Plan to Move Elections Back Four Months Stirs Confusion

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper-Alifa Daniel

CONFUSION may be trailing plans to move the 2011 elections back by four months.

But it is not stopping politicians from meeting to strategise on how to capture juicy offices if the plan comes through.

The Guardian had exclusively reported last Thursday plans to have early elections.

However, the biggest hindrance to the scheme to hold the elections in November this year is a constitutional provision that states that the elections can only be held 60 days before an incumbent President (or Governor) leaves office.

Section 132 of the 1999 Constitution states that:

"(1) An election to the office of President shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

(2) An election to the said office shall be held on a date not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office."

As word began to filter into political circles that efforts were on to hold the presidential and gubernatorial elections in November, politicians have begun to meet in Abuja, to prepare the grounds to grab juicy offices.

Though politicians are banking on the National Assembly to give its seal of approval to a recommendation of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais committee on electoral reform, the lawmakers have declined to comment on their work, which is in its final stages.

It is believed that if the National Assembly buys into the ongoing machinations to have elections in November, "certain interested parties" may begin to put pressure on State Governors and their State Houses of Assembly to ensure that Section 132 and other sections of the Constitution relating to elections are expunged so that a comprehensive Electoral Law is passed in the National Assembly.

Contacted for comment on the political calculations by politicians, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu said he was not aware of such permutations.

Similarly, on the extent of the Constitution review exercise, Ekweremadu declined comments, "because the Senate Committee has not concluded its work."

But other sources said that in the Assembly, after weeks of negotiations and horse-trading, "it is getting increasingly clear that the new Electoral Law put together by the two Houses may recommend the conduct of national elections in November 2010."

The idea, which emerged two weeks ago but gained momentum last week, is to ensure that elections are held six months before winners are sworn-in and before the courts conclude all electoral matters.

It was learnt that the proposed law has a clause that will be "couched in such a way" that all court cases will be handled within six months "and any case that exceeds that will become time-barred."

"We do not want the kind of situation we have now where cases are still in courts over 30 months after elections," a source said.

Other members of the Senate and House Committees on Constitution Review declined to divulge the required information, insisting that the information peddled around was not essentially correct.

"I am sorry I cannot confirm that information to you because we are still keeping what we are doing under wraps so that forces do not scuttle our work," a member of one of the technical groups working on the final document said yesterday.

Another admitted that if the constitution review exercise failed in any aspect, "it will definitely not be on the issue of electoral reform."

It would be recalled that even the Presidency had commissioned an international team of experts to advise President Yar'Adua on the issue of electoral reforms.

But it was difficult yesterday to confirm if the team that has the head of an electoral body in one of the West African nations had submitted a report to the Presidency.

Two weeks ago, Ekweremadu had assured Nigerians and members of the international community that the report of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Review would be ready, as promised, by the end of this quarter.

He said the committee was fast-tracking work on the priority areas, especially electoral reform, adding that the technical team assembled by the Senate had produced a working document with which the committee would deliberate on and issue a final report for consideration by the Senate in plenary.

A statement from his office said he spoke when an independent team of experts requested by President Yar'Adua to advise him on the electoral environment in Nigeria paid him a visit.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department for International Development (DFID) support the work of the team, led by Ghana's Electoral Commission chairman, Dr. Kofo Afari-Gyan.

Ekweremadu said that members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the Constitution had indicated interest in looking at the working document, to enable it to also fast-track its work.

Regarding the work of the Senate Committee in the last quarter of 2009, Ekweremadu said he was happy to report that both the national and zonal Public Hearings generated a large amount of material on many aspects of the Constitution.

He added that the technical team had collated all the issues for the next level, which is at the sub-committees stage.

The sub-committees are expected to debate and assess specific aspects of the report in details and turn them over to the main committee for further deliberation.

Assuring on the timeline, Ekweremadu he said: "We are going to achieve our timeline to submit the report by end of March (2010). Because we have a commitment to electoral reforms, as a priority, we have produced a working document.

"My mandate to the technical team we assembled was to sift from a large array of material we generated from the public hearings and prepare a comprehensive Electoral Bill, which we will present to the Senate.

"That Bill will enable us remove some technical and administrative issues from the Constitution so that in the future, we can make amendments as we deem fit."

He highlighted the complication in handling their assignment.

"The difficulty we have had in dealing with electoral issues is that most of the provisions are in the Constitution and so simple things, as to what is discretionary, become difficult to change.

"I must commend the technical team comprising of eminent constitutional lawyers and experts on election for a job well done," he said.

Dr. Afari-Gyan had recommended that lawyers alone should not handle consideration of the report of the committee.

He said other professional groups, especially "people in the field" should be given the opportunity to make inputs.

Other members of the team of experts include Professor Daren Kew and Magarita Aswani from the United States, and some from the United Kingdom and the South African High Commission


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