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TENSION MOUNTS OVER STAGGERED POLLS

By NBF News

As moves commence to have the extant electoral laws amended to give the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ample time for the conduct of the 2011 general election, opposition is mounting against the staggered elections as contained in the Electoral Act and in the Commission's timetable.

Stakeholders, including opposition political parties, civil society groups who believe that the provision for the staggered election was a ploy by the National Assembly to help the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have begun moves to ensure it is amended so that all elections would be held the same day.

The INEC had last month released its timetable in tandem with provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act.

According to the timetable, the elections would be in three phases starting from the National Assembly elections fixed for January 15, followed by the presidential election on January 22 and Governorship and State Assembly polls on January 29, 2011.

The opposition political parties, which are at the forefront of agitation to have the staggered elections dumped, have also pledged their readiness to work with INEC and make presentations to the National Assembly on the Commission's demands.

Sunday Sun learnt that moments after indications emerged that the Electoral Act would be tinkered with, lobbying of members of the Constitution Review Committee in upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly to amend the provision commenced. In the opinion of the opposition parties, the provision in the Act for spacing each of the elections is a recipe for rigging by the PDP.

Leading the pack is the governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, who spoke to Sunday Sun and condemned the provision, which he described as a 'rigging method by the PDP.' According to him, there would be a bandwagon effect if the staggered election is allowed, and that it could be reduced if the campaign for one man, one vote can takes root.

'To me, the present system rewards criminals. The elections could be held one day and that would have saved us so many things including, time, cost, and logistics. It has got to a time where we must be able to re-invent the wheel that once you contest election, you have only one choice, either you submit to the joy of victory or the pain of defeat', Oshiomhole argued.

In his reaction, General Muhammadu Buhari's aide and a chieftain of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Engr Buba Galadima, dismissed the issue of staggered election as a creation of the PDP not necessarily for the benefit of free and fair election.

According to him, with the noise from INEC over time constraint, paucity of funds and logistics, nothing could have been better than holding the elections in one day as was the case in the Second Republic.

Secretary-General of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Chief Willy Ezugwu, said the arrangement to have the election on different days was a design by the PDP-led government through the National Assembly to rig the polls.

He pointed out that the staggered elections arrangement was meant to create a bandwagon effect in favour of the PDP because once the President is known in the first election, people will tend to go to the President's party.

Their argument is that if the elections are staggered, then those who registered in places other than their base would have to be traveling frequently to keep a date with elections in those places rather than voting for their preferred candidates on a single day.

Lawyer and activist, Kayode Ajulo, said staggered elections under the present circumstance was not economical and desirable. He argued that staggered elections, apart from conferring undue advantage on the PDP, would be clumsy because the personnel for the election would have to be paid multiple allowances. National Chairman of Labour Party, Chief Dan Nwayanwu, disclosed that his party has lodged a formal protest with the relevant authorities over the order of the election since the timetable was released.

He said although INEC was not to blame because it is a legal provision that the elections be spread, given the current process the arrangement would at best help the PDP to win in the elections more than the other parties.

The INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, however told Sunday Sun that the order of the elections was not his making and parties that are not satisfied should direct their protest to the appropriate quarters.

Speaking through his Press Secretary, Kayode Idowu, the INEC boss said the commission could not help the complainants because the order is a creation of the law on which it had no say.

He explained that even the timetable that INEC wanted a change was not within the purview of INEC but that of the National Assembly. 'If they say it is staggered, we cannot help it. If they say one day for elections, we are ready. All we know is that we are not ready to compromise on credible elections in 2011,' he added.

The National Assembly Constitution Review Committee has already invited Jega and the Minister of Justice to a meeting on Monday on the way out of the time logjam, with a view to exploring how to amend the law to expand the time frame.