By OKEY NDIRIBE Asst. POL .EDITOR
On several occasions last Wednesday, tension mounted at the conference hall of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) while the meeting between  the leadership of the electoral commission and those of  63 political parties in the  the country lasted.

The charged atmosphere usually followed  brickbats between leaders of several of the political parties who were present at the venue for the dialogue.  At a stage,  it took the intervention of the Chairman of the Commission Prof. Attahiru Jega to ensure that  the National Internal Auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party Dr Samuel  Ortom-who represented the National Chairman of the party- was allowed to make his contribution.

Dr. Ortom had been heckled by leaders of several  other political parties present,  until the INEC boss came to his rescue. Ortom had attempted to defend President Goodluck Jonathan who had earlier  been accused by the National Chairman and Presidential candidate of the African Rennaissance Party Alhaji  Yahya Ndu of spending $10,000 dollars per hour to hire aircraft for his campaigns.

Alhaji Ndu had wanted to know from INEC the source of the funds President Jonathan has been drawing from to run his campaign given the role the commission is supposed to play in monitoring  the finances of all the political parties in the country.

The INEC Chairman stated that the commission would surely investigate and prosecute political parties found to be violating the law on the sourcing of their funding but insisted that this could only be done after the electoral body has been furnished with adequate evidence.

There was another angry reaction from one of the party chieftains after the National Chairman of Congress for Progressive Change ( CPC) Chief Tony Momoh spoke. The CPC was accused of instigating the spate of violence in parts of the North.

However, many of the partly leaders expressed satisfaction with the performance of the leadership of the commission  in its preparations towards a successful conduct of the forth-coming general election.

The party leaders eulogised the Prof. Jega- led INEC for its demonstrable commitment to hold a credible election in less than two weeks time.

To further reassure the party chieftains that he meant business, the INEC Chairman had concurred with the proposal made by  them that some of the senior officials of the commission across the states –especially the state  Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and the Electoral Officers (Eos)- should be redeployed before the poll.

The INEC Chairman said  that the redeployment of officers of the commission would be across all levels of electoral body.

In response to another question, Prof jega stated that  direct data capture (DDC) machines could not be used for next  month’s  poll because of the several challenges they pose to the commission, adding that a section of the Electoral Act which prohibits electronic voting  was one of such obstacles.

Said he: “ There is a possibility that somebody could go to court to challenge us if we use DDC machines since there is an aspect of the law which prohibits electronic voting. Use of these machines even for the purpose of accrediting voters could attract such a legal action and we have to avoid anything that could be used by anybody to stall the election”.

However, Prof Jega used the opportunity to dismiss the insinuation in some quarters that INEC’s voters register was manually compiled stressing that the commission’s register was electronically generated.

Throwing more light on security  arrangements that had been put in place for the poll Prof. Jega said that there would be a list of security agents accredited to cover every polling unit  in the country.

He further explained that apart from the commission so far  acquiring 500 pick-up vans  and 60 boats  for the delivery of electoral materials across the country, another 100 vans were still being expected.

He also said the commission had been assured by the leadership of both the Navy and Airforce that they were prepared to assist the electoral body for the purpose of delivering electoral materials to any part of the country.

Commenting on the controversy that has trailed the list of candidates vying for various offices published by the commission so far, Prof Jega stated that the electoral body had not on its own substituted the names of candidates submitted by various political parties adding that what the commission had so far was guided by the relevant  laws and guidelines for  party primaries.

Commenting further on measures that have been introduced for  the purpose of  ensuring next month’s poll is free and fair, Prof. Jega explained that the period of four hours that was set aside for the purpose of voters accreditation on polling day is to forestall  multiple  voting and other electoral malpractices adding that  voters could stay or go home after exercising their franchise.

In his own presentation at the meeting, INEC’s Director of Operations Mr Okey Ndeche said preparations had been completed for INEC staff to be camped at voting centres,  nation-wide on April 1. Throwing more light on the voting procedure that would be adopted on polling day, he said there would be a headcount of voters on queue  before actual voting commences.

In his own remarks at the meeting,  INEC’s  Director of Logistics Alhaji Usman Farouk said only 20 parties- out of the 63 registered in the country-  fielded  presidential candidates  for the election .

He further explained that ballot  boxes  that would be used for the election would be coded according to the voting centres across the nation adding that there would be cubicles for polling stations located in open places.

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