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VOTERS REGISTER AND CREDIBLE POLLS IN 2011

By NBF News



It was, indeed, a great relief to hear, on Monday, that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will now compile a new voters register for next year's polls. The reversal of the contentious decision to use the questionable register compiled by former INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu, for next year's elections, followed the approval of N72 billion required by INEC to compile a new register, by President Jonathan. The compilation is expected to last two months.

The intervention of the presidency in the matter of a new voters register is timely and commendable. Before the release of the funds, Nigerians from different quarters had queried the decision to use the questionable Iwu register. NLC President, AbdulWaheed Ibrahim Omar, had led a delegation of Labour/Civil Society Coalition to INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega's office in Abuja, to advise the electoral agency not use the discredited voters register.

The coalition, which maintained that it would cost more time and resources to clean up the register called for a new one. It also called for a shift in the timing of the general elections from January to April 2011, to enable INEC do a good job. It affirmed that the current January timeline would not guarantee free, fair and credible elections.

There is no doubt that Omar and the coalition spoke the minds of many Nigerians with regard to the incredible register which had names of both the dead, and non-Nigerians, including Micheal Jackson and, if I remember correctly, Hilary Clinton, among those that registered for the 2007 election. Earlier fears had been that there was no time to compile a fresh register.

But, with assurances from INEC that a credible, new register can be produced within two months, and with funds already approved by the presidency, there is really no reason why Nigerians should not have a new register that will be truly representative of actual, registered voters in the country.

There is no doubt that the people have lost faith in the present register. Reports of voter register compilation from other countries indicate that a new register can be ready in two months as Jega has promised.

The closeness of the issue of a new register to the heart of Nigerians is reflected in calls for a postponement of the general elections from January 2011 to April 2011, to give room for a new register, and better preparations for the polls.

Those who have been campaigning for this have called for the suspension of the amended sections 132 and 178 of the constitution, which provide that elections hold 120 to 150 days to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent. That is, since the tenure of the present crop of political office holders is to expire in May 2011, elections which should hold in January 2011 to accommodate the 120-150 day requirement should be postponed to April 2011, via suspension of the relevant sections of the constitution until 2015, through the recently used doctrine of necessity. This will be to allow enough time for the conduct of elections that will be credible and acceptable to all Nigerians.

This position is fast gaining ground, with even the opposition party, the Action Congress (AC) toeing the same line, through its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The arguments of those who want the polls postponed sound compelling.

The most important thing to Nigerians now is to have credible polls. The timing is also important, as we do not want the time table for the elections to be trifled with, unecessarily. However, the sacrosance and imperative of credible elections cannot be sacrificed on the altar of rigid adherence to a timetable.

Nigerians want credible elections, not one that has an excuse for failure built into it on account of the lack of adequate time to prepare for the polls. One good thing, however, is that the INEC chair has affirmed that the voters register can be concluded in two months.

If this is so, the need to postpone the elections may not arise. In any case, it is the responsibility of Jega to say whether he can conduct viable and acceptable elections in the time that is available before January 2011 or not. Nigerians may have no reason for an extension of the election to April, unless we, as a people, are not ready for the polls ourselves.

The immediate task before the INEC chairman, now, is to rise up to the challenge of quick compilation of a new register.

It has been reported that an audit of the electronic machines acquired by Iwu for the last general elections is on. It is good to do this so that whatever could be salvaged of the machines would be determined, to ensure that the billions of naira committed to their purchase, is not allowed to go down the drain.

The electoral body cannot afford to toy with the voter registration process. Everything that is necessary must be done to ensure that the register is compiled within the stated timeframe. Jega must take a critical view of the timelines for the task ahead and determine if the election can go ahead in January 2011, which is just about five months away.

In taking a decision, he must be mindful of the fact that Nigerians will not take excuses for an answer.

Everything has to be done to ensure credible polls and if there is anything that will jeopardise such now, including the short time available for the process, INEC boss should come out and say No, or keep such excuse to himself, forever.

Nigerians are sick and tired of excuses on virtually every critical aspect ofour national life. Electricity is available in fits and starts. The education and health sectors are ailing. Our roads are deplorable, our youths are jobless.

There are a plethora of excuses for everyone of these unpalatable situation.

The 2011 polls should not join the list of failed Nigerian projects. Everything that is necessary should be put in place to make a success of the polls, now.

Luckily, president Jonathan has demonstrated uncommon commitment to the facilitation of credible elections with the quick approval of funds for the voters register. With this type of support from the presidency, Jega has no excuses to disappoint Nigerians.

If, however, January 2011 becomes unrealistic, the polls could hold in April with the suggested suspension of the relevant sections of the constitution, till 2015.

Nigeria could, also, in the alternative, resort to the age-old argument for the swearing in of new political office holders on October 1, leaving five months from April, for the resolution of electoral disputes, before the swearing in on Independence Day.

That option, however, will leave the present crop of officers in office for about five months longer than the terms for which they were sworn in, which will be very unfortumate.

On the long run, INEC will do better to deliver credible polls in January 2011. This should be the priority of Jega. It will also be in the best interest of Nigerians who are yearning for a change of guards at the helm of affairs at all levels of government to give Nigeria a chance for the much-needed new beginning, come May 29, 2011.