By Alex Emeje:

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday released a tentative time table for the 2011 general elections, with the presidential election scheduled for January 22, if the elections are held in January.

Maurice Iwu, the under-fire INEC chairman, who unveiled the timetable at a conference on the electoral process in Abuja yesterday, however, warned that unless the political parties are ready to allow internal democracy work in their parties, the reform embarked upon by the commission would not produce the desired result.

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Protesters at the venue of the INEC National Conference for stakeholders in the electoral process in Abuja

Adetokunbo Kayode, the Justice Minister and Attorney General of the Federation represented Acting President Goodluck Jonathan at the conference.

According to the time table, the National Assembly election which had hitherto been lumped with the presidential election, will be conducted on a separate date, while the governorship and the state Houses of Assembly elections will be conducted on the same day.

Work cannot be completed on the timetable until the National Assembly concludes work on the electoral reform bill.

Mr. Iwu claimed that, contrary to criticisms from many Nigerians, the commission under his leadership has achieved remarkable results, which must guide the conduct of subsequent elections.

“The challenge before the nation as it prepares for the next round of general elections is to develop a correct political orientation that will be anchored on principle, the interest of the majority and the promotion of the will of the people, not the will of a few big men with means,” Mr. Iwu said.

The environment must improve

“The environment of politics and elections in Nigeria must, as of necessity improve for the electoral process to be enhanced. The disposition and conduct of individuals in politics must change” he said.

On the reforms embarked upon by the commission that would be pivotal in the 2011 elections, the INEC boss said the commission has taken steps to ensure that the issue of ballot snatching was reduced.

“Customization of ballot papers, which was introduced in the 2007 elections, will be retained for 2011 elections. We note with satisfaction that unlike in the years past, incidents of waylaying and seizing ballot instruments are no longer of much value to any person, considering that the balloting papers for every constituency are now customized and different and, therefore, very easy to detect if stolen,” he said.

Mr. Iwu added that, “For all elections in 2011, the votes will be counted at the end of the polls in every polling centre. The Commission is, by this rule, committed to eliminating the possibility of those miracles that had been known to happen in the past between polling centres and collation points. The wisdom in the decision to stick to this rule is amply reinforced by recent experiences.”

Role of political parties

Speaking on role of political parties in ensuring the conduct of credible elections, Mr. Iwu said the commission would require all parties contesting elections to register their agents early enough for accreditation.

He called on politicians and other Nigerians to desist from “playing the ostrich and looking for scapegoats” or undermining the system in pursuit of personal ambition, adding that the commission can only do its best.

“There is a limit to which a single institution can go to contend with an environment in which a horde of desperate, unrestrained elements are out to ensure that there is no order and that nothing works unless it will advance their political ambition. The commission is striving against multiple odds.

“The commission is prepared and ready to do its part. The reforms it has carried out to strengthen its operations and capability, speak of a commitment to improve on our election process. But how about others in the electoral process? How ready and willing are they to do their own?” he asked.

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