INEC's 2011 Election Timetable

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Abuja — The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently released what it said was provisional timetable for the forthcoming general elections. According to the schedule, the electoral body provided January next year as probable date for the polls to take place, or in the alternative, they should be conducted the following April. Chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, who made the timetable public at a stakeholders' meeting, also disclosed that a national voter registry and two electronic data back-up centres had been established by the commission to enhance the processing and maintenance of critical electronic information for the purpose of achieving the goal of conducting credible elections in the country. To enable early preparation for the very important exercise, voter registration would be held between April and July 2010, according to Professor Iwu.

A firm timetable, whether for those elections to be held in January next year or in April, depends on the outcome of deliberations on the reform of the electoral system currently in the National Assembly. It is vital that such preparations are begun early enough, if the elections are to be successful. This is why we believe that INEC was being proactive in presenting the timetable at this time.

We however are not so sure about the wisdom of deploying the electronic voting machines in the conduct of the forthcoming elections. We concur with the reservations, expressed by some senators, that their deployment be delayed until the electorate is confident in the integrity of the machines' usage.

Electronic voting is not foolproof, as has been variously demonstrated in far more sophisticated environments, such as in the United States and India. In our technologically-challenged environment, where power supply is never steady and transport system very unreliable, using the electronic voting system now in nationwide elections would present formidable obstacles that could ultimately compromise the process entirely.

INEC has not demonstrated that the system works, and that it can address the many shortcomings in our electoral process that have been recurrent. The way to go is for the commission to test the machines in local government elections on a small pilot scale in a number of states. The results of that can then be evaluated, and the system deployed in an incremental way until a measure of confidence in their integrity can be achieved, in order for it to be deployed widely. This is how the system is being applied in India. We recommend that approach for INEC.

Moreover, the board of INEC has not been reconstituted since a majority of its members left office. It is open to question therefore who took the responsibility of drawing a timetable for such a huge programme in the absence of a full board. This issue is important, given the fact under the electoral reforms proposals submitted by the Lawal Uwais Committee to the government, and which is before the National Assembly for consideration and approval, the whole process of appointing INEC board members, particularly its chairman, was modified, vastly diminishing the role of the Presidency in its constitution.

The presently depleted membership of the INEC board therefore lacked the power, because it has no quorum, to have approved the current timetable. The National Assembly must therefore act quickly to deliberate on and approve the proposed electoral reforms on which success of the forthcoming elections depend. The new INEC that may emerge from the reforms would need to address the credibility deficit that has hung over the commission for so long. The onus is on the National Assembly to pass the electoral law for the process towards credible election to begin.

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