The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will today begin the registration of new political parties, the Chairman, Dr. Abel Guobadia, has announced.
Answering reporters' questions at the meeting of the commission with its Resident Electoral Commissioners in Abuja yesterday, the INEC chairman said the commission would today meet with the leaders of the three registered political parties and the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) to acquaint them of the development.
The Electoral Bill passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives has placed the registration of political parties as a pre-requisite for the conduct of any general elections in the country and that newly registered parties must exist for six months before the conduct of any general elections.
The INEC chairman blamed the late release of the Electoral Act for the delay in registering new political parties. According to him, the Electoral Act was made available to the commission only five days ago.
"The Electoral Act 2001 was formally sent to the commission by the Clerk of the National Assembly in a letter dated April 11. The commission has thus been given, for the first time, the enabling law for the electoral activities.
"It is only now that we know the laws that will govern the registration of political associations and we are going to set up a machinery after our meeting with political parties tomorrow and we will announce our programme from that exercise," he said.
The INEC boss said that as far as the commission was concerned, it was not aware of the existence of Electoral Act 2002, stressing that it would confine itself to the available act.
On the compilation of a new voters' register, Dr. Guobadia said the earliest a new one can be ready is October if funds are made available immediately. He said "the commission will be able to mobilise on the field within two months of our receiving the funds for the exercise." He, however, said that the commission has started screening ad-hoc staff for the exercise, adding: "The implication is that as soon as funds are made available, we must be ready within a reasonable time frame to open our facilities to those who wish to register." He said the onset of the rains is another hurdle but pointed out that "given the pressure on the commission to provide an up-to-date register, waiting to undertake the exercise during the next dry season in November cannot be acceptable.
"We must prepare ourselves and devise strategies for productive and effective data collection even under the rains," he advised the Resident Electoral Commissioners.
Dr. Gubodia said INEC would not recognise the new local governments being created by state governors for future elections because "they are not recognised by the 1999 Constitution and we recognise only the local governments in the constitution.
Worried by various court judgments on the tenure and review of voters' register for local government elections, Dr. Guobadia said INEC would abide by court orders.
He expressed doubts over the conduct of local government elections on May 18, saying that it was not practically possible to carry out the review of voters' register before that date.
Speaking on the ruling of the High Court on the voters' register, Guobodia said "whichever way the court decides, we shall obey. If the court want us to release the old voters' register to State Electoral Commissions, we will obey.
"We will also follow the case up and whatever the court decides we will obey. Afterall, the voters' register is a public property, no big deal," he said.
Several political associations have sprung up seeking registration with INEC as political parties.
They include United Nigeria Democratic Party (UNDP) led by Alhaji Saleh Jambo; National Democratic Party (NDP) led by Alhaji Habu Fari; National Conscience Party (NCP) led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi; Movement for Democratic Justice (MDJ) led by Alhaji M. D. Yusufu; Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) and Peoples Liberation Party (PLP), among others.
The UNDP and NDP claimed to have submitted their applications for registration with INEC with the latter threatening legal action for its non-registration.