Election May Not Hold if…. Jega, Wants N72B For Voters' Register
ABUJA, July 22, (THEWILL) - The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega today raised an alarm signaling that the National Assembly's inability to modify the electoral laws may stall the conduct of the 2011 general elections.
He also said the revised constitution has put pressure on the commission, such that there are serious fears that INEC may be hamstrung in the preparation for the election considering the time frame provided in the constitution.
"Except the National Assembly modifies several parts of the electoral law as it considers the Bill for a new Electoral Act, it may be difficult for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct the 2011 general elections", he said in Abuja.
His assertion came even as he declared that about N72bn, would be needed for the compilation of a new voter register.
Jega also condemned the current voters register, saying that it 'fell short of the level of credibility required for free and free election'.
The INEC Chairman made his position known at a press conference at the Commission's headquarters. He voiced concern over the implications of the Constitutional Amendment as it affects the electoral organ.
Specifically, he cited the amendments made on Sections 76(2), 116(2), 132(2) and 178(2), which states that elections must take place between 120 and 150 days to the end of the tenures of elected public officers, stressing that this means that the forthcoming elections must hold between December 2010 and January 2011, and if taken from the midpoint, it means elections will take place between the 8th and 15th of January 2011-dates which he said makes it tactically difficult for INEC to meet up with requisites for the election , bearing in mind the need to review the voter register and also display it.
In the same vein, Section 31(1) of the Electoral Act provides that notice of election must be issued 150 days prior to an election. "That being the case, to hold the first election on 8th January 2011, we must issue the notice by 11th August, 2010.
''Section 10(5) of the Electoral Act provides that registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters must end 120 days before an election. That means that registration of voters must end by 9th September 2010, barely two months from now. However, Section 21 of the Electoral Act makes it possible for claims, objections, verification, correction and final certification of the Voters' Register to continue until 60 days to an election, that is 9th November, 2010'', Jega pointed out.
He said, INEC faced with the reality on the ground, has two options, that is; either compiling a new voters' register in less than eight weeks or embark on the Herculean task of 'salvaging' the existing register in 16 weeks.
Having weighed the options, Jega revealed that since the acts of his Commission must be based on law, it had sent a communication to the National Assembly to reconsider modifying Sections of the Electoral Act so as to give room for adequate preparations for the elections.
The INEC Chairman therefore called for the modification of Section 10(5) of the Electoral Act in 'order to reduce the time for the end of the registration, updating and revision of the register of voters from 120 days before an election to 60 days', saying it would give the Commission an additional eight weeks, and a total 16- week period for the compilation of a new voter register.
To Section 21 of the Electoral Act, Prof Jega called for a reduction in time for the completion of supplementary list of voters, their integration into the existing register and final certification, from 60 days before the election to 30 days, as it would give INEC a total of 20 weeks to attempt a 'salvage' of the existing register if the option of updating the voters' register is chosen.
In addition, INEC requested the National Assembly to amend Section 11(4) of the Electoral Act which it said was ambiguous and creates the impression that as soon as INEC announce the notice of elections, registration of voters must terminate. He expressed optimism that if the above modifications were done to the Electoral Act, the likely hood of a free and fair election would be enhanced.
"If the amendments we have proposed scales through in good time, and I must say that initial indications are that the National Assembly is favorably disposed to our request, then we have four months, starting from August to compile a new Voters' Register for the elections, employing an electronic data capturing system.
"Although this is a Herculean task considering the size, population and other social and political conditions of our country, we are determined to compile a new, permanent and credible voters' register since it is the irreducible minimum for conducting free and fair elections, which is what Nigerians expect from us', Jega said.
He finally made a case that funds be released to the electoral organ, as adequate funding is not only crucial for procurement of equipment, but also for training and logistic.