NIGERIANS are no longer surprised when Profes-sor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, speaks about the possibility of the 2011 elections holding at a later date. What may still surprise some is that Jega, who arrived at the job highly recommended, is building strong alibis, in case things go awry.
Jega told the European Union delegation at INEC headquarters: “We are getting conflicting signals and if there are any delays in the National Assembly, it will affect us. The faster they are able to complete the amendment process, the better for us. If we have to get extension around November or December, then we will be back to square one. We do not want any extension that would affect the May 29th handover date.”
A few months back Jega said all he required to deliver free and fair elections was N85 billion for review of the voters register. He got the money, there has not been any results since then.
When he found out that he required more than money to get in the equipment for the registration of voters, he requested for an extension to the time earlier stated in the amended Constitution. What else would he want?
He is giving clues. The blame sharing is a cover for a bigger problem, the uncertain direction of the preparations for the elections. Are we blaming Jega alone? Well, the national position has always been that an upright INEC Chairman like him would deliver better results.
Senators are angry. Jega would spend part of his time this week explaining his statement to them. Senate Chief Whip, Kanti Bello said, “What Jega said as reported by the dailies amounted to blackmail and something has to be done about it.
When it came to the issue of money, the National Assembly responded. We cut short our recess to handle the budget. So for him to turn to blame us now is rather unfortunate.”
Senator George Sekibo remarked, “I foresee a situation where people fail in their duty or job and blame it on the National Assembly”.
President of the Senate, David Mark acted without reading what Jega said. “This is a very serious allegation though I have not read the report. We have done everything humanly possible to assist INEC. We cut short our recess to approve the budget sent to us; when the leadership met, the figures presented was different and in excess and yet we approved it because we don’t want to be seen as sabotaging the process,” Mark fumed.
“If it is true he made the statement, Jega owes us an explanation. We must ask him to clarify his statement because for him to label us as saboteurs is totally uncalled for and we don’t deserve it. If INEC fails, it should not hold anybody responsible because this is a very serious allegation and it should not be taken lightly.”
Senator Ayogu Eze, Senate spokesman, expects the National Assembly should be commended.
“We are not in any way standing on the way of INEC or any agency connected with the elections. On the contrary we have gone to every extent including calling off our holiday to give the INEC a chance to do a good job.
You are aware that during the holiday the budget for this exercise came, we called off the holiday and came and passed that budget and while that budget was being passed the impression we got from INEC was that all they needed was that money and everything will be in place. We gave that money, the story changed that they needed time,” Ayogu said.
“In the National Assembly we were very apprehensive that up till this moment that we are speaking, if the newspapers reports are anything to go by, that the Direct Capture Machines, DCMs, have not been ordered.”
The National Assembly appears alarmed at the pace of the preparations for 2011. Ayogu continued, “We think that if that is the case we have serious fears whether indeed even the time extension they are getting will be enough for them, because we are considering what happened in the process of the budgeting that by now the exercise of trying to conduct a voter register would have been on.
“We want to challenge anybody who made that assertion to bring any proof of any action that the National Assembly is trying to slow down whatever is happening at anywhere. We thought by passing the budget, Electoral Act and the alteration of the Constitution that we have done our job, because some of the provisions in the Electoral Act which we have been asked to amend now were brought by INEC.
“We incorporated everything, including even being blackmailed to approve budget that we have to approve in a hurry and it is now not fair for anybody to turn round after that to start accusing National Assembly”.
Anger against Jega will hardly serve any purpose. The National Assembly should concentrate on getting INEC to deliver the elections on schedule. The pace of INEC activities are pointing to possibilities of the elections not being held on time for handover on May 29. The possibilities are glaring enough to engage the Senate’s attention instead of Jega’s utterances.
Non_arrival of electoral materials is not new to our elections. In 1983, hurricane lamps that the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, ordered did not arrive before the elections. Maybe because they were not essential to the elections, things went on without them.
Solutions that have been suggested include holding the elections with the discredited voters list of the 2003 elections.
The way things are going, more amendments may be required on the Constitution to accommodate the arrival of the machines INEC is about to order.