By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—Ahead of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, the United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, has said his country was committed to free, fair, credible and non-violent elections in Nigeria.
Entwistle also reiterated the readiness of the US to assist Nigeria find the abducted Chibok girls in Borno State.
The envoy disclosed this during his visit to the national leadership of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Abuja, where he was received by the party’s national chairman, Mr. John Odigie-Oyegun, weekend.
He said genuine elections were the hallmark of democracy which the American government championed.
Entwhistle said his visit should not be seen as any kind of support to either APC or other parties, saying the US was not interested in any candidates of the parties during the elections, but to ensure a credible process.
“I have been the United States Ambassador to this country since November 2013. I am coming round to talk to political parties because of the deep commitment my country has to democracy and elections, not just in the US or Nigeria, but all over the world.
“Democracy is much more than elections, but without elections, there is no democracy because election is the cornerstone. I have been frequently asked who the US is supporting for the February 2015 elections and my answer has always been that the US supports the Nigerian people in their quest for a credible, transparent election they want and deserve.
“So, we are not here to support anybody or any candidate, but to support a credible process in which the Nigerian people can freely express their wishes. That is why we provide support to INEC and civil societies as we get ready for this election.”
“Let me be clear and say that what I am saying t you now, I say to the PDP and all others who are involved in the democratic process in Nigeria.
“As I travel round this country, I talk about the importance of non violence elections especially before, during and after elections. What I am telling you now, I say to everybody across the spectrum.
“We should all agree that there is no place for it and I encourage all candidates and parties to commit themselves now not to participate in violence in any way,” Entwistle said.
The Ambassador tasked the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the media on enlightenment campaigns to ensure the elections were successfully conducted
He said: “I am here today to say I am talking to everybody and to hear what you have to say. INEC has a huge responsibility and the political parties too have a huge responsibility to educate the people as well as underline the commitment of the United States to the democratic process and the role that everybody has to play.
“We are trying to help and working closely with INEC and the civil societies as well as courageous Nigerians who are out there monitoring the elections. We are also working to train Journalists to help them as they cover the elections.
“We are involved at different levels doing different things. One of the things I am doing is talking constantly on the importance of non violence before, during and after the elections and calling on all politicians to take a pledge and guarantee the voters that they will not participate in violence during the elections. I think that is very important and I hope the media should join me in this.
“You have a role to play in this as Journalists. If a politician comes to you, make him take a pledge of non violence. So, my country stands for election and democracy through out the world and we are doing everything we can to help.”
On the security situation and the release of the abducted Chibok school girls, the envoy said US stood by the government of Nigeria
“We are watching that very closely because you have an election, you must have security and this is particularly in the north east of the country. So far, the plan I see is to conduct the election through out the country.
“That is something we all have to work for with the full understanding that on certain parts of the country right now, the security situation is very delicate. But I think we have to work towards that.
“It is not just whether you can conduct election in the north east, but what happened to all the voters who have been displaced b the violence?
“On Election day, if they are not at the polling units or at home, will they be able to vote? It seems to me that there must be a way for them to be able to vote.
“Otherwise, you have a significant number of people who have fled from violence and are effectively disenfranchised. I think we all have to work together to find a solution to that.
“We stand with your government in their effort to rescue these girls; we stand with your government in their effort against Boko Haram. We provide different kind of assistance and my country stand with your country in its counter terrorism efforts. That has always been the case and that will always be the case.”
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, APC national chairman, John Oyegun, said concerns about 2015 elections dominated the meeting.
He decried the militarisation of elections in the country, saying it brought about scepticism over sanctity of elections.
“It is his first visit here. We are a party that is one year old and I think it was quite good for him to come and see us, familiarise with us and know our thinking and how we view the things as we are developing in the country, our attitude and reactions to the elections that have been held and our expectations of the elections that are to come.
“It was a very useful discussion and we have impressed on him the importance of elections as a process and not as an event which takes place on the day of voting. The process means every thing that happened. If you take the case of Osun, everything happened within two weeks to the elections, on Election Day and a few days after the election.
“The fact that there was no violence on Election Day does not necessarily make that election free and fair. When about 70,000 troops were put in Osun State with the obvious intent of intimidating. Of course, we were there and we had a governor that was extremely popular and so, the intimidation just did not work,” Oyegun said.