Jega Raises Fresh Alarm Over Polls, Doubts INEC Readiness, Lists Worries

Source: EMMA UCHE -
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ABUAJ, August 18, (THEWILL) - Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega today raised fresh alarm over the possibility of the commission conducting a hitch free general election in 2011, saying the controversy and uncertainty on the plausibility or otherwise of President Goodluck Jonathan signing the revised 1999 Constitution and the non-release of the N89 billion election budget, pose a huge threat to the election.

Jega spoke at INEC headquarters in Abuja when he met leaders of political parties. His outburst was also railed by threat of legal action by some political parties if the commission goes ahead to delist them.

Nonetheless, the INEC boss for the umpteenth time expressed the determination of INEC to deliver free and fair elections, promising that such goal is irreversible so long as all stakeholders collaborate sincerely to ensure that the nation gets her electoral process credible.

The INEC chairman who addressed leaders of all the registered political Parties at a consultative meeting under the auspices of International Republican Institute (IRI) said the challenges currently faced by the commission were thought to have been over by now going by its set plans and programmes.

The setbacks according to him arose from the non-release of the N87.7 billion supplementary appropriation for the Voters Registration exercise, the delay in the take off of the Amended 1999 Constitution and the 2010 Electoral Acts, both of which are being bugged down by the controversies over the president’s assent.

''Based on the inadequacies of the existing voters’ register; we said our preference would be to produce a fresh voters' register if we had the funds and time, otherwise we would embark on cleaning up of the existing register. Since then, we thought that we got the time through the amendments to the Electoral Act. We also thought that we had the funds following consideration of the supplementary appropriation Bill for INEC sent to the National Assembly by Mr. President. Again, unfortunately, we are not sure where we stand at the moment.

"Instead there have been controversies over whether or not the president has to assent to the constitution amendments…to the best of my knowledge, the president is yet to assent the new Electoral Acts, all have constrained our preparations for both the voters registration exercise and the elections", Jega stated.

Nevertheless, Jega said the Commission would strive hard to make up for the time loss, because "we consider as irreducible the mission of our commission to conduct free and fair elections based on a dependable and permanent voters' register as provided by law by providing Nigerians strong leadership built on openness, fairness, and unimpeachable integrity.

He charged the party leaders not to see the electoral exercises as the exclusive preserve of the Commission but a joint project by all stakeholders saying the INEC is in the process of producing comprehensive guidelines to guide the voters' registration exercise and urged the parties to educate their supporters and mobilize them for the successful exercise.

Jega promised all the parties a level playing field assuring that all electoral structures and processes would be designed in such a way that it would not confer undue advantage over others, adding that all parties are equal and will be treated equally.

However, some political parties declared their readiness to sue INEC if it goes ahead to delist them as stipulated in the reviewed electoral act. They said such action is a clear violation of the Constitution on freedom of association. Under the new bill, parties who do not win any seats at either federal or state levels will be delisted.

Chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, and National Chairman of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, Alhaji Balarabe Musa handed down the threat while fielding questions from newsmen. The former Kaduna State governor said INEC would be overstepping its boundaries if it ventured into the politics of 'eliminating' political parties.

'We shall go to court and challenge such an act as it is against the Constitution and an affront on the Supreme Court's ruling which says INEC cannot put a bar on the number of political parties, thereby opening the political space.

'To, therefore, attempt to muscle the political parties and in fact eliminate them from the polity is a total abuse of the Constitution and we shall fight this out in court,'' Balarabe Musa said.