Politics of More Federal Constituencies

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Last week’s clamour by the members of the House of Representatives for the creation of new federal constituencies is beginning to gain traction, writes Adedayo Akinwale

It is no news that the federal government over the years has been faced with escalating recurrent expenditure in the face of dwindling revenue. This has forced the federal government to seek ways to cut the huge cost of governance.

Successive administrations had set up several committees aimed at reducing the number of federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) but to no avail, all aimed at reducing the life choking cost of governance.

Against this background, in 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of federal government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Steve Oronsaye.

The Oronsaye-led Committee made far-reaching recommendations on MDAs that should be scrapped, those to be merged and those to become self-funding, thereby freeing funds for the much-needed capital projects across the country.

It also recommended the need to amend the Professional Bodies (Special Provisions) Act 1972, which mandates the government to provide financial support of various kinds to such bodies.

Unfortunately, the report has not been implemented till date for the reasons best known to the government hence the continued nightmare about the high cost of governance.

However, the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, last year, has added to government’s financial headache. With the country shutting down for the better part of last year, revenue generation reduced drastically, while the federal government, as well as state governments even found it difficult to pay salaries at some time.

Over the years, successive administrations had borrowed money to finance budgets, even while the chuck of the money borrowed goes for recurrent expenditure and the jombo salaries of political office holders.

Nigerians have had the course to condemn the jumbo pay of the lawmakers since the return to democracy. Between its inauguration in 1999 and 2015, the National Assembly had received about N1.26 trillion with little to show for it – a report by BudgIT had shown.

A former Kaduna senator, Shehu Sani, in 2018, revealed that each senator earned N13.5 million as monthly running cost. This is in addition to a monthly-consolidated salary of N700,000.

Despite being aware of the huge financial cost of governance the federal government is battling with, it was therefore viewed with uttermost dismay, the clamour by the federal lawmakers for the creation of additional federal constituencies, which will eventually increase the lawmakers in the House of Representatives from 360 to whatever number.

Initially, lawmakers representing Oyo State that moved the motion on February 24 on the need to restore eight State Constituencies into Oyo State House of Assembly.

The motion was jointly moved by Hon. Odebunmi Olusegun, Hon. Akeem Adeyemi, Hon. Olajide Olatunbosun, Hon. Ojerinde Olumide, and Hon. Olaide Akinremi.

Presenting the motion, Odebunmi said the decision of the Federal High Court, Ibadan Division on March 8, 2013 in the Attorney General of Oyo State Vs Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) case ordered INEC to make the restored eight State Constituencies operational forthwith.

He said from the day of the judgment till date, no equal or superior court has set aside the Court decision under reference.

Odebunmi expressed worry that delay in complying with the order of the Court to make the restored Eight State Constituencies in Oyo State operational was in violation of the provisions of section 91 and 115 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

He argued that this has unlawfully denied people in Ibadan North ll, Ibadan South-West all, Ibarapa Central, Irepo, Itesiwaju, Oyo East, Saki East and Surulere State Constituencies of their right to proper representation in the State House of Assembly.

The House therefore mandated INEC to make the restored Ibadan North III, Ibadan South-West III, Ibarapa Centra, Irepo, Itesiwaju, Oyo East, Saki East and Surulere State Constituencies in Oyo State operational and take effect in the succeeding State House of Assembly election under the provision of section 115 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

But, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Wase, who presided over the plenary, in allaying the fear of members whose constituencies have been affected by the same circumstance, disclosed that there is a motion in the works to give the issue a national scope and a permanent solution.

So at plenary last Wednesday, the House called on INEC to commence review of constituency delineation as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended without further delay.

It said in order to ensure adequate representation INEC should without delay carve out new federal constituencies especially, in constituencies covering four local government areas.

The resolution of the House was sequel to the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance moved by the House Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu.

Presenting the motion, Elumelu said section 71(b) of the 1999 constitution as amended empowered INEC to divide the federation into 360 federal constituencies for the purpose of elections into the House.

He pointed out that Section 73(1) expressly directed INEC to review the division of states of the federation into federal constituencies at intervals of not less than 10 years, and may alter the constituencies in accordance with the provisions of this section to such extent, as it may consider desirable in the light of the review.

Elumelu said Section 49 provides that the House shall consist of 360 members representing 360 constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one state.

Elumelu stressed that while the constitution provides a-10-year time frame for constituency reviews, INEC has not done any known review in the last 22 years of the current democratic dispensation, hence the urgent need to call on INEC to be alive to her responsibilities.

The Minority Caucus leader expressed worry that some federal constituencies are twice the size of others in both size and population and at variance with the letters and dictates of the 1999 constitution.

He said this was so because INEC has failed to live up to its responsibilities, hence the need to urgently rectify this anomaly for the sake of equitable representation.

Elumelu noted that to guarantee effective, quality and adequate representation in the House, “INEC should without delay delimit the constituencies and carve out new federal constituencies especially, in constituencies covering four local government areas.”

The lawmaker stressed that the continuous failure of INEC to live up to its responsibilities in reviewing the division of states into federal constituencies does not only portray INEC in a bad light, but the entire government institution including the National Assembly for also failing to call her to order and invoking adequate sanctions where necessary hence the need for this motion.

The House also said in reviewing the federal constituencies, INEC should take into consideration Aniocha/Oshimili federal constituency in Delta State, which has four local government areas and one of the largest federal constituencies in both population and landmass in the entire nation by splitting it into Aniocha north/Aniocha south federal constituency and Oshimili north/Oshimili south federal constituency and Iseyin/Kajola/Iwajowa/Itesiwaju in Oyo State with four local government areas into Iseyin/Kajola federal constituency and Iwajowa/Itesiwaju federal constituency.

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, had during budget defence in the House late last year stated categorically that there cannot be delimitation of constituencies unless there is constitutional amendment as the number of seats in both Chambers of the National Assembly has been provided for in the Constitution.

Yakubu said: “The truth is that we can’t create additional constituencies, because the number for the House of Representatives and the Senate is fixed in the Constitution. There are 360 constituencies. We can’t create one additional constituency and we can’t reduce it.

“So, the solution actually lies in the hands of honourable members. If you want additional constituencies to be created, the Constitution has to be amended to provide for the number of constituencies.”