By Ben Agande
ABUJAâ€”NATIONAL Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, yesterday, said the commission would need between N55 billion and N72 billion toÂ compile a new voters register that would guarantee the conduct of credible elections in 2011.
Jega who was addressing a maiden press conference, said given the recent amendment to the 1999 constitution by the National Assembly and the ongoing amendments to the Electoral law, the conduct of elections in the country, especially in 2011 would be directly affected.
He said that based on the amendments, the commission was faced with the choice of either compiling a new voterâ€™s register in less than eight weeks or embarking on the herculean task of â€˜salvagingâ€™ the existing register in 16weeks, noting that either of the two presented a very difficult choice in deed.
The INEC chairman said after a thorough and careful consideration of the existing scenario and its determination to ensure that the laws were followed to the letter, â€œwe have sent a communication to the National Assembly requesting modifications to several parts of the electoral law as it considers the bill for a new Electoral Act presently before it.â€
He added: â€˜In that communication, we have requested the distinguished and honourable members of the National Assembly to consider the following areas:
(i). Section 10(5) of the electoral Act: to reduce the time for the end of the registration, updating and revision of the register of voters from 120 days before an election to 60 days. This gives us an additional eight weeks, bringing the total period available to compile a new register to 16 weeks.
(ii)section 21 of the Electoral Act: to reduce the time for the completion of supplementary list of voters, integration into the existing register and final certification from the 60 days before election to 30 days.
That gives us a total of 20 weeks to attempt a â€˜salvageâ€™ of the existing register.
(iii) In addition, we have requested the National Assembly to amend section 11(4) of the Electoral Act which is ambiguous and creates the impression that as soon as we announce the notice of elections, registration of voters must terminate.
Jega noted that though the commission had no illusion that a voters register produced in four months would be perfect, â€œit would be vastly more trustworthy and capable of producing free and fair elections than the existing one.â€
He added: â€œIf the amendments we have proposed scale through in good time, and I must say that initial indications are that the National Assembly is favourably disposed to our request, then we have four months, starting from August, to compile a new voters register for the elections, employing an electronic data capturing system.
Although this is a herculean task considering the size, population and other social and political conditions of our country, we are determined to compile a new, permanent and credible voters register since it is the irreducible minimum for conducting free and fair elections, which is what Nigerians expect from us.â€
He pointed out that apart from the issue of funding which he observed was central to successful prosecution of the outlined programmes, the issue of training and logistics was equally vital.
According to him, after extensive consultation with experts and other stakeholders, â€œour assessment is that it will cost between N55billion and N72billion to conduct a credible compilation of a new voters register between August and November.
â€œThis is based on the procurement and full deployment of 120,000 composite electronic voter registration equipment, principally laptop computers, finger print scanners, high resolution cameras, backup power packs and integrated printer for producing temporary but high quality voters cards that can be used for the January elections.â€
Jega further revealed that provided the necessary funding was available by the beginning of August, â€œwe have to keep to almost inflexible timelines to be able to produce a new voters register by November 9, to conduct the elections by January 2011.â€
Strict time lines
The strict timelines he gave were as follows: early August 2010, identification of equipment suppliers and the award of contract for the supply of the equipment; delivery of 15,000 units of the equipment and training, early September to mid September; delivery of balance of equipment for registration exercise and completion of deployment of equipment to polling units, Mid-October; registration of voters and printing of voters register for display; late October to early November; while from mid November to early December 2010 would be for display of voters register, verification, correction and certification.
Jega said that though the â€œabsolute preferenceâ€ of the commission was to compile a new votersâ€™ register, not minding the constraint of time, the commission would be forced to try to salvage the existing register if â€œwe do not get the requisite amendments to the electoral law and/or the funding is not provided in good time.â€
He added: â€œShould such a lamentable circumstance arise, this commission can only guarantee raising the credibility of that register perhaps by only10 per cent based on what we have seen of it. This is again based on the availability of at least 30,000 direct capture machines.â€
Vanguard recalled that Jega had said during the commissionâ€™s retreat at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State recently, that the commission found out that the existing voters register fell short of â€œthe level of credibility required for free and fair elections.â€
He had said: â€œWe closely looked through the existing voters register sampling over 100 polling units from randomly selected 19 states.
What we found were massive inadequacies including under age registrants, hundreds of blank or blurred photographs and multiple registrationsÂ by same persons.â€