Following the two-week deadline given by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the release of N74.5 billion the commission requires to conduct a fresh voters registration exercise, the federal government yesterday moved swiftly to speed up the release of the funds in order to avert delays to the electoral timetable.

Jega had on Thursday warned that the absence of a new and credible voters register might scuttle the 2011 elections. He said the existing register was completely unreliable for any credible elections.

Obviously conscious of the urgency of the request, President Goodluck Jonathan, this newspaper learnt, had a meeting with the Finance Minister, Olusegun Aganga and INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega in the Villa yesterday morning to fashion out a strategy for the swift release of the money requested by INEC.

A presidency source said Aganga confirmed at the meeting that the N74.5 billion needed by INEC has been “sourced and is now available for disbursement” but an urgent request would have to be sent to the National Assembly for speedy appropriation since the 2010 budget and supplementary budget have been passed by the lawmakers.
The presidency source added: “It was agreed at the meeting that the request for approval should be sent to the National Assembly at the latest next Monday morning and hopefully, an approval would be secured by Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

“Once the approval is secured, the funds will be swiftly disbursed in full to INEC by the finance ministry.”The effort by the executive arm of government to get the National Assembly to appropriate the N74.5, however, coincides with the time the Senate will be commencing its recess next Tuesday. The House of Representative will start its recess a week or two weeks later.

When this was brought to the attention of officials in the presidency, a source explained that the president can make a special request to the Senate to push back its vacation by a week or more.
“Given the urgency, the Senate can be asked to defer its vacation by a few days. It has been done in the past and we don’t anticipate that the Senate will refuse,” said one presidency official.

Jega had on Thursday warned that within the next two weeks, the federal government will have to choose between providing the funds required to produce a new register and the risk of not having any elections next year.

Jega who made his views known at a meeting with the House Committee on Electoral Matters acknowledged that the time available given to the commission to conduct a new voters registration exercise was short and urged the government to grant waivers in the procurement process to ensure that the equipment required for the exercise arrives Nigeria in good time.

“The time is very, very tight and we don’t want to leave anybody in doubt about that. This is a constitutional matter and it is beyond us. “From the information we have at our disposal, we are sure that the existing voters register would never lead to a credible election.”
According to Jega, the way out of the current situation will be to defer the effective date of some of the amendments to the Electoral Act and allow the commission more time to prepare the grounds for a reliable voters register and credible elections.

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