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ELECTORAL ACT: Political parties, others urge INEC to proceed

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By Clifford Ndujihe, with Agency reports
LAGOS—FOLLOWING the release of N87.7 billion to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and President Goodluck Jonathan’s assent to the amended Electoral Act, political parties and some stakeholders, yesterday, urged the commission to proceed with the polls without further delay.

This came as INEC assured that it would throttle its activities to cover up lost ground and ensure credible polls in January 2011.
Now that the electoral umpire has been unshackled legally and financially, INEC Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Emmanuel Umenger, told Vanguard on phone that the commission would “move with the speed that Nigerians will like” to put things in shape for the polls.

He said that INEC would “interface with all stakeholders (the political parties, the executive and lawmakers, etc.) to announce a timetable for the elections as soon as possible.”

On whether the lawsuit hallmarking the amendment to the 1999 Constitution would not affect INEC’s preparations, Umenger said: “Let’s be very optimistic that things will fall into place. We are as eager as all Nigerians to see the timetable. We will move with speed to cover the distance we lost.”

Going by provisions of the amended electoral law, INEC must publish the timetable within the next 37 days or September ending.

Jonathan had said after signing the amended Act: “(The bill) contains fundamental changes aimed at improving the conduct of elections in our country.”

The changes include stipulating the order in which polls must be held, with elections for the Senate and House of Representatives coming first, followed by the presidential election, and finally votes for the 36 state governors.

In the past, the order was at the discretion of the electoral commission. In 2007, state governorship elections were held in mid-April, with the presidential and parliamentary polls held together a week later. Parliament passed a constitutional amendment last month that would bring the elections forward to January from April, although there is still debate over whether Jonathan must also approve that change before it can take effect.

The new Electoral Act states that INEC must publish the date of the election not less than 90 days in advance, meaning the commission will have to give notice by the end of September if the polls are to be held in early January, 2011.

It also gives political parties until 60 days before polling day to submit their candidates, meaning Jonathan and other aspirants would have to announce their candidacy by the end of October if the polls are in January and they wish to contest. Jonathan is yet declare formally for the race.

However, some party chieftains, said INEC should now start planning for the elections.
Prof. Pat Utomi, the Protem National Chairman of Social Democratic Mega Party, SDMP, urged INEC to proceed with the elections, in spite of the time constraints.

He said: “There is no easy solution to the situation on ground. If the election is not held as scheduled, it will create constitutional crisis, even when we know that it may fail if held under the present circumstances.”

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, the National Chairman of New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, said: “There is nothing wrong in having the elections in January. The international community is against Nigeria elongating the time for the 2011 elections. The world is a global village; what is done in any country affects the entire world directly or indirectly.”

Aniebonam advised INEC to conduct the exercise as scheduled, unless it was convinced that the elections would not succeed, in spite of the funds just released and the presidential assent on the Electoral Bill. He added that INEC could easily make up for the two weeks it had lost.

Besides, Chief Ralph Nwosu, the National Chairman of African Democratic Congress, ADC, urged INEC to refrain from committing any error that could jeopardise the success of the polls.

He noted: “Nigeria is supposed to use the 2011 elections to erase rigging and violence from our electoral system. If we fail to carry out innovations that would ensure credible polls in 2011, the nation will remain backward.”

However, Dr Olapade Agoro, the Chairman of National Action Council, NAC, said that INEC should take time to plan for the conduct of the 2011 general elections to ensure its credibility.

He said the commission might not be able to address the various issues militating against free and fair elections in Nigeria within the given short period, adding: “If the nation expects credible polls in 2011, then it must consider an elongation of the time.”
Jonathan, while signing the Bill into law in Abuja, said it was a fulfilment of his administration’s commitment to electoral reform and credible elections.

He noted that the amended sections of the Act would advance the nation’s march toward democratic development.

He said  that Sections 25 and 87 of the Act improved the mode and manner of conducting party primaries, as well as its autonomy.

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