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Nigerian Voters, Politicians Debate Electoral Commission Call for More Time

Nigeria's electoral commission wants more time to register voters for January's legislative, presidential, and gubernatorial elections.

Nigeria's electoral commission has no power to extend voter registration itself. So chairman Attahiru Jega is asking political leaders to work with the National Assembly to amend the electoral law to give the commission more time.

"The timeline for the implementation of this plan is very tight," Jega said. "Consequently, the commission shall endeavor to engage all the relevant stakeholders with a view to exploring all legal avenues for extension of the time to enable the commission to deliver on the aspirations of Nigerians for credible voters' register and free, fair, and credible elections."

Victor Ume is the national chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance party. If the Independent National Electoral Commission - or INEC - says it needs more time, Ume says there is not really any choice but to give the process more time to ensure a good vote.

"INEC is the institution charged with the responsibility to conduct these elections by our constitution. So if they have said that it is impossible for them to deliver a good election with the program they have released based on legal constraints, there is no way you can proceed,” Ume said. “It is a dead end."

Commission chairman Jega says INEC was reluctant to ask for more time because it did not want voters to somehow think it was trying to manipulate the process.

Voter John Adamu says he sees nothing wrong with INEC asking for the delay.

"It is not just a delay. These are issue-based things. If we want to have things properly done, it must be done properly," he said. "There is no reason why we should rush an election that we want to be free and fair. Let every process be properly put in place."

Voter Ese Uvieghara says the two weeks in November currently planned for voter registration is not enough time for a country of more than 150 million people.

"They are not going to focus only on the big cities. They are going to go down to the grassroots because every human being in Nigerian matters as regards this registration,” he said. “So they need to be well sensitized towards it and be part of it. For me, the 14 days is rather short. It is a short period."

Voter Mohammed Aminu agrees there is no need to rush the process.

"This is the popular demand for now. It is not only the political parties that are concerned over the short period available to INEC. Even the voters they will express reservations that INEC could hardly conduct credible elections as yearned by Nigerians within this short period of time given to INEC," Aminu said.

Setting the timetable took months of debate in the National Assembly and weeks of review by President Goodluck Jonathan. But Aminu says political leaders should be able to amend the law quickly if they are committed to a good vote.

"If there is this commitment on the part of the National Assembly it is something that within a short period of time they can do it, and Nigerians will have credible elections," he said.

Preparations for the vote are already well underway with the electoral commission training more than 360,000 people to register voters. Party primaries begin October 18.