Nigeria’s House of Representatives yesterday granted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) additional four weeks to enable the commission to capture more eligible voters in the ongoing voter registration.

Also Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has threatened to quit, if he is pressurised too much on this year’s general election. Jega, who was speaking in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (Hausa Service) yesterday said that no one has so far approached him with any impossible demand, stating that he prays “that such would never happen”.

Under the extant law, INEC was expected to conclude the voter registration not later than January 31, to provide the legal allowance of 60 days before the first round of elections scheduled for April 2.

The Senate has no similar Bill before it at the moment, but its spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, said yesterday that its position on the clamour for extension of time would be informed by the outcome of its meeting today with the National Chairman of the commission, Jega. If the upper chamber concurs with the House, the ongoing registration will now end on February 28.

The House also performed a legislative feat by initiating and concluding, in one day, an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010, which granted INEC the extra four weeks to conclude the ongoing voter registration.

The extraordinary amendment was designed to give a swift legislative response to the technical and logistical challenges currently faced by the commission in the voter registration.

The multitude of hitches in the exercise have resulted in the non-registration of a large percentage of the targeted 70 million voters across the country less than one week to the end of the exercise, resulting in the public clamour for an extension of its deadline.

Apparently disturbed by the likelihood of INEC not meeting its own target and the larger implications for the electoral process, the lower chamber of the parliament, which resumed from its Christmas and New Year recess yesterday went straight for a fresh private member Bill tagged Electoral Act Amendment Bill No. 2, 2011 (HB486).

The Bill was sponsored by the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Ita Enang, and 19 other lawmakers.

It sought to amend Section 9 (5) of the Principal Act to abridge the time granted INEC within which it must conclude all matters concerning the voter register and prepare for the general election from 60 days to 30 days.

After the Bill was read for the first time, Enang quickly moved that the rules be suspended for the Bill to be debated and read it for the second time.

Leading the debate on the general principles of the bill, Enang said given the non-availability of the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines in some parts of the country and the low coverage recorded so far in the voter registration, millions of eligible voters might be disenfranchised if the initial deadline of January 29, 2011 was to be maintained.

He argued that INEC, on its own, could not alter the dates and thus needed the National Assembly to effect the necessary adjustments to pave the way for an extension of the deadline for eligible voters to register.

Enang further moved that the rules of the chamber be suspended to allow the reading of the bill for the third time. All the prayers were granted and the bill was passed.

Speaker Dimeji Bankole, who presided over the session, said by the action of the House, the Electoral Act had been amended and the voter registration might now be extended for four more weeks, subject to the concurrence of the Senate.

Apparently to enable the lawmakers to register and monitor the exercise in their constituencies, Bankole announced that the House would adjourn plenary for two more weeks beginning from today but charged all the standing committees to resume work on the 2011 Appropriation Act currently pending before them.

Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, who spoke to newsmen on the developments, said the House decided to embark on the amendment of the Electoral Act to provide the needed legislative intervention in the voter registration.

Eyiboh, who also spoke on the just concluded primaries of the political parties, said under the law, no member of the House could be said to have lost his ticket yet until all the political parties have concluded the process of nomination and submitted the list of their candidates for the April polls to INEC.

“No member of the House of Representatives lost the primaries; rather, some of them suffered setbacks. You can only say that a member has lost the ticket when his political party fails to submit his name as an aspirant in the forthcoming elections. The process of nomination starts from the ward congress up to the point where the names are sent to INEC by the respective political parties. It is therefore wrong for anyone to conclude that an aspirant has lost his ticket when the process has not been concluded,” he said.

Meanwhile, the INEC boss also said: “Since the day I assumed office, no one has asked me to do anything against my wish and hope it will never happen because if I am asked to do the wrong thing, God knows I will never do it. I will never do anything that will make me go against the Code of Conduct and that is why I accepted this job.”

The INEC chairman told BBC that having sworn with the Holy Qur’an, he has no other choice than to do the job “sincerely and truthfully”, saying nothing would make him do otherwise.

“I assure the people that INEC as an institution would never compromise. We will organise a credible election,” he reiterated.

He explained that no one would be allowed to hijack the conduct of the election, warning that anyone who tries to get involved in any form of malpractice would face the law.

“My obligation as INEC chairman is to supervise the registration of voters. I was there not because he is a presidential candidate but because he is the president and we must accord him that respect given to him by God,” Jega clarified on the controversy that had trailed his trip to Bayelsa State in company with President Goodluck Jonathan to flag off the ongoing voter registration.

When asked by BBC if INEC will extend similar respect to other presidential candidates, Jega said: “But remember, you said the president went to Bayelsa and flagged off the voter registration exercise. That is different from a candidate inviting me to flag it off. No matter who the president is, we must give him that respect.”

Credit: Thisdayonline.com

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