By NBF News

Tension has mounted in political circles following the release of the timetable for the 2011 general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, last Wednesday announced that the next general election would be held in January 2011.

But the declaration, Sunday Sun learnt, has fuelled speculation of a plot to extend the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan because of a perceived fear of INEC's inability and ill-preparedness to conduct the poll.

Already, there have been calls by some prominent individuals and groups that the election be shifted to enable INEC conduct a fresh voter registration exercise.

It was gathered that in the next few weeks, there will be efforts to increase the tempo of calls to shift the date for next year's general election to check the pulse of the nation.

According to a top politician who spoke on condition of anonymity, some politicians in various geo-political zones are toying with the idea of whipping up a groundswell of sentiments over time constraints in the January date for the election.

Sunday Sun gathered that the move is to create a leeway for the present administration to be extended for one year to provide enough time for it to conduct a credible election.

But some prominent Nigerians have advised President Jonathan not to play into the hands of those calling for extension of the 2011 election timetable.

Reacting to the call for extension in some quarters, they were unanimous that the former Bayelsa governor should tread with caution to avoid the perception that he wants tenure elongation through the back door.

Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, last week advocated the extension of the election timetable for at least one year to ensure credible poll in Nigeria by next year.

But in his opinion, Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Fred Agbaje, said the call for elongation was not only wishful thinking but illegal and unconstitutional.

He was categorical that the new INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, had no reason to fail, arguing that the issue of the former Vice Chancellor having limited time was not enough to tamper with the election timetable.

'Where I come from, it is only a lazy man that would not consider time as a factor. Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, general election is held every four years and the timetable can only be changed if the Constitution is amended,' he said.

Agbaje contended that Jega was not new to the challenges confronting the nation's electoral process and recalled that as a member of the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, he must have garnered enough experience to conduct a credible election in 2011.

'When you accept the chairmanship of an electoral umpire in a country like Nigeria, you should know the challenges and you must have done your home work. Jega has not any alibi to fail,' he said.

In his reaction, former governor of old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, said that toying with the timetable would create room for an interim government.

He said that Nigeria was no more under military rule hence everything including the conduct of the next general election should be done in accordance with the Constitution.

'According to the 1999 Constitution, on May 29, 2011, there must be a government in Nigeria to take over from the present administration.

'If there is no elected government in 2011, there will be a vacuum and the vacuum will be based on illegitimacy. The solution will be an interim administration, which is not provided for by the Constitution,' he said.

Musa reasoned that from statements credited to Jega, the conduct of the next election would be an impossible task, saying that it is obvious that the new INEC umpire is not ignorant of the enormity of challenges in the nation's electoral process.

The elder statesman noted that Jega had made it clear that part of the impediments to the election would be a credible voter's register and absence of the enabling conditions for a free and fair poll in 2011.

Also reacting to the issue, Secretary General of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Chief Yinka Odumakin, cautioned Jonathan and Jega to be cautious not to play into the hands of enemies of democracy by extending the election timetable. He said there was no reason to change the timetable and urged Jonathan to ensure enough funding for INEC for a credible election.

'If the next general election is not conducted in 2011, Nigeria may not be able to hold another election again. Enemies of democracy may use extension of the timetable as a ploy to scuttle the nation's democracy.

'Everything should be done to ensure that President Jonathan is not perceived as wanting tenure elongation through the extension of the election time table,' Odumakin said.