The leaders of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA) led by a former Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Senator Femi Okurounmu and Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi yesterday called on the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, to resign for the shoddy way he managed the allocation and distribution of the 30,000 extra polling units.
However, in swift reaction, Jega said that resignation is out of the way as he has a job to do, stating that he did not lobby to be appointed the chairman of the commission.
The INEC chairman also said that he would quit the chairmanship of the commission at the appointed time, as “I won’t wait to be fired.”
The SNPA leaders were reacting to the distribution of the 30,000 polling units that allocated 21615 polling units to the three zones of the north and 8412 polling units to the three zones of the southern states.
In a communiqué signed by Clark, coordinating chairman (South-south), Ekwueme, co-chairman (South-east) and Okurounmu (South-west), the leaders said: “We demand the immediate resignation of Jega as chairman of INEC.
“We call on President Goodluck Jonathan, to without further delay reorganise the composition and structure of INEC, to provide Nigerians the platform for free and fair elections.
“We recognise the determination of President Jonathan to leave a legacy for free and fair electoral contest as we have witnessed in the elections conducted under his watch. Since Jega has shown the potential to thwart the noble objective of free and fair elections in 2015 to which Mr. President has shown appreciable commitment, he does not deserve to remain as the electoral umpire a day longer,” they said.
According to the communiqué, the SNPA members further said that, “As plausible as these reasons may sound to the architects of this voodoo and arbitrary allocation of polling units, the people of Southern Nigeria and indeed the Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly view this invidious act as a script perfectly crafted for Jega to implement, in continuation of the well-known hegemonic agenda, by the enemies of our hard won democracy.
“The people of Southern Nigeria are not only appalled, but also strongly reject Jega’s claims and averment, whatever persuasions may have motivated this very callous, insensitive, disparate, oppressive, and inconsonant decision to give the North a clear political advantage over the South contrary to the reality on ground.
“Who does Jega think he is deceiving? As a professor of Political Science, if this concocted manipulation of polling units is his clever design to give undue political advantage to the North, having clearly in mind the 2015 presidential election, we wish to remind him without equivocation that he has failed woefully in his decrepit mission.
In his reaction however, Jega said, “the question of reconsidering the allocation of the 30,000 polling units does not arise in the first place, because there is no hidden agenda. The exercise was done to ease congestion of polling centres.”
He blamed critics of the distribution of the polling centres as “ethnic jingoists, mischief makers who read ethnic meanings into all issues.”
According to Jega, who said that resignation is out of the way, as he has a national assignment to do, , “I did not lobby for this job and I will not to be fired. People can say anything they like, as it does not bother me. I will do what is right. I did not lobby for this job and the day I cannot do the job, I will resign, as I will not wait to be fired if this job goes against my conscience.”
However, Jega yesterday rose in defence of the distribution of the recently created extra 30,000 polling units in the country, stating that it was aimed at easing decongestions of polling units and accommodate new residential areas where there were no polling centres.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja, Jega said: “INEC’s decision to re-configure the structure of polling units as well as create additional ones is driven by our collective aspirations as Nigerians to reform and improve upon the electoral process for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections in 2015 and beyond.
“There is no sectional or parochial agenda in this decision, as this press conference will prove, and there will never be any such agenda under this commission,” he said.
According to the INEC chairman, the basic aim of the exercise was to ease the access of voters to the ballot box in the 2015 general election and beyond, by decongesting over-crowded polling units (PUs) and dispersing voters as evenly as possible among all the PUs and locating PUs more effectively within commuting distances of voters.
Jega also said given that movement is usually restricted on election day, relocating the PUs from “in-front of” private houses and such other unsuitable places, to public buildings or where this is not possible, to public open spaces where tents can be provided, locating the PUs inside classrooms or such other suitable enclosures, in line with international best practices, splitting large PUs such that they have on average of 500 registered voters; and creating additional PUs to cater for the splitting of large polling units as well as new settlements not serviced by any existing PU.
Jega explained that the earlier polling units were created in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which created 120,000 polling units and 8,809 wards (Registration Areas), stating that the structure of polling units has been used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011 general elections.
Meanwhile, INEC’s the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Zamfara State, Alhaji Jibrin Zarewa, yesterday announced that the commission had approved additional 1,169 polling units
Zarewa made this known in Gusau when he inaugurated a 11-member committee to review the location of the existing polling units and stations in Zamfara.
He said the aim was to make voting convenient and ensure nobody was disenfranchised.
The REC, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said after considerable observations by INEC in all the states, approval was given for additional polling units according to the need of each state.
“This led to the increase of polling units from 2,516 to 3,679 in Zamfara State,” he said.
He said the committee, which would be chaired by the Secretary of the Local Commission, Alhaji Ahmed Zogirma, would be responsible for the citing of the new polling units.
He noted that some polling units that had more than the required 500 voters would now be adequately taken care of by the increase in polling units.
Zarewa said the polling units and stations would be situated within one kilometre radius for voter convenience.
The commissioner said that no polling unit would be sited at places of worship, private residence, premises of traditional rulers and public buildings marked for demolition.
He said the committee would submit its report in two weeks.