By Sunny Igboanugo and Joe Nwankwo:

• Cautions Parties On Internal Democracy• Jonathan Tasks Commission On Image

IT BECAME official on Tuesday that the 2011 elections could hold in January or April, depending on the take of the National Assembly (NASS) whose responsibility it is to amend the Electoral Law.

A tentative timetable announced in Abuja by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Maurice Iwu, scheduled the Presidential ballot for January 22 or April 23 pending the conclusion of work on the electoral reform Bills in the NASS.

In its preferred option, plan A, the INEC fixed all the state and federal elections for between January 8 and 22, as reported exclusively in Daily Independent on March 12.

In that wise, National Assembly elections will be on January 8, Governorship/State Assembly (January 15), and Presidential (January 22), Iwu said.

In the alternative, plan B, NASS elections will hold on April 9, Governorship/State Assembly (April 16), and Presidential (April 23).

Under the tentative timetable, NASS elections hitherto lumped together with the Presidential vote would be conducted on separate dates while those for the Governorship and state Assembly would be on the same day.

But Iwu warned that unless the political parties allow internal democracy, the reform embarked upon by the INEC would amount to nothing.

He maintained that the INEC has achieved remarkable results which should guide future elections, contrary to criticism from some Nigerians.

“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.

“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 stated.

Iwu said the customisation of ballot papers introduced in 2007 will be retained in 2011, and noted “with satisfaction” that unlike in years past, snatching ballot boxes is of little value to anyone.

“Balloting papers for every constituency are now customised and different and therefore very easy to detect if stolen.”

Votes will be counted at polling centres in 2011, he added, and the INEC “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.”

Other elements in the timetable if the elections hold in April include:

• Review of the voters’ register between April 26 and July 30, 2010.

• Political parties are supposed to conduct their primaries between August 2 and October 30.

• Collection of forms for affidavit and personal particulars of candidates and party’s list of candidates between November 20 and December 8, to be returned on December 7 for NASS candidates, December 14 (Governorship and House of Assembly), and December 21 (Presidential).

• Publication of personal particulars of the candidates, to be concluded on December 14 for NASS, 21 (Governorship), and 28 (Presidential).

• Display of voters’ register for claims and objections between December 28, 2010 and January 11, 2011.

• Campaign by political parties begins January 8.

• Publication of official voters’ register on February 8.

• Names of NASS candidates cannot be withdrawn after January 28, Governorship after February 4, and Presidential candidate after February 11.

• Substitution of candidates by political parties ends on February 22 for Presidential, February 15 (Governorship), and February 8 (NASS).

• The last day for the publication of personal particulars of substituted candidates for NASS is February 15, Governorship February 22, and Presidential March 1.

• Collection of nomination forms begins on February 9 and ends on February 24, submission ends on February 28.

• Publication of the list of nominated candidates is March 8 for NASS, March 15 (Governorship), March 22 (Presidential), and March 25 (notice of poll for all elections).

• Submission of names of party agents to the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) is slated for April 1 for NASS, April 8 (Governorship), and March 15 (Presidential).

• Campaign for NASS candidates ends on April 8, Governorship and House of Assembly, April 15, and Presidential April 22.

The INEC would require all parties contesting elections to register their agents early enough for accreditation, as part of their role in ensuring credible polls.

Iwu urged politicians and other stakeholders to stop “playing the ostrich and looking for scapegoats” or undermining the system in pursuit of personal ambition.

“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 the other stakeholders in the electoral process. How ready and willing are they to do their own?”

Also on Tuesday, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan charged the INEC to reverse its low esteem among Nigerians by doing the right thing next year.

Jonathan, who spoke through federal Attorney General and Justice Minister, Adetokunbo Kayode, at the press conference where Iwu unveiled the timetable, noted that although Aso Rock has taken steps to reform the electoral process, the key to “unlocking the doors of accountable leadership” lies with the INEC.

“We must do the right thing so that the distrust of the INEC will in no time give way to respect and admiration. Of all the challenges facing the country today, instituting a credible electoral process remains the most daunting,” Jonathan stressed.

“Democracy is a journey that every nation, mindful of advancing the liberty of its citizens, must undertake.

“Untainted elections and any obstacle on its path must be removed. In this regard, we shall be unwavering in our prosecution of all electoral offenders without exception, and in intensifying the battle against corruption to deter corrupt elements from seeing politics as a messy ground.”

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