JEGA IN A FIX
Serious indications emerged yesterday that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is in a fix over the conduct of the next general elections, especially with the constitution amendment, which stipulates that the polls must hold within 150 days before May 29th.
Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Mohammed Jega revealed yesterday in Abuja that with the constitutional amendment, the commission is faced with the option of compiling a new voters' register in less than eight weeks or embarking on the herculean task of 'salvaging' the existing register in 16 weeks.
The INEC boss, at his maiden press conference since assuming office three weeks ago, pointedly said the commission would require between N55 and N72 billion to conduct the election, and particularly to compile a new voters' registration between August and November.
Similarly, Jega expressed frustrations over some sections of the amended constitution, insisting they fell short of the credibility required to conduct a free and fair election. 'Let me, therefore, start by addressing the implications of some of the constitutional amendments for INEC's preparation for the impending general elections, particularly regarding the voters' register, which I must confess falls far short of the level of credibility required for free and fair elections.
'Based on amendments to Sections 76(2), 116(2), 132(2) and 178(2) of the constitution, elections must take place between 150 and 120 days to the end of the tenure. Consequently, the forthcoming elections must hold between 30th December 2010 and 29th January 2011. If we take the midpoint between these two dates to give room for effective preparations and possible run-off elections, it means that the elections will take place between 8th and 15th of January 2011.
'Section 31(31) of the Electoral Act provides that notice of election must be issued 150 days prior to an election. That being the case, to hold the first election on the 8th of January 2011, we must issue the notice by 11th August 2010. 'Section 10 (5) of the Election Act provides that registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters must end 120 days before an election. That means that registration of voters must end by 9th September, 2010, barely two months from now.
'However, Section 21 of the Electoral Act makes it possible for claims, objection, verification, correction and final certification of voters' register to continue until 60 days to an election, that is 9th November 2010,' Jega explained.
While admitting that the options open to the commission are near impossible, the INEC Chairman said part of the conclusions drawn from its consultations included a proposal to the National Assembly to consider a bill for a new Electoral Act.
The Sections to be considered according to Jega are Sections 10 (5), 21,11(4) of the Electoral Act, but he added that every action the commission would take would be based on the laws of the land. But according to Jega, if the amendments sought were not achieved, the INEC would have no option than work within the law and attempt to salvage the existing register.
'Should such a lamentable circumstance arise, this Commission can only guarantee raising the credibility of that register perhaps by only about 10 per cent based on what we have seen of it. This again is based on the availability of at least 30 per cent direct capture machines,' Jega added. Even though he admitted the task of conducting the next election was near-impossible, Jega expressed optimism that the Commission was capable of conducting the elections and stressed that there was no going back.