Politics, Intrigues of Election Dates Deadline

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Politics, Intrigues of Election Dates Deadline

Post  nex on Fri Jul 30, 2010 12:22 am

The new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, is at present a troubled person. He is saddled with the gargantuan task of conducting a credible election and rewriting the nation’s history of flawed polls. but Jega and his electoral commissioners do not have the luxury of time. How was INEC presented with this situation? It’s a story of politics and intrigues in high places, writes Tunde Rahman

The heat has come rather too early for the widely respected university don and social crusader, Prof. Attahiru Jega, now Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Jega was appointed the boss of the electoral commission about a month or two ago, less than a year to the 2011 election. Since he got unto the saddle, however, there has been no breathing space. Jega is in the real furnace. He carries the nation’s burden of conducting a credible election on his head, something that has eluded the country at least since 1993.

Not that Jega started his critical assignment from the wrong angle. No. In fact, any public official desirous of a successful outing should dwell more on effective planning and strategizing, which is the path Jega took. Fresh from the Aso Rock Presidential Villa where he was inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan, the INEC chairman whisked his national commissioners to Calabar, Cross River State for a strategic retreat to chart a new course for the commission. But hardly had he settled back at his desk at the Zambezi Crescent, Maitama, Abuja headquarters of the commission, than the real heat started. He comes across perhaps as the most troubled Nigerian at present.

The INEC chairman expressed his dilemma the other day at a news conference in Abuja. He spoke about the problems of getting an authentic voters’ register for the 2011, which remains a major plank towards conducting a credible election. Jega said the present voters’ register compiled under Prof. Maurice Iwu laced with all kinds of fictitious names like Michael Tyson and company is bad and redeeming it can only guarantee 10 per cent success. According to him, the nation needs a new voters’ register and bringing about this requires between N55billion and N72 billion. And plus an amendment of some of the provisions in the amended 1999 Constitution and 2006 Electoral Act, which imposes certain long time-frame for some electoral activities. And time is of essence now.

Following the 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 tenure of incumbents. As such, the forthcoming elections must hold between December 30, 2010 and January 29, 2011. “If we take the midpoint between these two dates to give room for effective preparations and possible runoff elections, it means that the elections will take place between the 8th and 15th of January 2011,” Jega said.
In fixing the 2011 elections between December 30, 2010 and January 29, 2011 and leaving the hand-over date at May 29, 2011, the general belief is that the national and state assemblies, which amended the constitution have provided room for election petitions to be fully dispensed with before winners assume their seats on May 29.

This would help to stave off a situation whereby electoral cases are still being dealt with up to three years after illegal winners have mounted the saddle like the case in Anambra State of Chris Ngige and Peter Obi. The Justice Muhammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform panel had proposed that election petitions be fully determined before winners assume their offices. But the amended constitution is ominously silent about this provision, though it provided a clear four-month interval between the end of election in January and handover in May.

So what informed the January date of election? The truth has all been politics and intrigues at play. Indeed those who should know said the first major blow against President Jonathan and his associates moving to ensure he runs for the presidency is the January election dates. Perhaps, the President left things to fate at the National Assembly where the work on the reworking of the constitution was going on and by the time the amendments were over, the deed had been done. Those opposed to Jonathan presidency in 2011 had moved in.

The President needs time to consolidate his hold on the presidency before the election but that is what the January election date did not give him. “He (the President) needs to do a few more things and warm his heart to the political stakeholders but he does not have that luxury of time now,” said one of Jonathan’s associates. “For instance, with the January election date, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries need to hold between September and October and if that is done, the President may be taken to the cleaners.”
Swinging into Action

It was for this reason that the President and his handlers swung to action, albeit belatedly last week. President Jonathan invited the National Assembly leaders to the Presidential Villa last week Wednesday to a crucial meeting aimed at looking at the possibility of revisiting the election date. At the Aso Rock Villa were Senate President David Mark, House of Representatives Speaker Dimeji Bankole, their deputies-Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Usman Nafada, other principal officers like Senate Leader Teslim Folarin, House Leader Tunde Akogun, House Chief Whip Emeka Ihedioha as well as Minority Leaders like Senator Olorunimbe Mamora (Action Congress, Senate) and Hon. Femi Fajabiamila (AC, House). The INEC chairman was invited over to the meeting same with Attorney-General and Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke. Jega told the meeting about the dilemma the commission was facing with respect to the voters’ register and election time-frame.

