Violence pose threat to credible polls —Jega

ABUJA—THE Senate, yesterday, accused Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, of blackmailing the National Assembly, even as it summoned him to appear before a committee of the Senate to explain his comments.

The senators who reacted angrily to comments by INEC Chairman that the delay in passage of the second amendment to the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act by the National Assembly was frustrating the work of the Commission, said the statement credited to Jega was a very serious allegation that must not be taken lightly.

This came just as Professor Jega said that election crisis posed a serious threat to the conduct of credible election and urged the electorate to ensure crisis free polls by 2011.

While receiving a delegation of the European Union at the INEC headquarters, Monday, Jega had warned: “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.”

But in a point of privilege raised by Senate Chief Whip, Senator Kanti Bello, Jega was accused of blackmailing the National Assembly to cover his failings.

Senator Kanti said: “What Jega said and 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 in his contribution described Jega’s remarks as a conspiracy against the National Assembly and expressed fears on the ability of INEC to conduct free and credible polls in 2011. He added: “I foresee a situation where people fail in their duty or job and blame it on the National Assembly.”

In his ruling, President of the Senate, Senator  David Mark, said the statement credited to the INEC chairman was a very serious allegation that must not be taken lightly.

He 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.

“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.”

Addressing senate correspondents after the sitting, Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, said rather than condemn the National Assembly, it should be commended for doing everything possible to ensure that the requests made by INEC were granted.

Chance to do a good job

He said: “We are not in any way standing on the way of INEC or any agency connected with that of election.

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.

“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 process of ordering these machines is still on within INEC.  “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.”

Eze challenged those accusing the National Assembly of standing in the ways of conducting a free and fair election to bring their proof, adding: “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. They wrote to us making those suggestions and we incorporated these suggestions only for INEC to turn round that the time frame suggested by them are no longer sufficient.

“So we want to state categorically that the National Assembly is not standing in the way of any agency or any arm of government in the process of trying to ensure that we have a free, fair and credible elections.

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.”

Violence pose threat to credible polls —Jega

Meanwhile, Professor Jega has said that election crisis posed a serious threat to the conduct of credible election and urged the electorate to ensure crisis free polls by 2011.

The INEC chairman who spoke when he received a delegation from the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, regretted that past elections in the country were marred by violence which tended to question the credibility of the elections.

Jega said the commission would partner with the Institute to ensure violent free elections next year, noting that ‘the task of bringing free, fair and crisis free elections is really that of all Nigerians.

He said all stakeholders must play a part in ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections adding: “We cannot allow conflicts to undermine the foundation of our country’s development. We must ensure that our elections are violent free.”

Jega emphasized that in as much as the commission was ready to work with the institution on crisis prevention, it needed to agree on a joint funding under the MOU, adding: “Such partnership I believe the MOU should not require INEC to fund the projects.”

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