By NBF News
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Wary of electoral failures of the past, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may strip its returning officers at all levels of their responsibility of announcing results of all elections this year to stem electoral fraud.

Though the retuning officers are saddled with the responsibility of announcing results at ward, local government and state levels, with the INEC chairman as the national returning officer who announces the results of the presidential election, the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega disclosed yesterday that the function might have to be transferred to neutral 'respected Nigerians' to be appointed by the Commission.

The development, according to him, is meant to insulate the Commission's officers from electoral fraud and in some instances undue accusation of bias. He backed his position on the fact that the 2010 Electoral Act, unlike the amended 2006 version, did not state explicitly who the returning officer should be and therefore the INEC is at liberty to consider making prominent Nigerians serve as its returning officers.

The Commission, while making its last minute preparations for a hitch-free Delta State governorship rerun election tomorrow also announced that it had cleaned up the controversial old voters' register meant for the election.

Professor Jega disclosed that his Commission had revised the disputed register and removed all detected multiple registrations as well as other irregularities to make it suitable for the rerun election.

Addressing the 37 resident electoral commissioners in his office at a meeting, Professor Jega stated that the revised voters' register for Delta State had been distributed to all the political parties and other stakeholders in the state to stem rigging and ensure fairness.

He explained that the decision to give the parties copies of the updated register was to ensure that they compare with the one being used by INEC during election, so as to eliminate doubts as to the authenticity of the register.

Jega, however, said he would not succumb to the demand from some quarters in Delta State for the Commission to display the register before the election saying the INEC was not under any legal obligation and that doing so might create confusion.

According to him, the Commission had taken all necessary steps to ensure the election went smoothly and not only free and fair but seen by the people as being free, fair and credible.

'All eyes are on INEC and this is a test case for us. Nigerians want to see what we can do and this is why we are meeting again to compare notes for the forthcoming nationwide voters' registration.

'With the Delta governorship rerun election in two days time, registration of voters across the country a week later and general elections in April, the next 16 weeks would easily be the busiest for us as a Commission,' Jega noted.

He expressed his belief in the commitment and hard work of each of the RECs, pointing out that it was the belief that had encouraged him to always tell Nigerians that though the task ahead was daunting, 'our commitment is no less enduring…Nigerians are looking at the unfolding electoral cycle with hope and excitement as well as anxiety and trepidation.

'They are excited because many of them hope that this Commission will deliver free, fair, and credible elections. This can be seen in the tremendous goodwill towards the Commission from practically all sections of the Nigerian public. However, they also look forward to the coming elections with a lot of trepidation because of the past failures. We have a historic responsibility not to betray that trust, to keep that hope alive and to strengthen faith in the electoral process and Nigeria's democratic future.'

The INEC boss said Nigerians were seeing the Delta State rerun election as a barometer for gauging how things have either changed or remained unchanged in INEC's conduct of elections, noting therefore, that it was imperative for his Commission to demonstrate that it was capable of conducting elections that were qualitatively superior to previous ones.

To this end, Jega announced that his Commission had taken certain steps with regards to Delta rerun election to ensure the outcome was seen as free, fair and credible. Such steps, he disclosed, included the cleaning up of the voters' register by eliminating multiple registrations and ensuring that voters were placed in the correct polling units and have shared the register with the political parties and other stakeholders.

Other measures, according to him, included putting in place security features for ballot papers and ballot boxes to make it less likely for ballot boxes to be swapped, stolen or wrongly transferred.

'We have coordinated security preparations involving all security agencies to ensure timely delivery and protection of election materials and officials and dissuade fraud and other malpractices 'We are considering giving prominent roles in the election to respected Nigerians, including serving as returning officers as this will help to shield officials of the Commission from unwarranted accusations of bias and so on.

'We have put in place accreditation process and procedure for balloting to reduce malpractices and ensure results are quickly announced and posted at each polling unit', Jega maintained adding that this measure was in addition to improved result transmission procedure for the election.

He further disclosed that the DDC Machines, which have been arriving the state offices of INEC have some challenges but that the manufacturers are addressing them fully.

Jega said the machines in spite of the challenges have been used for the training of the trainers exercise held last week by the commission. He urged the RECs to monitor the delivery of the machines and do not hesitate to report any perceived short comings, as many of them did last week, so that the fault could be rectified quickly. 'The success of the registration exercise depends largely on the seamless delivery and deployment of the machines,' he added.