaged in prior consultations with critical stakeholders to at least ensure that they understood the rationale and methodology of its intended action. Such consultations would not have eroded the independence of INEC. Rather, they would have strengthened the arm of the commission and provided it with a desirable constituency of support. Proactive communication with the larger public would also have helped. With serving ministers and leading politicians openly querying this exercise, it is clear that INEC didn’t do the necessary groundwork. This does not mean it is excusable for federal officials to reduce themselves to ethnic and regional champions. But the tension around new polling units would have been avoidable if, before making the plan public, INEC had briefed the executive, the governors, the legislators, the political parties, the media, and representatives of geo-political organisations and civil society. The electoral commission possibly fell into the trap of thinking that good intention is always enough. It rarely is, especially on potentially contentious issues. Personally, I am not convinced that the timing of this exercise is appropriate and adequate. If it is indeed so desirable, INEC could have undertaken this exercise immediately after the last election, not on the eve of another election when there is a lot on its plate and the environment is already charged. In addition, I believe that there is a lot to take INEC to the cleaners for on the discharge of its duties, despite its commendable showing in the last two gubernatorial elections. But fair is fair. Let’s accuse the man and the commission of what they are guilty of. Allegations of ethnic bias and regional agenda are weighty and costly in a fractious country such as ours. They go beyond the bounds of fair comments and should not be thrown around gratuitously. To be sure, public officers should be prepared for the harsh searchlight. That goes with the terrain. But assailing the integrity of the chairman of the electoral commission, without just cause, doesn’t come within the coverage of searchlights. Beyond the man, this chips away at the credibility of the electoral commission. This should not be fair game. Also, it is untidy to engage in such ethnic/regional baiting around an election that will clearly be fought along our national fault-lines. We can do without the additional heat. It is true that out of the 30,027 new polling units created by INEC, 21,615 will be in the north (including the FCT) and only 8,412 will be in the south. That is a ratio of 72 to 28. It is also true that with adjustments, the total number of polling units in the south will decrease from 48% to 45% and the total for the north plus FCT will increase from 52% to 55%. All these should skew eyebrows. But before conjuring motives, it is important to ask proper questions, study and interrogate the data. Important questions to ask could include: Why is this so? What are the parameters used? How logical are those parameters? What alternative parameters exist and how sound are they? According to Jega in a belated press conference last week, the review of polling units from 119,973 created in 1996 to 150,000 is designed to address the increase in population size/number of registered voters in the last 18 years, decongest over-crowded polling units, situate polling units closer to voters and in suitable public spaces, create additional polling units for new settlements, and keep the number of voters to 500 per polling unit in line with best practices. After the clean-up, the 2011 voters’ roll has a total of 70,383,427 registered voters. This means that to have 500 voters per polling unit, the country needs 140,769 polling units, which is 20,796 more than the ones used since 1996. But to further accommodate difficult terrains and remote areas with fewer than 500 registered voters, INEC decided to increase the number of polling units to 150,000. Using the number of voters per state as a base and equality of states and existing gaps per state as criteria for distribution, INEC allocated the additional 30,027 polling units the following way: North-east, 5,291; North-central, 6,318; North-west, 8.806; FCT, 1,200; South-east, 1,167; South-south, 3,087; and South-west 4,158. Predictably, but unfortunately, some Nigerians have criticised the exercise as lopsided and as designed to favour a region of the country. Among others, they have questioned why FCT will have additional 1,200 units and the entire South-east will have just additional 1,167 and why the north will have more than 70% of the new units. These are legitimate concerns. Before examining these concerns, it is important to state that the assumption fuelling the heat is that the number of polling units will determine electoral outcome. There is no correlation between the two. True, access to polling unit can affect voters’ turnout. But that case will stand only after it has been shown that voters in a particular region have more access to polling units than their counterparts in another. This has not been done. And most importantly, electoral outcomes will be determined by the number of registered voters and voters’ turn-out, not the number of polling units. A detached analysis will show that things are not what they seemed on the surface. It will also show that INEC had actually bent backwards to accommodate the peculiarity of our environment. To start with, if the goal is to have 500 voters per polling unit, some states are over-served by the 1996 arrangement and most states are under-served. Given the number of registered voters, Enugu, Osun, Bayelsa, Ekiti, and Anambra States are over-served by 159,201,545,727 and 805 polling units respectively; while the rest of the country is underserved with a margin ranging from 42 (Imo) to 3,130 (Lagos). INEC decided that no state would lose polling units and went ahead to allocate 15% of the new polling units to all the states and FCT on the basis of equality. This means all states irrespective of whether they had more or less than they should have, got 121 additional polling units each. In effect, states that had excess kept their excess and still got additional 121 units each but zero on the basis of need because they had more than they need already. The remaining 85% was allocated on the basis of need, which was determined by how many additional polling units will be needed to have 500 voters per polling unit in each state. This seems more than fair to me. The alternative would be to share everything on the basis of equality of states alone. This, I think, would have defeated the intended purpose. The fact of the matter is that the formula adopted by INEC actually favours the geo-political zones on whose behalf marginalisation has been alleged. Dis-aggregation of the data shows that only the FCT and North-central are worse off with the combination of equality and need, and they are not in the south. With proportionality (need) alone, FCT should have 1,785 (instead of the new total of 1,762); and the North-central should have 21,148 (instead of the new total of 20,997) because of their number of registered voters. With the combination method, North-east will now have 22,150 polling units (instead of 20,891 on the basis of need alone); South-east will now have 16,696 (instead of 14,356 on the basis of need alone); South-west will now have 28,831 (instead of 26,377 on the basis of need alone); South-south will now have 20,797 (instead of 18,973 on the basis of need alone) and the North-west will now have 37,867 (instead of 37,215 on the basis of need alone). This means that the combination method as against need alone represents a loss of 1.3% for the FCT and 0.7% for the North-central; while it represents a gain of 1.7% for the North-west; 6% for the North-east; 9.3% for the South-west; 9.6% for the South-south; and 16.3% for the South-east. Also, while the total number of the new polling units is 55% to 45% in favour of the north, it is also true that the actual number of registered voters is 58% to 42% in favour of the north. So where is the bias in favour of the north if units are created on the basis of registered voters divided by 500? Many pot-shots have been taken at the INEC chairman by individuals and groups purporting to speak for the south. The one I consider the unkindest is the September 10 press statement by the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, which accused Jega of “ethnic bigotry, partisan parochialism, and primordial chauvinism” and asked him to resign immediately for taking a “callous, insensitive, disparate, oppressive and inconsonant decision to give the north a clear political advantage over the south contrary to reality on ground”. The statement was supposedly signed by Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief E.K. Clark and Dr. Femi Okurounmu. My heart bleeds that the name of the well-respected, former vice-president was appended to such an ill-advised statement. I want to believe someone else signed for him.

Start a conversation...
Our mission

Message has been posted.........