by John Alechenu
In line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the Independent National Electoral Commission released a timetable of activities ahead of and for the 2015 general elections late on Friday last week.
According to the INEC timetable, the 2015 elections proper will begin with the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 14, 2015, to be followed by State Assembly election.
Before the polls, all the registered political parties are expected to hold congresses, conventions and ultimately elect their candidates, who will stand for the various elective offices on their party platforms.
Section 31(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 stipulates that â€œEvery political party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for the general election under the provisions of this Act, submit to the Commission in the prescribed forms a list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.â€
Logistics problems, which have dodged the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INECâ€™s handling of elections, beginning with elections into the National Assembly in April 2011, appear far from over.
While it is true that some improvements were observed with the conduct of governorship elections in Kogi, Ondo and Edo states, the gains recorded were filtered away with the lapses which became apparent during the Anambra governorship polls.
Although, a lot of attention was focused on the â€œhuman errorâ€ which was blamed for the disaster in Nnewi North, complaints about the late arrival of electoral officials and materials as well as missing names from the voters register, were widespread.
After failing to meet public expectations with its poor handling of the November 16, 2013 Anambra election, providence has handed the commission another rare opportunity to redeem its image and restore public confidence.
This time around, how the commission tackles the myriad of internal and external challenges to ensure credible governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states scheduled to take place later this year, will go a long way to show how well INEC is prepared for the 2015 general elections.
Perhaps, in an attempt to mitigate a repeat of obvious lapses in the Anambra governorship poll, INEC kick-started preparations for the forthcoming elections with a retreat for the agencyâ€™s top echelon in Kaduna recently.
At the two-day event, the INEC management team discussed among others the continuous voters registration, budget for the elections in Ekiti and Osun states as well as the 2015 general elections. It also discussed staff training and several other matters aimed at putting the body in good stead ahead of the polls. To many, the icing on the cake was the announcement of a schedule of activities to be carried out before the 2015 elections.
According to the timetable, party primaries are to commence on October 2, 2014, and end on December 11, 2014. INEC equally envisages that all disputes arising from the said primaries should have been addressed by this time.
As is to be expected, the order and timing of the 2015 elections has generated a lot of interest especially among politicians. While the ruling Peoples Democratic Party has announced its readiness for the elections, members of opposition political parties remain suspicious.
They suspect that the order of elections, as contained in the timetable, is tailored to suit the ruling party.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, in his reaction to the INECâ€™s order of elections, said, â€œWe are ready for the elections as shown by the timetable released by the commission.â€ He expressed doubts about the readiness of the opposition, because according to him, he would not be surprised, if the main opposition party calls for a boycott of the polls, â€œbecause they know they will lose.â€
The National Chairman of the Labour Party, Chief Dan Iwuanyawu, says while the early release of the timetable is commendable, the sequence of elections is not.
He says, â€œAre you sure that the Presidential election is before the governorship election? That is not good enough.â€
A stalwart of the opposition All Progressives Congress and Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, is clearly suspicious about the INECâ€™s motive.
He says President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling PDP will have an advantage from having the Presidential elections coming first.
According to Kwankwaso, the opposition has every course to worry. This, he says is when one takes into cognisance the series of threats by the Presidentâ€™s supporters.
He says, â€œIt is not just the bandwagon effect, they want to intimidate people, â€˜if you donâ€™t vote for me, you do this and weâ€™ll do thatâ€™. Weâ€™ve been in this game for a long time. So, we know they want to use intimidation.â€
Socio-cultural groups such as the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Afenifere expressed divergent views on the timetable.
Agreeing with views earlier expressed by Kwankwaso, the National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Mr. Anthony Sani, says the forum is not comfortable with INECâ€™s timetable as it is.
Sani says, â€œWe prefer all elections to hold the same day in order to reduce cost and avoid the bandwagon effect. But INEC has said there is no enabling law by the National Assembly that will make it possible for the elections to hold the same day; and we have also called on the legislature to make that possible.â€
He argues that the ACF will prefer that litigation arising from the electoral process be disposed of before winners are inaugurated. This, the forum notes will forestall a situation where individuals, who are declared winners before the resolution of such disputes, use public funds to fight their legal battles. The forum also expressed reservations about INECâ€™s level preparedness for the 2015 general elections,
However, the Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, speaking through its spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, disagreed with those suggesting that elections should be held on the same day.
According to the group, Nigeria lacks the capacity to hold all elections on the same day.
Odumakin says, â€œIt is clear that Nigeria does not have the capacity to conduct elections same day. We saw what happened in Anambra State as regards the logistics challenges and the poll was bungled by INEC itself.â€
Spokesperson for the INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu, while reacting to some of the concerns raised about the sequence of elections, says since â€œthe law allows the window of 150 maximum and 30 days minimum and the commission prefers to move closer to the 150 days maximum, that will allow time for litigation before 2015.â€
He also explained that INEC was preparing for the elections, adding that the distribution of permanent Voter Card had reached an advanced stage.
As the debate rages, Jega and his commissioners have used every opportunity to announce that the commission cannot and should not be expected to guarantee perfect elections. They have, however, promised that the commission will do all within its power, to ensure that the 2015 poll is substantially better than previous ones.
A lot has changed since the highly rated 2011 general elections. The voting population has, without a doubt, increased. This is even more so considering the increased level of awareness about voting rights and obligations among a growing population of young Nigerians. The challenge before the commission is therefore Herculean.
A substantial increase in population presupposes a need for constituency delineation. The process of doing this will involve the passage of relevant amendments to existing legislations by the National Assembly.
The creation of additional polling units to cater for the expected increase in the number of voters will equally require the deployment of additional manpower and material.
Public expectations about free, fair and credible elections in 2015 are higher than ever. Sadly, nothing appears to have changed in the attitude of the political class.
Threats of violence, which characterised previous elections, and the absence of internal democracy, which has become the rule rather than the exception among the political parties, remain a reality, which threatens the very foundation of the nationâ€™s young democracy.
One cannot lose sight of the challenge of the ubiquitous human factor, which reared its head in the Anambra election. The integrity of electoral officers is constantly being threatened by the desperation of the political class. When the desperation of politicians, bent on winning elections at all cost, comes in contact with the greed of a few but powerful cabal of electoral officers, the end result is electoral disaster.
It will be foolhardy to expect INEC to succeed without the collaboration of its development partners at home and abroad; itâ€™s like asking for the impossible to expect an election, worth its name, without a change of attitude by the civil populace and the political class.
Nigerians appear tired of excuses as has become the practice after each bungled election. The electorate expect Jega and his team to, at least, deliver on their promise.
by John Alechenu