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GIVE JEGA TIME – BALARABE MUSA, UTOMI, OKUNROUNMU, OTHERS

By NBF News
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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) request for a shift of the proposed January election date is generating a lot of heat within the polity as fears heightened over the possibility of a tenure elongation for incumbent political office holders and the prospect of long drawn-out legal disputes.

The INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, had while addressing political party chieftains in Abuja on Tuesday said the commission would like to have the general election in April as against the earlier January date.

He has also written the National Assembly and is billed to meet President Goodluck Jonathan over the development. The suggestion immediately sparked fears that the political class might be up to some mischief and want to perpetuate themselves in office.

Indeed, sources said the Presidency is worried stiff over the likelihood of 'anything untoward happening to the election dates because it looks like Jega is just a wonderful critic who doesn't know what to do. It seems he is now seeing that there is a difference between criticizing government and getting the job done. He looks confused and if he keeps shifting the post like this, there could be trouble and he could tar the government as the one behind the shifts.'

Several politicians who commented on the matter however saw it differently, with some urging another amendment of the 1999 Constitution to accommodate the fresh scenario. Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, expressed worry over the development but said 'the request of the INEC boss was genuine if we want a good job to be done. I believe that anything worth doing at all is worth doing well.'

He, however, warned that the nation must not be allowed to go back to the era of prolonged electoral disputes that was the lot of the 2007 polls. Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Mohammed Ali Ndume, also warned that Nigerians, especially those in the opposition, would not accept any tenure extension plan.

According to him, 'Nigerians are not asking for extension in the tenure of office holders.

INEC chairman said he wants more time and we will give him so that they can do a proper job. But we in the opposition are watching out for the antics of the PDP and I hope they would not try to use the INEC demand to do some funny things. We are aware that they are not comfortable with some sections of the Electoral Act and might want to use this to achieve their plan.

'We know that Goodluck Jonathan is under pressure by his party to amend section 87 that promotes internal democracy in the parties. They want it amended. But we would not accept that because if we say we are in a democracy, then there should be democracy in the parties too. We would not assist them to continue the undemocratic behaviour of imposition of candidates like they did in 2007.'

Ndume, who noted that nothing should be taken for granted when the PDP is concerned, added: 'We in the opposition are particularly alert to the antics of the PDP. They know that their days are numbered but they want to cling to power at all costs. PDP has ruled this country for close to one-third of the years of our independence as a nation. But what we have to show for it is widespread kidnapping, armed robbery and assassination.

'Surely, we would not accept any plan to extend the tenure of elected office holders. Anyway, I am happy that the President too is saying that the May 29 handover date is sacrosanct.'

Presidential aspirant and Protem National Chairman of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), Prof. Pat Utomi, while endorsing the postponement, commended the INEC boss for being honest with Nigerians on the difficulties he was facing. He said: 'I participated in last Tuesday's INEC meeting with party chairmen in Abuja. The voters' registration process and timetable were reviewed. There is no question that we are not ready for elections. The big question that has not been posed is why?

'The convenient excuse is that we have a new commission. This goes to the heart of the reason that these elections are so important to change the leadership of our country at all levels, so we can have people who are committed to building institutions rather than relying on one strong man leading an agency of government.'

Secretary-General of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, also backed the demand for a shift in the polls but was quick to add that nothing must be done to affect the handover date.

According to him, 'the May 29 handover must be sacrosanct. It must not be changed no matter what. Yes, Jega needs time because he came in not long ago and we all want him to do a thorough job. But that must not affect the tenure of incumbent office holders.'

But Emeka Ngige (SAN) introduced a new dimension, advising that the operational date of the Electoral Act 2010 should be shifted backward. Said Ngige: 'The decision to shift the date is most sensible and realistic thing INEC could have done in the circumstance. The earlier date was a big mistake by INEC, arising mainly from the relative inexperience of the INEC boss and some of his national commissioners. So the March-April 2011 date is the most practicable and plausible time to hold a free and fair election.

'All that is needed now is for the National Assembly to pass an amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act, inserting a new commencement date like: 'This Act shall take effect from October 1, 2011.'