BEING THE TEXT OF THE CIVIL LIBERTIES ORGANISATION (CLO) PRESS BRIEFING ON THE CREATION OF 39 NEW ELECTORAL WARDS IN AKWA IBOM STATE BY AKISIEC HELD ON TUESDAY, 4TH AUGUST, 2020.

The Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKISIEC) is established pursuant to Section 197(1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

The composition and powers of State Independent Electoral Commissions, including AKISIEC, is broadly stated in Part II of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.

In Paragraph 4(a) of Part II of the Third Schedule to the Constitution, it is stated that the State Independent Electoral Commissions, including AKISIEC, shall have power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to Local Government Councils within the States. It is also stated in Paragraph 4(b) of Part II of the Third Schedule to the Constitution that the State Independent Electoral Commissions, including AKISIEC, shall have power to render such advice as it may consider necessary to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the compilation of the register of voters in so far as that register is applicable to Local Government elections in the State.

The powers vested in AKISIEC and other State Independent Electoral Commissions in Paragraph 4(a) and (b) of the Constitution are replicated in Part II, Section 10 (1)(a) and (b) of the Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKISIEC) Law, 2007 as the functions of AKISIEC.

Part II, Section 10(2) of the AKISIEC Law, 2007 also adds as a function of AKISIEC, the discretionary power to create new Local Government Wards every 10 years as the circumstances of each Local Government may require.

Acting pursuant to the powers given to it in Part II, Section 10(2) of the AKISIEC Law, 2007, AKISIEC through an advertorial published on pages 9 -20 of The Pioneer Newspaper of Monday, July 27 – 28, 2020, announced the creation of additional 39 Wards spread across the 31 Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State.

Expectedly, the creation of the new Wards by AKISIEC has continued to elicit heated debates across the State, with some questioning the power of AKISIEC to create new Wards and the legality of such new Wards. Those questioning the power of AKISIEC to create new Wards place a blank reliance on the Constitution as exclusively empowering the INEC to create Wards.
CLO has searched the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) but has not seen any provision thereat exclusively empowering INEC to create Wards.

CLO has also searched the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) but has not found any provision thereat exclusively empowering INEC to create Wards.

It does appear to CLO that the power, under Part II Paragraph 4(a) of the Constitution, given to State Independent Electoral Commissions, including AKISIEC, to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to Local Government Councils within the State extends to the power to create new Wards, where circumstances require.

This is more so considering that the power of INEC to create Wards is subsumed in Part I, Paragraph 15(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), where INEC is empowered to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and State House of Assembly of each State of the Federation.

CLO is of the view that that AKISIEC’s power to create new Wards for the purpose of the forthcoming Local Government Council elections in the State is further strengthened by Section 105(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) which empowers INEC to divide each Area Council in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja (equivalent of a Local Government Area) into Electoral Wards not being less than 10 and not more than 20 as the circumstance of each Area Council may require, and by Section 105(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), which makes it mandatory for INEC to review the division of every Area Council into Wards at intervals of not less than 10 years and also gives INEC the discretion to alter such Electoral Wards in accordance with the provisions of Subsection (1) of Section 105 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).

CLO notes that powers similar to those vested in INEC by Section 105(1) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) in respect of the creation and alteration of Electoral Wards in the Area Councils of the FCT, Abuja are not entrusted on INEC in the same Act (or in the Constitution) in respect of the creation and alteration of Electoral Wards in the Local Government Councils of States.

CLO is, however, aware of concerns expressed by a cross section of the State on the practicability of the new 39 Wards created by AKISIEC.

CLO invites AKISIEC to consider and address the following:

  1. Concerns have been raised on the perceived lopsidedness of the exercise which appears to favour some groups of villages and disfavour some other groups of villages. For instance, it has been asserted that while in some instances four villages constitute a Ward, cases abound where some 11 – 17 villages are lumped into a Ward. A classic example is Ikpa Ibom Ward 3 in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, the biggest Ward in Mkpat Enin with 13 villages, which was not favoured with a new Ward in the present arrangement.
  2. Concerns have also been raised on the likelihood of disenfranchisement of voters whose polling units under the existing voters’ register kept by INEC fall under, say, Ward 2, but by the current situation of the new Wards, now find themselves under Ward 3 or Ward 4. In this scenario, it has been asserted that the affected voters’ register would have to be revisited by INEC, which would also need to recall the voters’ cards of affected voters and issue new ones to such voters.
  3. There is also the case of the omission and misspelling of some villages and the repetition of some villages across Wards, as published in the said AKISIEC advertorial. For instance, in Etinan Local Government Area, Ikot Udo Adia village is omitted in Northern Iman Ward 2 while Ikot Udoabia village is repeated in Urban Ward 5 and in Northern Iman Ward 2. Ikot Akpanya village in Northern Iman Ward 2 is misspelled as “Ikot Akpaya.”

Conclusion:
CLO lauds AKISIEC for its courage and foresight in creating the new Electoral Wards, which, no doubt, will bring governance nearer to the people, decongest registration areas during the collation of voters and further the ends of the COVID-19 preventive protocols.
CLO advises AKISIEC to promptly address the concerns raised by the civil society and engage relevant stakeholders, including the political parties, political class, INEC, and the civil society organisations in the State with view to ensuring that the laudable objectives of the creation of new Electoral Wards in the State are achieved.

CLO commends the resolve of AKISIEC, as gleaned from its timetable for the Local Government Council Elections in the State, to ensure that there is a transition from one democratically elected local government council to another in line with the provision of Section 7(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

Signed:
Otuekong Franklyn Isong
(Chairman)

Comrade (Barr.) Christopher Ekpo
(Secretary)

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