Without hitting the nail on the head, the idea was for the election to be moved to April so INEC can put in place authentic biometric voters’ register and have sufficient time to fully prepare for the polls. A majority of the National Assembly leaders at the meeting were in a quandary on how to amend the amended constitution that has not been used. Adoke suggested that one or two things could happen with respect to the amended constitution-either the lawmakers pass a resolution, like they did when they invoked the Doctrine of Necessity and made Jonathan acting President on February 9, 2010, and moved the take-off date of the amended constitution till after May 29, 2011 or they suspend the aspects on election date till after the hand-over date. In the end, no firm decision was taken on shifting the election date.

A source categorically told THISDAY that if the truth must be told it was at that meeting that the idea of moving election to April, which some politicians, activists and civil society groups are now reechoing, was mooted.
Apparently sensing the game afoot in which INEC could be helmed in as one of the co-actors or the main actor and having conferred with his national commissioners, Jega hurriedly arranged his maiden press conference and told the whole world about his problems but indicated that notwithstanding the problems the constitution amendments and electoral act have thrown up, the commission was ready to conduct the election in conformity with the law and that May 29 handover date remains sacrosanct.

“We as a commission will be steadfast to the constitution, which we have sworn to uphold, and to existing laws guiding the activities of the commission, particularly the electoral law. May 29, 2011 handover date is sacrosanct. Please have no illusion about it,” he said.
The President has already said nobody has tied the hands of the INEC commissioners and nobody will tie their hands. Reports also indicate that the Presidency is making arrangements to source the N72billion required by Jega to compile a fresh voters’ register.

But no doubt, the President’s camp is said to be favourably disposed to an April date for the election and a December PDP primaries by which time it hopes to have been able to rein in on the opposition governors to toe his line. The camp hopes that would also give him time to get other major political stakeholders now opposed to him to his side. But some Northern Senators are said to be waiting in the wings to want to block any shift in the election date at the National Assembly. Some of these senators are believed to be die-hards adherents of zoning, who are rooting for the retention of the contentious PDP zoning formula.
It’s not only with respect to the timing of the election that the Senators are moving against Jonathan, they also fought with the order of the polls, which the Senate passed last week Wednesday.

Order of Poll
Perhaps it’s the order of election that is laced more with intrigues and politics. As it turned out, it has emerged that within a larger plot, there are all kinds of sub plots.
One of such plots played out in the Senate last week Wednesday. The Senate formally approved the new Electoral Act, with some critical amendments carried out on the 2006 Electoral Act. The proposed law is cited as “A bill for an Act to repeal the Electoral Act 2006 and Re-enact the Independent National Electoral Commission Act, regulate the Conduct of the Federal, State and Area Council Elections and for Related Matters 2010.”

A major provision of the version passed by the Senate is in respect of Section 26 of the bill on the order of general elections, which proposes that the National Assembly election should come first followed by the Presidential, Governorship and State Assembly elections.
In the 2007 elections, the National Assembly and Presidential elections were held on the same day-April 21-and were preceded by the Governorship and State Assembly election held on April 14, 2007. The House of Representatives, which had earlier passed the bill, did not tinker with that order as provided in 2006 Electoral Act. This means that both the Senate and House will have to raise a Conference Committee to harmonise this disparity and others that are in the various versions of the bill passed.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, explained that the resolution to conduct the election into the National Assembly first was to ensure free and fair polls and not because of the unpleasant relationship between some state governors and members of the National Assembly, saying we have a precedent where the election was adjudged to be the freest and fairest elections ever conducted in Nigeria. Eze, however, was not saying the whole truth. Truth is the Senators did not want to take chances over their election, knowing full well that some governors may also scuttle their election if the state chief executives emerged before them. Eze said: “A lot of us have very good working relationship with our governors, so the issue of fear of governors does not arise in this matter. We are responding to the aspirations and yearnings of Nigerians so that they can be involved and participate actively.”

As the Senators moved to ensure protection for them in the proposed act, the governors also lobbied the National Assembly to ensure the governorship election comes before the presidential poll, ditto with the Presidency, which also wants the presidential election to come first. It was a victory of sort for the presidency somehow; as the presidential election would still come before the governorship poll, that is if the House agrees in the end with the Senate over the proposal. But some are kicking at INEC, saying the order of election is its prerogative to fix.

“The specific dates and order of the elections are part of our responsibilities and the National Assembly would be going beyond its boundaries if it insists on legislating on the order of the polls,” a source in INEC said yesterday. “The laws, which empower INEC to determine the order of the poll, are there. The work of the National Assembly is to come up with the general principles and what constitute electoral offences in the Electoral Act, and not to fix the specific dates and order of the general election,” the source added.

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