By BEN AGANDE
ABUJA — CHAIRMAN of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said yesterday, that 21 presidential candidates will contest the April presidential elections even as he raised alarm over the conflicting orders being issued by the courts on electoral matter saying such contradictory orders were capable of eroding the authority of the judiciary.
Jega said the commission had already written judicial authorities over the worrying development in order to protect the country’s democracy and the judiciary.
At a news conference on the commission’s preparation for the elections and the recent activities of the commission, Jega also released a provisional figure for the recently concluded voters registration exercise saying the commission captured 67, 764, 327 with Lagos and Kano coming first and second respectively with a total of 6, 247, 845 and 5, 135, 415.
Jega said 21 presidential candidates would be contesting the elections adding that the commission had already started the deployment of non_sensitive materials for the elections.
Speaking on the spate of court judgments and restraining orders, Jega lamented that at time of meeting with the press, there were about 150 pending court cases involving the Commission instituted by aggrieved politicians.
He said as a law abiding body, the commission was obliged to obey all orders emanating from courts, adding that the process of nomination, withdrawal and substitution of candidates had posed some challenges to the Commission.
Withdrawal from the elections
Jega noted: “Some candidates have complained to the Commission that they never withdrew from the elections but their political parties are illegally substituted.”
He said 54 political parties submitted list of candidates for one office or the other adding that only four political parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP; Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; had candidates for all the constituencies including the office of the President.
Speaking on the preparation and recent activities of the commission, the INEC chairman said a fresh Voters’ Register was compiled between January 15, 2011 and February 7, 2011, adding that provisional figures showed that the commission captured the records of 67, 764, 327 potential voters into its data bank during that exercise.
He said: “Though the exercise was not without challenges, INEC demonstrated a capacity for rapid response in dealing with those challenges. This process, by the time-line stipulated in the Electoral Act, will culminate in the publication of official Register of voters for elections on March 2nd, 2011.
“The Commission has been processing particulars of candidates submitted by political parties, substitutions and withdrawals. Today, Monday February 21 (yesterday), is the deadline for the withdrawal/nomination of Presidential and Vice_Presidential candidates by the parties.
But the process is ongoing, and will conclude with the withdrawal/nomination of Governorship, Deputy Governorship and State Assembly candidates by political parties not later than Monday, February 28, 2011. There has been a lot of discussion in the media about INEC’s handling of this process and today we have an opportunity to brief you on what we have done so far, the challenges faced, and how we have addressed them.”
Non sensitive equipment
“Meanwhile, the Commission has begun deployment of non-sensitive equipment and consumables for the April elections. Plans have also been concluded for recruitment and training of 360,000 ad hoc staff that will be engaged by the Commission for the April elections. Similarly, the process of accrediting observer groups and media practitioners for the elections is nearly concluded.
On the April elections, Professor Jega said “foregoing are indications of the preparedness of INEC for the elections which begin with the National Assembly elections on April 2. This Commission will spare no effort to deliver on its promise that the elections will be free, fair and credible. We recognise that a major step towards achieving that goal is to be transparent with our operations.”