By EMMANUEL ELEBEKE & RAPHAEL IZOKPU
ABUJA — Contrary to criticisms that have trailed the recently released time-table for the 2015 general elections by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega has avowed that the exercise would be much better than the previous ones.
Professor Jega made the promise, yesterday, in Abuja at the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC/INEC forum with broadcast operators on media coverage of elections.
Jega said INEC had learnt its lessons from Anambra election conducted last year, which was dogged by logistic lapses, but was quick to say that INEC would not allow a repeat of such mistakes in the coming elections.
On the preparations for the 2015 general elections and release of time-table, Jega said: “The countdown towards those dates has begun in earnest. I am aware that the dates we announced have been challenged by some politicians. INEC choice of dates was informed by purely rational and logical considerations.
“We have scheduled the elections for February 2015 to allow ample time for litigations, which are inevitable in our Nigerian context, before the commencement of new tenures on May 29 2015.”
He debunked the allegation that INEC changed the sequence of elections in 2015, when compared with 2011, and advised those calling for one-day elections to have a re-think.
Jega insisted that the challenge of holding one-day elections were too daunting for Nigeria’s nascent democracy at this time.
“All we have done is to combine the national elections – namely for National Assembly seats and presidential in one day; and state elections for governorship offices and State Assembly seats on a separate day. This for us, is rational and a defensible thing to do. But we also know that partisan criticism of whatever move we make is inevitable. We will just stay focused.
“Our preparation for the 2015 general elections began almost immediately after the 2011 general elections.
“The principle underlying our preparations for the 2015 elections has been to consolidate on the gains of 2011 and prevent a re-currence of its weakness,” he added.
To achieve this, he said INEC identified three focal points, including structure, policy and planning, and had taken steps to address them.
He said it was not possible to predict all the challenges that could face the management of an election, but pointed out that INEC had learnt from the past challenges and introduced measures to prevent their recurrence, while anticipating new ones and devising measures to contain them.
Among four major challenges identified by the INEC boss are: insecurity, funding, attitude of the political class and inactive citizenry, which, he said, could be surmounted if every stakeholder performed his duty as stipulated by the law.
Besides the key challenges identified, Jega also listed pending amendment to the legal framework; review of electoral constituencies and prosecution of electoral offenders as residual challenges facing the electoral body.
He said the media had a crucial role to play in enlightening the electorate and sustainability of democracy and charged Nigerian media to be thorough, fair, non-sensational and balanced in their reporting of the coming elections.
“Our democracy in Nigeria is hard won, after repeated intrusions by the military in governance and long years of authoritarian rule that resulted. Despite the relative stability that we have enjoyed since the advent of the present Fourth Republic, we are still in the process of weaning our political culture away from authoritarian tendencies fostered by decades of military rule.
“The media has a crucial role to play in the efforts to truly democratise our political culture,” Jega added.
The INEC henchman identified the growing tendency by political parties towards pre-emptive electioneering as one of the issues that give INEC concern.
Citing section 99, sub section 1 of the Electoral Act, Jega accused some political parties and politicians of engaging in premature electioneering, which he said “often heat up the polity unnecessarily and break the established laws of the country.
While calling on the media to discourage such tendencies, the INEC boss advised the political actors to always play by the rule of the game to safe-guide the nascent democracy.
In his address, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku said, election has been a problem in Nigeria since independence in 1960, saying that there is need for Nigeria to conduct free and fair elections in 2015 better than the previous editions to prove to the world that they can do it.
The Minister said the Present administration is committed to free and fair elections, as demonstrated in the 2011 general elections, which was declared as the most freest and fairest in the history of the country.
“Since 2007, this country has been committed to free and fair elections. Since the advent of this administration, there has been a commitment to free and fair election. 2011 elections were adjudged the freest in the history of Nigeria and litigation cases came down to 50 per cent,” Maku said.
The Minister also said that the President had freed the media by signing the Freedom of Information bill into law and as such, the media should reciprocate the gesture by ensuring free and fair election in the forthcoming elections by making sure that their reports are balanced, credible and accurate.
He therefore, urged every Nigerian citizen to ensure they create enabling environment for free and fair elections to take place in 2015.
Earlier in his address, the Chairman of the occasion and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Uwais underscored the importance of the media in a democratic setting.
He stated that the role of the media is so critical in facilitating the participation of citizens in public discourse and if properly employed, would contribute to the development of a consensus on national issues.
Justice Uwais charged NBC to ensure strict compliance on the broadcast code by all broadcasters, as it aims to achieve fairness in their coverage of political parties and prevent programmes that could undermine the free and fair democratic elections.
“It is obvious that the media can be a source of conflict and instability in a society. The danger is partly due to the nature of ownership in a free and democratic society. Owners and employees of the media outfits can use them for partisan purposes that may endanger national unity and stability. From our experience in the past, the media in the country had been accused of unfair and inequitable coverage if political parties,” he said.
In his goodwill message, the United States ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle said, that for election to be credible and for democracies to be credible, citizens need to be have an accurate view of what is going on in their countries.
He charged the media to be more responsible to their duties of educating and enlightening the voters on their rights and role during elections, describing the media as an indispensable tool that makes informed opinion possible.
He also advocated that voters need to have informed opinions about the candidates they are voting for before embarking on any election process.
‘As often cited “fourth branch” of government, media have an obligation to report accurate and fairly, and here they have an essentially big job to do because Nigeria, like the United States, is a very large and complex country. Renouncing violence is certainly an editorial right and obligation of responsible media. US has already pledge its joint support for violent- free elections in 2015 and support a non-partisan national effort to address Nigerian’s security challenges.
“Media have the power to influence and help move Nigeria away from personality driven politics and towards the development of lasting political institutions.,” he stated.