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2011 ELECTION: A MILLION HURDLES TO PROMISED LAND

By NBF News

Year 2011 is three months away. The clouds keep gathering for a major political downpour. The horizon is besotted with expectations and declarations on who would run and who would not in the expected elections.

As the days draw nearer, the plans to make the activities of the year real keep dropping through one crack after another. As a hurdle is crossed, another one is already on the way waiting to trip the runners for the ultimate date.

This week, another dimension to the doubtful reality of the coming elections days took a different dimension.

It was not long after the nation got a definite date for the presidential election in January 2011 that the entire contraption took a nosedive for another uncertainty. Today, it is not date actually, but a postponement that looks hazy. The new date projected by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) might still be neither here nor there in the INEC books and in the schemes of the INEC chief, Prof. Attahiru Jega.

But the latest is just an addition to a long history of jinx in a very short while, too short indeed for the flurry of activities that have attended it. The erstwhile boss of INEC, Prof. Maurice Iwu was shown the way out in May making way for another. That new man at the head triumphantly took the driver's seat on June 9 as a result of his antecedents. So far, it looks like the business at the INEC office is becoming a monster that has no regard for where one is coming from or the records he had built in the past. The unsteady dance of the INEC in the past three months has been too regular to be comfortable.

In July, the argument was on whether or not money should be released to the INEC to prosecute its most vital initial step of registering the voters. Jega came up with a bill of N72b. Before the approval of the money, it took some leap and went up to N86b, and that was the final figure approved.

When the brouhaha of budget approval for voters' registration was laid to rest, we stepped into the next tranch of the hurdle - Electoral Act reform and the constitution amendment. At last the Electoral Act amendment came real and clean stipulating dates in January for the elections to hold. But it is not the same story with the amended 1999 Constitution that remains marooned in the journey to becoming a valid law. The INEC had, based on the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act, released a timetable for the general elections scheduled to start on January 15, 2011 with the National Assembly election and to be followed by presidential election on January 29

The problem of the amendment of the constitution arose from the National Assembly who agreed in unison that it has the final say on the process while the president has no business signing an endorsement of the new law. Not minding that this has not surfaced from the bad journey it was meant to embark on, it has provisions stipulating that elections should hold in January like the electoral law, a situation that does not baffle as the two are creations of the same law moulders.

The position of INEC that: 'The Commission shall endeavour to engage all the relevant stakeholders with a view to exploring all legal avenues for extension of time to enable the Commission to deliver on the aspirations of Nigerians for a credible voters' register and free, fair and credible elections. Should this happen, May 29 2011 inauguration date must remain sacrosanct' INEC stressed', did not assuage fears.

Before the litigation on interpretation of the provision of the constitution on amendment of the same constitution where the federal government through the Federal Attorney General sued the National Assembly could clear, another imminent danger has surfaced.

In Calabar, after a series of meetings with stakeholders - INEC and 63 political parties leaders, the body agreed that the elections holding in January is unrealistic, therefore the compelling need to take it forward to April. It is worrisome however that while NASS took its decision without due consultations with the political stakeholders on fixing a date for elections in January, the political parties and INEC did the same thing by cancelling the NASS date shaped into law without consulting the NASS. What is observable here is a situation where our electoral process is planned like cult activities - one party never deems it proper to seek the position of the other stakeholder before arriving at a decision.

The signs of the shift started sometime last month when the 63 parties mooted this to INEC. Over 80 percent of the 63 parties asked the commission to shift the dates of the general elections to enable it prepare adequately for the polls. The Commission however, after its retreat last weekend in Calabar announced a definite position indicating it has tilted its stand to the tune and request of the political parties. The communiqué announcing the shift assured that INEC would exhaust all legal remedies and options to make sure the new position is endorsed.

'At the meeting attended by leaders of the 63 parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN), the parties agreed the dates for the election be shifted from January to April next year', INEC announced.

The new position taken by the INEC and the parties raises another worry - what if the NASS sticks to its guns and dares the decision for date shift. How could the INEC and the parties carry this agreement through? What if the NASS accepts this and some other parties decide to go to court as is common to contest the conflicts? For instance the NASS accepts the shift, how long would it take to create by way of amendment in the election date in the new Act already endorsed into law. What if the Act is signed and the constitution amendment and its ratification is not cleared, or is cleared but conflicts with the amended timetable in the Act, how could the Act function in conflict with the constitution?

The other major poser arising from the postponement is the date a new government arising from the election will take office. On this major confusion, Nigeria's Foreign Minister, Odein Ajumogobia, a lawyer, said at an international square on Tuesday that the May 29 date remains sacrosanct.

Yes, there might be a handover on that date possibly, but the problem the new electoral law wanted to circumvent - to make sure dissents arising from the elections are thrashed out before the winner takes office would still remain unsolved.

The summation from the entire spectre of theatrics is that our journey to the credible election we hope to have next year is fraught with uncertainties. There are confusions created everyday. There are fears raised daily on whether the election will actually hold and if it does, the credibility and reactions that would follow. It is a testy experiment for the nation's democracy once again.