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Nigeria: Senate Fires Back at Jega

The Senate yesterday expressed disappointment over comments by Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega claiming that the National Assembly’s delay in amending the Electoral Act 2010 and the Constitution could jeopardise the May 29, 2011 handover date to the next administration.

Jega had said the commission is receiving “conflicting signals and if there are any delays in the National Assembly, it will affect us. The faster they are able to complete the amendment process, the better for us. If we have to get the extension around November or December, then we will be back to square one. We do not want any extension that would affect the May 29 handover date.”

Coming under Order 15 of the Senate Standing Rules, Senate Whip Mahmud Kanti Bello condemned the statement by Jega, saying it is unacceptable for the legislature to be blackmailed even when it has done all within its powers to ensure the conduct of credible elections by 2011.

Also commenting on the issue, Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) alleged conspiracy against the National Assembly saying “I foresee a situation where people fail in their duty or job and blame it on National Assembly.”

In his ruling, Senate President David Mark expressed displeasure over Jega’s comments saying “I think this is a very serious allegation. We have done everything humanly possible for INEC. We cut short our recess and approved its budget; we don’t want to be seen as a stumbling block.

“He should be told to clarify whatever he told the press. To label us this way is totally uncalled for. I have not read the papers, but if what Kanti Bello is saying is what he said, then he should be called to order.”

While briefing newsmen shortly after the session, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media also expressed doubts on INEC’s readiness to conduct the polls even if given an extension of time.

He said, “In the National Assembly we are very apprehensive that up till this moment that we are speaking, if the newspaper reports are anything to go by, the Direct Capture Machines (DCMs) have not been ordered. The process of ordering these machines is still on within INEC.

We want to challenge anybody who made that assertion to bring any proof of any action that the National Assembly has made to slow down whatever is happening anywhere.”

Eze said the National Assembly is in the process of amending the relevant sections of the law to enable INEC get the extension of time and will complete the exercise within a few weeks.

“So we want to state categorically that the National Assembly is not standing in the way of any agency or any arm of government in the process of trying to ensure that we have a free fair and credible elections. we incorporated everything…including even being blackmailed to approve budget that we have to approve in a hurry and it is now not fair for anybody to turn round after that to start accusing National Assembly. We want to state clearly that whatever is required of us to do to ensure that the next election is free, fair and credible we shall do so.”

Eze denied the allegation that lawmakers have been compromised by the Presidency to pass the proposal by President Goodluck Jonathan to delete Section 87 (8) of the Electoral Act 2010 to enable ministers, aides and other appointed officials vote as automatic delegates during party congresses and conventions.

He said, “It is unfortunate and a cheap blackmail for anybody to say that lawmakers were given money to insert a provision in the law. I thought that it is already in our past. If anyone wants anything in the Electoral Act, they should lobby their legislators.”

Meanwhile, a bill for second alteration to the Constitution that will further allow INEC time extension was read for the first time yesterday. The Senate is expected to debate on the general principles of the bill this week.