As Nigeria prepares for the 2015 general elections, issues on electoral governance were the focus of the Nigeria/US Bi-national Commission which met for the first time this year
BY VICTORIA OJEME
The US delegation, led by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, met for two days with high ranking Nigerian officials led by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi.
The theme of the meeting, “Transparency, Good Governance and Democracy in Nigeria,” is apt reflection of the concerns of many, including Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, on the implications of the on-going struggle amongst politicians for democratic succession, corruption, security and the economy.
This also explains why the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, was invited to make a presentation on the electoral body’s preparations for the 2015 general elections.
The US envoy, in her remarks, captured the concerns of her home government, saying, “We will be discussing ways we can partner to make Nigeria’s upcoming 2015 elections the most peaceful, free, fair and credible in its history. We will also exchange ideas on how we can arrest the malignancy of financial corruption that eats away at Nigeria’s democracy and economy”.
Greenfield further narrowed her government’s concerns with regard to the 2015 general elections to the imperative of a more substantive improvement on the 2011 general elections, locally and internationally adjudged to have been better than previous elections.
It was therefore not surprising that issues of electoral malfeasance, with the potential to make or mar the republic, dominated her speech.
The seeming over heating of the polity months away from the declared dates of the elections at the back of her mind, she said, “Nigeria’s future is full of promise and opportunity and cannot afford to have elections or general governance slide back in terms of peacefulness, fairness, transparency, or credibility.
“No matter how high the political stakes, we are dedicated to the proposition that the 2015 elections will be more transparent, more credible, and less violent than in 2011. We stand with Nigerians who say loudly that they will not accept crooked tactics, electoral tampering, overly heated rhetoric, vote selling or buying, or violence. I have heard my Nigerian friends say repeatedly that anyone who engages in such election chicanery should be held accountable. They are right.”
One of the safeguards against electoral vices, as often harped on by the INEC boss, Jega, is the setting up of an Electoral Offences Tribunal, which, in the view of Greenfield, will substantially address the concerns by many that people often get away with serious breaches of electoral laws.
On this, she passed the ball to the National Assembly, presently engaged in the processes of the amendment of the Constitution as well as the Electoral Act.
The US envoy therefore called on the National Assembly, “to pass legislation enacting an Electoral Offences Tribunal—a legislation that President Jonathan himself proposed when he was Vice President”.
“We hope that our continued electoral assistance will give the utmost support to the Nigerian people because they deserve nothing less than elections that reflect their will”.
She also had a word for the citizenry largely perceived as most times being complicit in the afflictions and misfortunes of Nigeria’s electoral process, insisting, “Credible elections are the responsibility of every citizen, every voter. Your right to vote is yours to watch over”.
The envoy added, “The choice is yours to decide not to sell your vote, not to intimidate others, and not to engage in violence around elections. Selling your vote will put money in your pocket for only a day, but ultimately, you are selling your future and your children’s future right to freedom and prosperity. You must hold your politicians, your electoral commission, your judiciary, your media, your political parties, your security services, and each other accountable.
You must vote according to your conscience. Anyone who witnesses fraud must peacefully report it to the INEC and the Nigerian judicial system for resolution. Nothing justifies violence. Most importantly, Nigerians should vote. The ballot is your means to select your leaders and determine your futures.”
Greenfield also had kind words for Nigeria’s security apparatus, particularly its showing in Anambra , during the governorship election, saying, “We applaud the Nigerian security services for faithfully executing their complex operational orders on Election Day to ensure the protection of voters and poll workers in the November 16 Anambra State elections.
We have confidence that if the Nigerian police, military, and other security services are allowed to do their jobs as professionally as they did in Anambra, the elections can be held safely in Ekiti and Osun States and, in 2015, at every polling unit in Nigeria, including in the Delta, the Middle Belt, and the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa.”