Following the successful conclusion of the first phase of the constitutional amendment exercise, general elections would hold by January next year, says the deputy Senate Pesident, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had proposed in two separate templates it unveiled last March that, depending on the outcome of then ongoing constitution amendment process, next year’s election would hold either in January or in April.

It said if the process went through successfully, general elections would hold between January 15 and 29, 2011 and if not, they would be held between April 9 and 23, 2011.

Briefing newsmen in Enugu, Ekweremadu who is chairman of the Senate committee on Constitu-tional Amendment, said the National Assembly had removed all impediments to the successful conduct of elections by INEC having concluded the amendment exercise.

“Elections should hold in January next year because what we amended showed that the elections should hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 180 days before May 29, 2011 and if you calculate, it means elections will hold between December 31 this year and February 1, 2011,” Ekweremadu said.

He also said that the much expected reforms in the electoral process preparatory for next year’s general elections were achieved last Friday when the state Houses of Assembly submitted their resolutions on the document transmitted to them by the leadership of the National Assembly.

According to him, with the submission, the country had achieved major electoral reforms as critical issues bordering on electoral process, which had remained the major albatross to the conduct of credible elections in the country, were effectively taken care of. He said the amended sections of the constitution took effect the moment the state assemblies assented to them in accordance with section 9 of the 1999 constitution.

“By this development, all those provisions that were provided by section 9 of the 1999 Constitution are now operational and in the days ahead, we intend to gazette it for all to see the areas that have been amended. The import of section 9 is that the amendment takes off immediately in every part of the country. You don’t require the assent of the President for it to take effect because we followed the United States of America system where we borrowed our constitution from and the provisions are similar. Once they achieve two-thirds of the approval of the legislature, the Constitution takes effect and that is what we have achieved.

“The critical issues that we wanted to address have all been achieved including the independence of INEC as contained in the 1999 Constitution. Today, you cannot be a member of INEC and be a member of a political party. The new Constitution approved that INEC should draw their funds from consolidated revenue fund, it also reduced election tribunal judges from five to three, while election petitions are to be filed within 21 days as against 30 days in the 1999 Constitution,” he said.

While urging the INEC to immediately release time-table for the next general elections, the Deputy Senate President said both the National and State legislatures had laid solid structures that would guarantee free, fair and transparent elections for the country.

According to the provisional timetable released by INEC, then under the leadership of Prof. Maurice Iwu, governorship and state legislative elections will hold on January 15, 2011 under the amended constitution, while presidential and National Assembly elections will hold January 22. Possible run-off elections will hold on January 29, 2011.

Under that time-table, party primaries was expected to have begun last May and be concluded this month. The delay in the conclusion of the constitution amendment process made the aspect of the time-table concerning party primaries unworkable.

The date of party primaries as well as the election time-table may however be tinkered with by the new INEC leadership under Prof. Attahiru Jega.

Ekweremadu, however, ruled out the possibility of the present session of the National Assembly embarking on and successfully concluding another phase of constitutional amendment especially as it concerns creation of additional states.

He said that with the electioneering process almost around the corner, it would be difficult for the process to be concluded before the expiration of their tenure by June 4 next year.

“Let me say that the issue of state creation is still alive, it’s very necessary, Nigerians want it and there is no way we can not listen to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. But the issue of whether this session of the National Assembly can really do that is another kettle of fish.”

Credit: Thisdayonline.com

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