INEC’s Jega asks for more time; political parties okay his request

No Comments » September 22nd, 2010 posted by // Categories: Elections 2011



Parties okay polls shift, split over date

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 00:00 From Mohammed Abubakar (Abuja) Abiodun Fagbemi (Ilorin)

 

INEC needs more time for credible election, Jega insists

THE gathering was as electrifying as the debate was eclectic. Of the two items on the agenda, one was quickly agreed upon by all. The other rent the “House” apart, reminiscent of the loss of homologous tongue at the Biblical Tower of Babel.

The above scenario played out yesterday at the consultative meeting of all registered political parties called in Abuja by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to consider the time constraints placed on the electoral body in its efforts to conduct credible polls next year and the possibility of shifting the elections.

While a consensus was reached on the need to shelve the polls to engender a free and fair contest, when to shift it generated diverse opinions and the political parties failed to arrive at a definite new date for the all-important national exercise.

Meanwhile, Chairman, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has justified the commission’s insistence on the electoral timetable, citing legal backing for the action.

At a lecture delivered yesterday in Ilorin as organised by African Centre for Peace Research, Empowerment and Documentation (ACPRED), where he was represented by the commission’s National Commissioner, Prof. Christopher Iyimoga, Jega said the electoral timetable was a product of law and it would therefore be inappropriate for the commission to effect any change on it without passing through due process.

Besides, he said shifting of election time table in the past had engendered serious arguments, which apart from viewing the electoral body as partisan, would also undermine its independence status at the public eye.

According to him, “at this commission, we have repeatedly insisted that we shall work within the existing legal framework as contained in the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act 2010. We have also consistently said that the more time we have, the better the outcome of both the registration of voters and the 2011 elections. These positions have been informed by at least two considerations.

“In the first place, it is not the constitutional responsibility of INEC to establish or change the legal framework, including timeliness, for electoral activities. Consequently, to canvass the change in the legal frame-work or constitutional provisions on election dates would not only be inappropriate, but could open the commission to public suspicion, given the well known recent electoral history of Nigeria.

“Secondly, the question of fixing and changing election dates has been one of the major sore points of our electoral experience in Nigeria. The degree of partisanship that usually informs discussions of these issues is legendary. Consequently, we decided as a Commission that direct involvement in such debates could undermine the independence of INEC in the public eyes.”

According to the timetable released by INEC recently, the first strand of election is scheduled to take off on January 15, 2011. This is in line with the provision of the New Electoral Act, 2010.

At the consultative meeting with the leaderships of the 62 registered political parties, Jega who set the tone for the discussion, said the meeting became imperative by the realisation that the timing for the January polls was too tight for the commission to conduct any credible elections.

Jega said the meeting was a fall-out of the recent retreat it held in Calabar, Cross River State where the implications of the timetable were subjected to further scrutiny, from which the commission came out with the conclusion that it would be difficult to conduct a free, fair and credible elections under the prevailing tight timeframe.

Admitting that INEC had no constitutional powers to alter the timings of the elections, Jega said this informed the consultations.

According to him, “following the release of the timetable, the commission has received repeated inquiries expressing doubts about the ability of political parties to comply with the timeliness of the calendar in the context of the new electoral law. Principal among the worries is the new format for the nomination of candidates, which is much more decentralized and extended than before, thus requiring a much longer timeframe to be actualised.”

The INEC boss said it was not the constitutional responsibility of INEC to establish or change legal framework, including timeliness for electoral activities, adding that it would therefore be wrong for the commission to start the campaign to change the nation’s extant laws on elections, as doing so would open the commission to public suspicion, given the well-known recent history of election in the country.

His words: “The question of fixing and changing the election dates has been one of the sore points of our electoral experience in Nigeria. The degree of partisanship that usually informs discussions of these issues is legendary. Consequently, we as a commission have decided that direct involvement in such debates could undermine our independence in the public eyes, and we deliberately chose to keep away.”

While Jega carefully avoided suggesting any possible feasible period for the election, the electoral chief threw the debate to the political parties, which he said constituted the most critical stakeholders in the quest for a credible election in the country.

He expressed the hope that the meeting would critically interrogate the existing situation regarding the election calendar and make recommendations to the relevant bodies.

However, the parties were divided on the timing of the elections. While the majority of the parties called for the elections to hold any date beyond the January date, what they could not agree was when to hold them.

For instance, while the leaders like the Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa; National Chairman of the African Liberation Party (ALP), Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke and some other politicians settled for any date in April, the National Democratic Party (NDP) Chairman, Chudi Chukwuani, insisted that the election could still be held in January.

According to Isa Saidu Kumo, Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), the issue of the law about the election should be reviewed along the need to provide credible polls that could stand the test of time.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the newly elected National Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples party (ANPP), said his party had suffered a lot of injustice as a result of the fraudulent elections in the country over the years.

He, therefore, pledged his party’s co-operation with INEC to ensure that the right things were done to give the electoral process some forms of credibility.

His words: “What my party is interested in is a free and fair election because my party has suffered the most as it had been manipulated and out-rigged in the past elections. Therefore, if there is the need to extend the time, both the Constitution and the Electoral Act must be amended by giving ample time between now and the hand-over date.

Onu warned Jega that it was better he resigned than allowing his hard-earned reputation to be soiled, as Nigerians would this time around not condone disappointment under any disguise.

In his contribution, Okereke told the INEC chief that the commission was the most hated government agency in the country and as such suggested that Jega should put his foot down to ensure that no external influences dictated anything to the electoral body.

Okeke argued that the May 29 hand-over date had no historical significance to the country in anyway.

Consequently, he suggested an April or May date for the election, so that the nation could return to the traditional October 1 hand-over date. His views were supported by National Chairman, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Victor Umeh.

Umeh said the previous leadership of INEC and the National Assembly refused to listen to the suggestions from political parties regarding the timing of the elections.

He submitted that this created the current crisis in the country. Umeh, therefore, charged Jega to immediately seek an amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act in such a way that would accommodate the new reality.

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