The Independent National Electoral Commission on Wednesday said that despite the National Assembly’s approval of N87.7bn for it to prosecute the 2011 general elections, there were serious challenges against the successful conduct of the poll.
Besides the non-release of funds, the commission cited the absence of legal framework as another threat to the elections.
Apparently, it was referring to President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to sign the 2010 Electoral Bill and the controversy over the need for presidential assent to the amended 1999 Constitution.
Some of the amended provisions of the constitution have a direct bearing on the 2011 elections.
A worried Chairman of INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega, at a meeting with chairmen and secretaries of political parties in Abuja, declared, “Unfortunately, we are not sure of where we stand at the moment.”
The Senate and the House of Representatives had passed the INEC budget on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, after their members were recalled from their annual vacation.
Jega told the party leaders that INEC had thought that the approved funds would be released immediately to it given the urgency of the matter.
He said, ”As I am sure, you are aware, unfortunately, that the constitutional amendments to the constitution have been embroiled in controversy ever since. Our commission has planned its activities on the understanding that these amendments have been finalised.
“Instead, there have been controversies over whether the President has to assent to the constitutional amendments or not, a matter which is now subjudice. At the same time, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. President is yet to assent to the electoral bill.
“All these have constrained INEC’s preparations for both the voter registration exercise and the elections.
”Our position remains that we are bound by whatever existing legal architecture provided to us and we need not be drawn into controversies over such issues.”
The INEC boss, therefore, appealed “for a speedy conclusion of these issues to enable us to firm up preparations for the voter registration and elections.”
On the non-release of the N87.2bn for the voter register, Jega said that INEC had thought that the money would be quickly delivered to it following the consideration of its supplementary appropriation bill.
Jega said, ”We also thought that we had the funds following consideration of the supplementary appropriation bill for INEC sent to the National Assembly by Mr. President about a fortnight ago.
”Again, unfortunately, we are not sure where we stand at the moment.”
By the commission’s timetable, he said, two weeks had been lost already, adding however, that it (INEC) would still strive hard to make up for the lost time.
The two weeks were meant for identification of equipment suppliers and award of contract for the supply of Direct Data Capturing machines.
He also spoke on merger by political parties and the need for them and their leaders to entrench internal democray.
Jega said that Section 84(2) of the bill stipulates that parties that want to merge should give INEC a 90-day notice of intention before a general election.
He reminded the political party leaders that Section 85 of the bill required that the commission be notified 21 days before they could hold their conventions, congresses and conferences, convened for the purpose of electing members of their executive committees.
Jega asked the party leaders to study the bill properly in order to acquaint themselves with relevant portions of the law before submitting the names of their candidates.
He said the commission was empowered under Section 87 of the bill to disqualify candidates presented by political parties for elections while Section 86 gives INEC, the powers to monitor the parties and ensure that they comply with the law.
Jega charged the party leaders to imbibe the culture of internal party democracy, which according to him, is an integral part of democracy.
He said, ”This (internal democracy) has remained a major concern for both the commission and the Nigerian public.
”The processes of selecting your candidates must be above board democratically, including giving adequate opportunities to women, by reducing all those structural conditions within parties that put them at a disadvantage.”
The INEC chairman also called on the party leaders to remember that they needed to follow the bill’s stipulation on money to be spent on elections.
He said if the parties failed to abide with the provisions of the bill, the commission would not hesitate to sanction them.
Jega said every party would be provided with equal opportunities to compete for support from the electorate at the polls.
He said there would be no big or small parties, noting that there would also be no fear or favour.
The INEC boss called for continued partnership between INEC and the political parties for greater democratic consolidation.
”Political parties are partners in the search for democratic consolidation in Nigeria , particularly through free, fair and credible elections,‘‘ he told the party leaders.
He said that the registration of voters and the conduct of free and fair elections should not be seen as an exclusive right of INEC.
Jega said, ”Political parties should also be profoundly interested in bringing out their supporters to get registered, since it is a precondition for voting.
”We are in the process of producing comprehensive guidelines to guide the registration exercise and I hope that you will all fully support the registration exercise, including observing its conduct and sharing your experiences with us.”
He said INEC intended to establish a Situation Report Room for the exercise, to enable stakeholders to inform the commission about problems as they arose.
None of the political leaders spoke at the meeting before it went into a closed session.
Source: Punch Newspaper – www.punchng.com