By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA – WITH barely 10 days to the impending general elections in the country, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, yesterday, re-iterated his resolve to conduct a free, fair and credible poll next month, vowing that he would not repeat mistakes of his predecessors.
Jega who made this declaration in a paper he presented at a ‘Consultative dialogue on the state of preparedness for the April 2011 elections’, organized by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in Abuja, said the commission has detailed relevant security agencies in the country to arrest anybody that parades himself or herself as an observer on the election day, insisting that only persons accredited by the INEC would be permitted to monitor proceedings of the elections.
The occasion was chaired by the former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Jega noted: “For the INEC, I can say categorically and convincingly that we are ready for the election, the question should rather be, are the lawyers and politicians ready? We have put all the necessary machinery in place to not only ensure that the election is free, fair and credible, but to also ensure that a level playing ground is accorded all the contestants.
“All the basic logistics have been put in place; we have even bought speed boats for the difficult riverine areas. Apart from logistical preparations, we had embarked on series of workshops for both our main and ad-hoc staff, aimed at re-orientating them on ethical foundations of elections, as well as effecting attitudinal changes in them to ensure that they are mentally prepared for the assignment before them. We will also commence another training exercise for the ad-hoc staff today (Wednesday).
“I am doing my best to ensure that all the mistakes of the past are not repeated. These include delays in the deployment of sensitive and non sensitive materials, a situation that often affects the starting and closing of polling on election dates, thereby creating room for politicians to manipulate the process in the past.
Consequently, the question is not whether INEC is ready, but whether the other stakeholders are ready. Our major concerns at this moment are politicians and lawyers.”
“We have been getting disturbing reports that some incumbent governors refused to allow other opposition parties to campaign in their states; that in some areas, billboards of opposition parties were destroyed.
There are equally other worrisome reports of violence and high level of thuggery in some places while in some states, opposition parties were denied access to advertise through the state media. This is very bad and we have written to the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to look into it and act accordingly.”
On the issue of ex_parte orders, Jega lamented that some unscrupulous lawyers approach courts to secure conflicting orders that he said placed the commission in a position of helplessness, stressing: “Some of the orders served on us from a particular state came from the same court, this is totally condemnable, and we have raised the issue with the appropriate judicial authorities.”
“52 political parties have signed the political code of conduct and as a commission, we will be law abiding, we are determined that whoever commit electoral offence will answer for it irrespective of who the person is.”
On the issue of movement during the election, the INEC boss stated: “Nobody will be given the opportunity to move around in the name of monitoring election, particularly governors, local government council chairmen and party chairmen. The only people that will be allowed to move round are the accredited INEC officials and the observers.
Meantime, has General Abdulsalami Abubakar, described the task ahead of INEC as very challenging. He said: “From my experience, having had to successfully midwife a transition from military administration to civilian democratic rule in 1999, I can say that the task ahead though herculean and complex is achievable.
Some have argued that Nigeria of today is far more complicated than Nigeria of 12 years ago but that is not a debate to address at this point in time.
“Nigerians, therefore, deserve at the very least, a legitimate Government that will address pressing perennial problems of power, security, health, education and a revamping of the economy. We cannot afford to squander this opportunity.
“Democracy may not be perfect but it is still the best system of governance in that it guarantees participation of the entire population through its elected representatives in the running of the affairs of the nation. Nigeria has a great future and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner that is not inimical to our destiny”.
President of the NBA, J.B Daudu SAN in his opening address warned politicians to eschew violence in the forthcoming election to ensure that every vote counts.
He said: “The political class must enter into a political contract with one another, pledging in the overall interest of the unity of this country to eschew violence in the conduct of the elections. Nigerian populace has always been branded as victims of rigged elections in that they bear the brunt of lack of basic amenities in the society by the political class.”