N'Assembly calls emergency meeting

THE PUNCH Newspaper

The National Assembly committees on the Review of the Constitution have called an emergency meeting to consider the possibility of reviewing the dates set for the 2011 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The meeting, which will hold on September 27, 2010, was informed by the electoral body’s request for the postponement of the elections from January to at least April.

INEC had slated the National Assembly election for January 15, 2011 and the presidential election for January 22. The governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections were earlier scheduled for January 29.

The leadership of the 63 political parties that met with an INEC team led by its National Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, on Tuesday, agreed that there was need to shift the poll.

A statement by Mr. Paul Odenyi, Special Adviser (Media) to the Deputy President of the Senate, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, added that INEC Chairman, Prof. Jega, and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), had been invited to the meeting.

According to the statement, the 88 members of both the Senate and the House Committees on Constitution Review are expected at the meeting. The committees’ members conducted the review of the 1999 Constitution and the electoral law.

“The meeting will deliberate on the request by INEC for the postponement of the commencement of timelines for next year’s general elections,” Ekweremadu, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, said in the statement.

Jega will be expected to clarify before the committees the time required to make free and fair elections possible.

Adoke’s attendance will offer members of the committees, the opportunity to better understand the legal implications and the Federal Government’s disposition to a possible shift in the election dates.

Meanwhile, some members of the House of Representatives have said that they are fully in support of the elections being postponed till either late March or April.

The members are the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Ita Enang; the Minority Leader of the House, Alhaji Mohammed Ndume; and the Minority Whip, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila.

Ndume, a member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, who said that “laws are not meant to be sacrosanct,” added that he believed that Nigerians were “comfortable” with the position of INEC.

He said, “The National Assembly can amend the laws so long as it is not another ploy by the Peoples Democratic Party to rig the elections.”

Giving his position on the matter, Enang, a member of the PDP, said that it was better to conduct “credible elections than rushing everything and ending up with problems.”

He, however, noted that the 1999 Constitution (First Amendment) and the Electoral Act 2010 must first be amended to accommodate any request by INEC for a shift in dates.

“The January dates fixed by INEC are based on the constitution and the Electoral Act; so, any proposal to shift the dates will conflict with the law except the necessary amendments are done,” he said.

Similarly, Gbajabiamila said it would not be a problem for the National Assembly to amend the constitution and the electoral Act.

Gbajabiamila said, “It is a good development and the matter now rests with the National Assembly. Anything worth doing is worth doing well; let us do an amendment and set new dates for the elections.

“Two months is not too much of a sacrifice; the fire brigade approach has never worked well for Nigeria.”

THE PUNCH learnt from a dependable INEC source on Wednesday that the electoral body had notified the Presidency of its plan to shift the poll.

The commission’s chairman, according to a source, who asked not to be named, delivered a letter to the Presidency on the issue.

“The chairman was at the Presidential Villa on Wednesday,” he said.

According to him, Jega, encouraged by the overwhelming support he received from the leadership of the political parties, met with INEC’s legal team to carefully draft the letter.

It was earlier gathered that INEC had begun legal consultations on amendments to the sections of the new electoral Act and the amended 1999 Constitution to give it additional time to conduct the poll.

Findings showed that the legal department of the commission went to work soon after Jega and his team met with the political parties leaders on Tuesday.

The major thrust of a letter being put together by the commission deals with challenges posed by Sections 76,178, 116 and 132 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Section 26 of the electoral Act is also being considered.

When contacted, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said he was aware that the commission was writing to the National Assembly on the issue of time.

INEC commissioner in charge of Operations, Mr. Nuru Yakub, said at the Tuesday meeting with party leaders that the contract for the Direct Data Capture machines for the voter registration might be awarded this week.


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