IF the plans being put in place by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) go on smoothly, the commission will conduct the 2011 general election in January next year.
However, if the plan ‘A’ fails and the January date becomes unrealistic, INEC said the 2011 general election would be held in April.

Tentatively, the commission has fixed January 8, 2011 for the National Assembly election; January 15, 2011 for the governorship/state Assembly elections and January 22, 2011 for the presidential election.

This forms part of the provisional timetable and schedule of activities for the 2011 elections released by INEC in Abuja, on Tuesday.

The commission had released two different provisional timetables and schedules of activities for the election, which were presented to Nigerians at the National Conference for Stakeholders in the Electoral Process, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

Bearing in mind that the January date may not be feasible because of outstanding electoral matters, INEC presented alternative dates for the elections, with the National Assembly elections slated for April 9, 2011; the governorship/state assembly elections for April 16, 2011 and the presidential election for April 23, 2011.

However, whether the elections are held in January or April, the run-offs for governorship and presidential elections, if any, will be held within seven days after announcement of the result of the respective elections in accordance with Section 179, sub sections 4 and 5 and Section 134 sub sections 4 and 5 of the 1999 Constitution respectively.

In a speech entitled: ”2011: Building on past experiences and reforms for better future elections,” INEC chairman Professor Maurice Iwu, said the commission had taken measures to ensure free and fair elections in 2011.

Professor Iwu pointed out that for all the elections in 2011, the votes would be counted at the end of the polls in every polling centre.

He stated that the commission took this step, because it was committed to eliminating the possibility of those “miracles that had been known to happen in the past between polling centres and collation points.”

The INEC chairman said the commission was determined to let Nigeria’s electoral process reap the full benefit of the electronic voters register, adding that INEC would twice mount a review and revalidation of registered voters in all constituencies across the country before the 2011 elections.

The first of these exercises, according to him, would take place between April and July 2010, irrespective of the month the elections would be held.

He explained that the commission had also established a National Voters Registry and two electronic data back-up centres to facilitate processing and maintenance of vital electronic information for the conduct of elections in the country.

Iwu said Nigeria would have successfully conducted four general elections – 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 – just within a decade since democracy returned to the country, counting the elections that are around the corner.

“If this track record does not point to a steady evolution of stability in our political process, I will want experts in political development to tell us what it is,” Iwu said.

He stated that in the last 10 years, the foundation, infrastructure and norms of a new democratic order hitherto not in existence had been steadily established.

However, he added that “a rash of criticism essentially driven by personal ambitions and a vocal minority has tended in many instances, more so as the election year draws near, to give the impression that there has been no progress. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth.

“The recent broadly acclaimed election in Anambra State speaks, not just of the success of the polls, but of the prospect that elections in the country can turn out better if the stakeholders are committed to it. The import of these progressive signs in our political  development should not be lost or wilfully denied.”

Iwu said the challenge before the country, as it prepared for the next round of general election was to develop a correct political orientation that would 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.

He said that INEC had steadily reformed itself and its operational structure over the years, saying that it had established zonal stores, an initiative in response to the challenge of late delivery of electoral materials.

Iwu pleaded with political parties contesting in any election to register their respective agents early enough to be accredited.

The INEC chairman called on the political parties to ensure internal democracy as they hold their congresses and conventions, adding that the party conventions would soon offer the world an opportunity to see how ready Nigeria was to conform to the dictate of democracy being preached as the rule remained one man, one vote.

Meanwhile, the  bid by INEC to employ the electronic voting system for the  next general election suffered a setback, on Tuesday, following an indication by the National Assembly that it would not welcome the idea.

The Senate President, Mr David Mark, dropped the hint about the aversion of the National Assembly to electronic voting system,  when he said the idea, for now, was not realistic.

Mark, who made this known at the INEC conference, said INEC should shelve the idea while it concentrated on ensuring the stability of democracy through a transparent conduct of the coming general election.

Represented at the conference by the Senate Committee Chairman on Electoral Matters, Senator Isiaka Adeleke, Mark said the idea of using electronic voting system could be well embraced by the National Assembly after the 2011 elections.

He said the National Assembly was more poised to ensuring constitutional change and make room for effective electoral reform, adding that both arms of the federal parliament would not fail in delivering the new electoral act before the commencement of the next general election.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Professor Iwu had listed the possible use of electronic voting system as part of proposals drawn by the INEC for a smooth conduct of the next general election.

Iwu expressed optimism that by building on the Anambra experience, which brought about a smooth conduct of the last governorship election in the state, the 2011 general election would end up defining Nigeria as more mature politically on electoral matters.

He assured Nigerians that the election would be peaceful and well conducted nationwide.

The INEC boss used the occasion to appeal to political parties to allow internal democracy in their choice of candidates, such that no political party would make undemocratic substitution of any candidate who emerged winner of a primary election.

The political parties, Iwu said, must also ensure they did not field wrong candidates for the elections in order to discourage widespread discontentment by the electorate after the election.

Three state governors,  Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State; Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State and Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State, were present at the conference, which was declared open by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode.

Ohakim commended INEC for preparing early  for the next round of elections in Nigeria, adding that INEC, contrary to  the general impression, had scored  high marks in the conduct of election.

According to him, electoral matters in Nigeria had always posed challenges to the electoral bodies and only a competent organ such as INEC could cope with the complexities.

The Edo State governor called for electoral reform that would neutralise all the anomalies that Nigeria had been facing through its electoral laws, as he listed key options which, if followed, would help in perfecting the electoral law.

Oshiomhole said the proposed electoral reform should be such that would discourage the president from appointing the chairman of INEC, in line with a recommendation by the Justice Muhammed Uwais-led electoral reform panel.

He suggested that the National Judicial Council (NJC) be given the responsibility.

Oshiomhole equally kicked against the appointment of resident electoral commissioners by the president, while he also argued that the system of compilation of voters’ register in Nigeria should be confidence inducing.

The Edo State governor canvassed punitive penalties for any INEC official or others so appointed caught doctoring the voters register, stressing that anyone found culpable must be sent to jail.

According to Oshiomhole, it should be enshrined in the country’s electoral law that a candidate with a stolen mandate should not be sworn in until he cleared his case, just as he advocated that disputes over elections must be addressed before the swearing in of candidates.

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