By Yusuph Olaniyonu, Olawale Olaleye and Chucks Okocha:

• Constitution amendment for electoral reform in April

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will on Tuesday announce two possible timetables, which may see the next general elections either commencing on January 14, 2011 or April 9, 2011 depending on the outcome of the on-going review of the constitution.

The commission is fixing the January 14, 2011 date for the commencement of elections on the expectation that the National Assembly may successfully amend the constitution and therefore adopt the proposal by the House of Representatives that elections into the various offices should be held not more than 120 days to the date the tenure of the current holders of the offices will expire.

The proposed amendment will change the current provisions of Sections 132 (2), 178 (2), 76 (2) and 116(2) of the 1999 Constitu-tion, which stipulate that elections into the offices of President, Governors, members of national and state assemblies respectively should hold on a date not earlier than 60 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the tenure of office of the last holder of that office.

By INEC’s calculation, if the state legislative elections hold on January 14, the federal legislative elections can hold the following week on January 21, 2011. Governorship and presidential elections will then hold on January 28. This will leave four months to resolve litigations arising from the elections.

The second calendar being proposed by INEC will see state legislative elections holding on April 9, 2011. The federal legislative elections will  then follow on April 16, 2011, while governorship and presidential elections will hold on April 23, 2011.
This calendar is predicated on the fact that the ongoing review of the constitution may not be completed on time before the elections process will commence.

The second timetable is therefore drawn, based on the existing provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
A source within INEC however said within these dates, some of the scheduled elections may change.

Also, based on the first timetable, INEC wants party primaries to commence in May 2010 and end in July 2010 so that the parties will have enough time to select their candidates by following due process and demonstrating internal democracy in their procedures. However, party primaries based on the second calendar will commence in August this year and end in October.
However, the national caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which met at the presidential villa, Abuja last Thursday has thrown its weight behind the proposal by the House of Representatives that the sections of the constitution dealing with date of elections should be amended to reflect that 120 days gap should be left between the date of election into an office and the date the tenure of the present occupant will expire.

The caucus also urged the senate leadership to support the 120 days proposal by the House. The PDP caucus comprising of the party National Chairman, the National Secretary, the Acting President, Senate President, Speaker, House of Representatives and governors who are members of the party resolved that the 180 days interval between election date and handover date proposed by the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel is fraught with dangers and should be rejected by the National Assembly.

While accepting the argument by the governors, the PDP caucus agreed that a situation where an elected officer waits for six months before assuming office can create “legitimacy crisis.”

“Six months interval between election date and handover can create legitimacy crisis and set the man waiting to take over against the incumbent. So, we believe the 120 days proposed by the House of Representatives is a bit manageable and can achieve the objective articulated in the Uwais report,” says a source close to the PDP caucus.

The PDP governors also informed their party caucus that the Governors forum had earlier agreed that the National Assembly should expedite action on the ongoing constitution review exercise so as to ensure that a proposed constitution is ready by April 2.
The governors argued that if the proposed constitution is ready by the end of next month, they will rally the state legislatures to complete the ratification of the document by April ending.

The Senate and House of Representatives are carrying out different constitution review exercises and will have to harmonise their submissions at the end of the exercises. The harmonised positions must be endorsed by at least 24 of the 36 state Houses of Assembly before a new constitution can emerge.

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