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VOTERS REGISTER: GIVE INEC N74BN

By NBF News

Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu has come under fire for describing the N74 billion requested by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for voters register as outrageous and too high.

A cross section of Nigerians who spoke to Daily Sun yesterday told the Federal Government to release the money without delay to ensure a free and fair poll in 2011.

The commission's chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega had about a fortnight ago said it would require N74 billion to compile a fresh voters register, an amount Ekweremadu described as outrageous and prohibitive.

Ekweremadu was quoted as saying that the budget should be reviewed downward to a realistic amount believing 'there are other ways we can adjust this.'

But the President of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin said Jega 'must have done his research well before arriving at the price.'

Speaking with Daily Sun on telephone, the woman activist maintained that 'we should not go for something cheap that would not yield positive result at the end of the day.'

She, however, added that 'whatever we budget, we must be prudent about it.'

She said something tangible should be done in time to avert past experience.'Jega must make sure that he remove all the stumbling blocks that would remind Nigerians of Professor Iwu.'

Speaking in the same vein, former governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said Jega's budget should be cross-checked to know how he arrived at it, saying it would not be proper to start guessing.

Oyegun, who is a chieftain of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) also stated that Jega being who he is, it would be a surprise if his estimate could be cheaper, saying whoever cared to cross-check should take the pain to go through the break down of the budget.

Also reacting, former Oyo State Attorney General, Mr. Adebayo Shittu flayed Senator Ekweremadu for describing the budget for fresh registration of voters as outrageous.

The Ibadan-based lawyer and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP chieftain, who was also a member of the state House of Assembly in the Second Republic said the Senate boss' statement should be seen as a ploy to frustrate and dampen the new INEC management's zeal towards giving Nigerians a credible voters' register.

Speaking yesterday to journalists in Ibadan, Shittu noted that a legislator of Ekweremadu's standing would have the privilege of looking at the details of the INEC budget and the invoices submitted by contractors, stressing that 'before he can conclude that the amount is staggering, he must be able to show alternative invoices indicating that the registration materials could be cheaper to produce.'

He, however, canvassed a total overhaul of INEC personnel, saying the few changes made in the management may not guarantee credible polls.

Mr. Shittu said it would be erroneous to assume that Jega alone could effect the necessary electoral change the country desired, arguing that the job should be seen as a collective responsibility involving all Nigerians.

Unfortunately, he remarked that greed and self-centredness would not allow the generality of the people to appreciate the need to give Jega and his team the necessary support.

He reasoned that there was no way the nation could produce credible leaders without credible elections, which, according to him, 'makes it mandatory for a new orientation in that direction.'

In his own reaction, the Lagos state Publicity Secretary Of the Action Congress (AC), Mr. Joe Igbokwe said Jega should be given the N74 billion for the exercise.

In a statement in Lagos yesterday, Igbokwe said 'if Professor Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of INEC says he needs N74 billion to prepare for the new voters register in preparation for the 2011 general elections, please release the money to him to do this very important job which we all need to salvage Nigeria.'

According to him, 'If our budget for 2010 is N1.4 trillion and Jega needs N72 billion, it is just about five percent of the budget. A good president, a good vice president, high profile governors, and 36 deputy governors and competent 774 local government chairmen are worth this amount of money.

'Professor Attahiru Jega will succeed if we all help him. It is going to be a collective responsibility. All the well meaning Nigerians must help Jega to succeed. All the Professional doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists, accountants, architects, pharmacists, builders, economists, all the teachers, workers, the diaspora, must put hands on deck.'

According to him, the biggest problem facing the nation was inability to search and fish out leaders with strategic intelligence at the federal, state and local government levels to rebuild and transform Nigeria.

His statement read further: 'I remain fully convinced also that if you brought all the money in the world and give it to majority of the leaders we have today, they may not know what to do with the money because they lack the finesse, the capacity and the vision to get things done.

I am totally in agreement with Professor Chinua Achebe that our problem is squarely a failure of leadership.