By Harry Awurumibe, Editor, Abuja Bureau
Apparently in the spirit of African brotherhood, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) headed by Justice Chifundo Kachale has sought the collaboration of its Nigerian counterpart, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) on the need to share insights and experience on management of election matters.
The two nations electoral umpires met on Thursday at INEC Headquarters in Abuja where the Malawian delegation made the request to the Commission.
In his remarks, Chifundo said there is a lot of commonality in what INEC and MEC do as election management bodies in their countries, 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.
He said of particular importance why they have visited Nigeria was to learn how INEC has been able to manage its voter distribution, ethnicity, and legitimacy of the proportion of voters it requires to constitute a valid constituency.
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.
Earlier, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu in his address said the Commission is hosting the team at the best time when it has just concluded the expansion of voter access to Polling Units in Nigeria after 25 years of unsuccessful attempt in Nigeria.
He said 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.
Said he: ”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. 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.
“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.