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Nigerian Legislators Pondering Vote Delay

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Nigerian lawmakers said they are willing to consider postponing legislative, presidential and gubernatorial polls because the electoral commission said there is not enough time to register voters.

A joint committee from Nigeria's Senate and House of Representatives said it accepts the need to delay the vote after the electoral commission asked for more time.

Commission chairman Attahiru Jega told lawmakers that Nigerians aspire not to go through the process of an election, but to have the outcome of that vote be legitimate.  He said  that aspiration could be compromised if Nigeria keeps to its current electoral timetable - a risk that Jega says should not be taken.

"When you plan, even though you assume the worst, you also need sufficient room for adequate preparation so that if there is any problem there is room for maneuver.  But the existing timelines are so tight, and unfortunately the more we miss some of these milestones, the more problematic it becomes in terms of guaranteeing free, fair and credible elections, and also guaranteeing a credible, fresh voters' register," said Jega.

Changing the timetable means changing Nigeria's constitution and this year's electoral act.  So the power to make those changes rests with the National Assembly.  Jega thanked lawmakers for considering the commission's request and assured them that it is not frivolous.  "There is no point spending so much money going through a process, which in the end may turn out not to be satisfactory in terms of its credibility," he said.

Parliamentary changes to the electoral act require the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan.  Attorney General Mohammed Adoke says the Jonathan administration understands the need for delay.  "The fundamental objective of this government is to have a free, fair and credible election at the end of the day," said Adoke.  "I have listened to the proposal and proposition of the INEC chairman.  Our position as the government is that we will do everything possible to support and ensure that we have a free, fair and credible election."

Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Bayero Nafada is the co-chairman of the National Assembly's Constitutional Review Committee.  He said, "Nigerians are watching.  We pray that at the end of our deliberation, we will be able to come out with an acceptable procedure and timetable for the conduct of the general election come 2011."

Nafada said lawmakers continue to support the electoral commission, but want to make sure that the timetable presented this time is one that will work.  "We pray that this time around, this will be the last request that will come from any quarters regarding this election because it will not continue that way.  If there is any further [delay], God forbid, I think it will become a crisis," he said.

Nigerian lawmakers said they will start work on changing the timetable after the electoral commission proposes a new schedule Wednesday.  Jega says the commission is looking for a three-month extension that would push next January's vote back to April.

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