By Ben Agande
The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, Monday, said no amount of pressure that would be brought on him would make him resign his position as the head of the electoral body.
Addressing a press conference at the INEC headquarters, yesterday, Jega said despite various conspiracy theories being told by cynical Nigerians, he remains an optimist who believes that the conduct of a free, fair and credible election is ‘doable’ and he is committed to achieving that.
According to him: “There are several conspiracy theories going on in the country. Some people have even said that Jega is planning to fail so that he can walk away. I have never taken a job I know I could not do. I would not have taken this job if I knew I wouldn’t do it. I am not going to throw in the towel. It will take an earthquake to get me out of INEC”, he said.
Professor Jega, who addressed a press conference to reiterate his request for extension of time for the 2011 elections, observed that unless the extension was granted, “the aspiration of Nigerians to have a free and fair election would not be met. It is necessary in order to have credibility in the process”, he said.
On the forthcoming compilation of voters register, Jega said the contracts for the purchase of Direct Data Capturing Machines have been awarded after the commission did “a credible international bidding process”, adding that what is remaining now is to conclude the contract papers for the exercise.
Speaking on the debate his request for extension of time has engendered, the INEC boss said “the commission sees these discussions as an indication of the continued goodwill towards the commission in this collective task of delivering free, fair and credible elections in 2011 and beyond”.
Explaining why the commission did not ask for time extension before now, Professor Jega said ‘it is not the constitutional responsibility of INEC to establish or change the legal framework, including timelines for electoral activities. Consequently, to canvass change in the legal framework or constitutional provisions on election dates would not only be inappropriate, but could open the commission to public suspicion, given the well known recent electoral history of Nigeria.
“Second, the question of fixing and changing election dates has been one of the major sore points of our electoral experience in Nigeria. The degree of partisanship that usually informs discussions of these issues is legendary.
Consequently, we decided as a commission that direct involvement in such debates could undermine the independence of INEC in the eye of the public. “Yet we fully understand the position within the relevant arms of government that INEC is in the best position to indicate if it needs more time to carry out its constitutional roles effectively. Certainly, he who wears the shoes should know exactly where it pinches and what is worth doing is worth doing well” the INEC chairman explained.
Professor Jega said after its meeting with the leaders of the political parties, it became clear that the problem of time is not only the problem of INEC but it is also a ‘problem these critical players in the process also face.
He said the time at the moment is no time for the blame game or politicization of the issues but for all Nigerians to ‘support the relevant organs of government in taking appropriate steps to adjust the existing time frame so that INEC could give strong guarantees on delivering a flawless Voters register as well as free, fair and credible elections in 2011.
“While we remain unflinching believers in the rule and sanctity of law, it is also clear that conducting free, fair and credible elections has become central to securing the future of Nigeria as a nation. Given that the constitution and the electoral Act must remain sacrosanct, still there is no point in delivering an electoral process the outcome of which will again be controversial and incredible.
“We appeal to the national Assembly, as it reconvenes from recess, to explore all possible ways within the ambit of the law to extend the time available to INEC to conduct the voter registration exercise and the 2011 elections. We also restate that should this happen, the May 29 inauguration date must remain sacrosanct” professor Jega stated.