Senior officials of the United States government said they have been reassured by the Nigerian government and the Independent National Electoral Commission that the rescheduled general elections would hold on their new dates.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Doug Frantz, who spoke during a webchat with African journalists, Wednesday, said that Nigeria’s election would set the tone for the other coming elections around Africa.
“We have been assured by the government of Nigeria and by Chairman (Attahiru) Jega (INEC boss) that the election will take place on March 28th and we are seeing very active work being done by the Nigerian security service working closely with the governments of Cameroun, Chad, and neighbours to fight Boko Haram,” said Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State, African Affairs.
“We are all watching this election. The world is watching, the continent is watching, Nigeria’s neighbours are watching this election and I hope the election will be free and fair, transparent, peaceful and the result will reflect the will of the people of Nigeria.”
The general elections, initially scheduled for February 14 – presidential and National Assembly and February 28 – governorship and state Houses of Assemblies, were rescheduled by INEC to March 28 and April 11 respectively.
While announcing the new dates a few weeks ago, Mr. Jega had attributed the shift to the inability of Nigeria’s security chiefs to guarantee the safety of INEC staff and citizens if the election went ahead.
With several other African countries preparing to go the polls in 2015 and 2016, Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield said that the US was working with all the countries to ensure that their elections are peaceful, free, fair, transparent, and that they represent the will of the citizens.
Last week, according to Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield, the US government hosted some African countries to discuss solutions to extremism.
“We brought together 14 African countries in the AU (African Union) along with countries from around the world to discuss how we can work together as partners to fight terrorism, not just in Africa, around the globe,” she said.
“The issue in Africa is one that we are very much taken with, it’s our priority. We’re working closely with African partners in Somalia to fight against Al-Shabab. We’re supporting the efforts of African partners in West Africa to fight Boko Haram. We work closely with partners in Mali, Niger, Algeria, in Mauritania.
“And we will continue to press resources towards the efforts of supporting African friends and partners to ensure that we end terrorism from having a negative impact on growth, on peace and security, and keeping young people from pursuing the goals that they want to achieve in terms of education and prospering on the continent of Africa.
“It’s a mission we can’t do by ourselves and African countries can’t do alone. We have to work as partners.”
In early February, there were claims by some foreign journalists that the Nigerian government was deliberately blocking them from covering the elections.
In a statement on February 3, the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, said it received complaints from at least eight foreign journalists about their difficulties in their visa procurement process.
The Nigerian government, however, denied the claims.
Mr. Frantz said denying foreign journalists access to cover the elections would place a huge responsibility on their local counterparts.
“I think what that very unfortunate prohibition does is make it more incumbent upon Nigerian journalists to get out there and tell the story,” said Mr. Frantz, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
“And tell it objectively and honestly and make sure that both sides in this election get their fair share. And to make sure that neither side in this election gets away with lying, gets away with suppressing the truth.
“So the absence of a large contingent of international journalists is unfortunate, but it’s not determinative. Reporters in Nigeria and around Africa, and reporters who are already there for some international organizations like Reuters, AFP, and AP, now have the responsibility who can pick up bits and pieces of the story, it’s more important now than ever that you get out and do your job in the absence of these international media.”
Mr. Frantz reiterated the importance of a violent-free election in Nigeria and called on the citizens to support whoever emerged victorious.
“It’s more vital than ever that Nigerians come together after this election. It is not up to the United States to say who should win, we don’t have an opinion on that,” he said.
“But what we do have an opinion on is that after a free and fair election, that there is a unified government because the threats confronting Nigeria now are very real and they are gonna require that the Nigerian people get behind their leader, whoever he is.”