Written by Peter Jones Ailuorio, Mansur Sani Malam and Abdulaziz Abdulaziz:

Recent reports that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will release a comprehensive timetable for the 2011 general elections this week have provoked negative reactions from prominent stakeholders, notably the opposition Action Congress (AC) and former head of state and two-time presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).

While the AC has warned that INEC chairman Maurice Iwu should not be involved in anyway in the elections if they are to be credible, Buhari argued that it is only free, fair and credible election by the INEC that would guarantee peace and stability in the country.

Buhari said the current electoral body led by Prof. Iwu could not conduct a free, fair and credible general elections in 2011.

The former head of state spoke yesterday in Kano at a public presentation of a book titled, “Gyara Kayanka”, authored by Dr. Auwalu Anwar.

He challenged Nigerians on the need to always protect their mandate.

In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the AC said Iwu, who organised the worst elections in the country’s history in 2007, was synonymous with election malfeasance and vote stealing in its crudest form.

It said the report, which was some form of kite flying by “the inscrutable INEC boss”, had called into question the commitment of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to electoral reform, which is widely believed to be one of the key areas in which Nigerians want him to make a difference.

It said, “How can we be talking of the 2011 general elections when the much-awaited electoral reform has not even started? How can we be talking of the 2011 general elections when the fate of the much-acclaimed report by the Uwais panel is not yet known? Is this a joke or what?

“Election rigging is not carried out only on election day. It is a culmination of a series of processes, including voters’ registration. As we have seen during the last Anambra gubernatorial election, in which over 83 per cent of voters were disenfranchised, the voters’ register is a key tool for rigging, especially in the hands of Iwu’s INEC.

”Therefore, a biased and incompetent electoral umpire like Iwu should not be allowed to handle the registration process, not to talk of the elections, unless of course we are determined to ensure that votes will never count in Nigeria, in which case we should say goodbye to democracy.”

The party noted that fortunately for the country and for all those who seek free and fair elections, Iwu is supposed to have started his terminal leave this month, as his current tenure is due to expire on June 17, 2010.

“Yes, Iwu’s tenure can be extended, but we know this will not be done by any government that is determined to bequeath a legacy of free, fair and peaceful elections to the country. Iwu has embarrassed Nigeria and the entire black race enough. He should be allowed to go home now,” it said.

The AC said if Iwu was allowed to organise the 2011 polls, there would be no need to hold elections at all next year.

“INEC and the PDP should just compile a list of their handpicked candidates for the various posts and declare them selected, instead of subjecting Nigerians to another round of phoney elections,” the party said.

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