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Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega, yesterday reviewed the situation on ground as regards the preparation for the 2011 election, saying that the path to the much-touted credible election is filled with landmines.

The INEC boss, who regretted that his commission is yet to get the N87.7 billion supplementary appropriation after approval by the National Assembly, said unfortunately, as a result of the controversies surrounding the Electoral Act and the amended Constitution, the provisions of which are to be relied on for the conduct of the elections, INEC is not sure of where it stands for now.

Indeed, the INEC chairman said the commission, which already is pressed for time, has missed by two weeks, the timelines set for some of its deliverables for the conduct of the elections.

Vowing that though the determination of his commission to deliver free and fair elections is irreversible, the INEC boss, therefore, cried out for help from stakeholders for collaboration to ensure the nation gets it right this time around. Jega, who was addressing leaders of the 62 registered political parties at a consultative meeting in Abuja under the auspices of International Republican Institute (IRI), lamented that the commission is facing some constraints, which it never envisaged.

The constraints, he noted, arose from the non-release of the N87.7 billion supplementary appropriation for the voters' registration, the delay in the take-off of the 2010 Amended Constitution and 2010 Electoral Act, both are being bogged down by the controversies over presidential assent. Jega said that INEC planned its activities on the understanding that the amendments would have been consummated and finalized.

Said he; 'based on the inadequacies of the existing voters' register; we said our preference would be to produce a fresh voters' register if we had the funds and time, otherwise, we would embark on cleaning up of the existing register. Since then, we thought that we got the time through the amendments to the Electoral Act. We also thought that we had the funds following consideration of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill for INEC sent to the National Assembly by Mr. President.

Again, unfortunately, we are not sure where we stand at the moment.

'Instead, there have been controversies over whether or not the President has to assent to the Constitution amendment…to the best of my knowledge, the President is yet to assent the new Electoral Act, all have constrainted our preparations for both the voters' registration and the elections,' he lamented.

Nevertheless, Jega said the commission would work hard to make up for the time loss, because 'we consider as irreducible mission of our commission to conduct free and fair elections based on a dependable and permanent voters' register as provided by law by providing Nigerians strong leadership built on openness, fairness, and unimpeachable integrity.

Jega charged the party leaders not to see the electoral exercise as the exclusive preserve of the commission, but a joint project by all stakeholders, saying INEC is in the process of producing comprehensive guidelines to guide voters' registration, urging the parties to educate their supporters and mobilize them for the exercise.

He promised all the parties a level playing field, assuring that all electoral structures and processes will be designed such that it would not confer undue advantage over others.

Highlighting the constraints imposed by the yet to be operational legal framework, Prof Jega said, 'except we know what the Constitutional provision on the time to hold elections before the end of tenure is, we are constrained to issue a notice for the elections, which must be done 90 days to the elections (Section 30 of the Electoral Act 2010).

We are equally constrained to determine the date political parties must submit their list of candidates to the commission, which must be done 60 days prior to the elections (Section 31 of the 'new' Electoral Act), and so on and so forth. Still, I can assure you that we are ready and as soon as these are clarified and concluded, we would release a time-table of events.

Should the 'new' Electoral Act be approved for the election, the INEC chairman educated the party men on areas that would likely affect their preparation and noted the following:

Submission of list of candidates
(a) Section 31 of the Electoral Act requires the parties to submit their lists of candidates 60 days before elections. INEC is required within seven days thereafter, to publish the list of candidates in the constituency where the election is to hold. (b) Nominations submitted by the parties are public documents and any citizen is entitled under section 31 (4) to request from INEC copies of the nomination filed and INEC is obliged to make this available within 14 days.

Substitution of candidates
(a) In Section 33, no political party shall be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted pursuant to Section 32 of the Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate. (b) This eliminates the old practice of substitution of candidates arbitrarily or on the nebulous ground of 'cogent and verifiable reasons..'

Withdrawal of candidates
a) This is allowed 45 days before an election only. See section 35. Thereafter, a candidate's name will remain on the ballot.

Registration of new political parties
a) The registration of new political parties ceases six months before an election. This means that as at now, no new political parties can be registered ahead of the next elections, if they are to take place by 8th January 2011 (Section 78).

b) I should also note that under the section, INEC may also cancel a party's certificate of registration where there is false or misleading information leading to its registration.

c) Section 78 (7) empowers INEC to de-register a political party that fails to win any National or State Assembly seat in an election.

Mergers of political parties
a) Political parties are required under section 84 (2) to give INEC 90 days notice of an intention to merge before a general election

Party conventions/congresses/conference for Nomination of candidates

a) The Electoral Act 2010 provides in section 85, that political parties give INEC 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under the bill.

b) This means that parties need to be informed well ahead of the 90 days date for the submission of their list of candidates, of this legal requirement, to ensure that they prepare adequately to fulfill the provisions contained in the new section 87 of the Electoral Act specifying the process of political party primaries.

c) Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, outlines the process that all political parties must fulfill to conduct legitimate and credible primaries, to enable them file candidates for the elections. Failure to comply with section 87 may disqualify candidates filed by political parties for the elections.

d) Section 86 of the Act gives INEC powers to monitor the parties and ensure that they comply with the law.

Meanwhile, Jega tabulated thus the timetable set by INEC on assumption that the Amended Constitution and the Electoral Act would have been in place by now but which has been affected by two weeks:

(i) Identification of equipment suppliers, Early August 2010

(ii) Award of contract, Early August 2010
(iii) Delivery of 15,000 units of equipment for training Early September 2010

(iv) Delivery of balance of equipment for registration exercise, Mid-October 2010

(v) Training Early to Mid September 2010
(vi) Completion of deployment of equipment to polling units, Mid-October 2010

(vii) Registration exercise, Late Oct.- Early Nov. 2010

(viii) Printing of voters' register for display, Early November 2010

(ix) Display of Voters' Register,
Mid-November 2010
(x) Verification, correction and certification, Mid Nov. - Early Dec. 2010.