28 February 2014

Nigeria: U.S. - Nigeria Must Get 2015 Elections Right

Photo: U.S. State Department
Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield and U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle with Kano youth NGO leaders.

Washington — The United States Assistant Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Thursday told an audience of the diplomatic community and Nigerians that US and indeed the world are expecting a free and fair election in 2015 from the Africa's biggest economy.

Thomas-Greenfield who was a guest lecturer of the Ambassador Andrew Young Lecture Series initiated by the African Society of the National Summit on Africa held at the Nigerian embassy in Washington yesterday, said she was using the opportunity offered by the Chevron powered lecture to share her experiences in her recent visit to Nigeria, while espousing the Barrack Obama administration's vision for Africa in general.

At an exclusive interview with THISDAY after the lecture, the assistant secretary of state said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, made a commitment to her that the 2015 elections would be better than that of 2011, "but what we are saying is that the 2011 election as a yardstick was largely fair and transparent.

"We believe that the 2011 election was adjudged worldwide as one of Nigeria's best and if INEC can maintain that track record that will be great. All eyes are on Nigeria and it must get this election right," she said. According to her, Africa in 2014 will be conducting 14 elections, "and we expect these elections to be peaceful and transparent, a true reflection of the will of the people.

"Leaders must ensure that elections are free, fair and transparent; any tampering of votes is a violation of the trust of the people," she explained.

The assistant secretary of state observed that, unlike in the US, over 75 percent of the voting population in Nigeria and Africa in general come out to vote on election day, "and these are mostly ordinary people who defy rain and sun to vote for their preferred candidate.

"You need to help them get what they want and avoid a resort to constitutional amendment that help people hold on to power, and if I should quote Kofi Anan, no government should alter constitution to hold on to power," she added.

On corruption, she noted that Nigeria knew what to do to rid the system of corruption, adding: "Our role is supportive to the anti-corruption agencies," as she insisted at the lecture that the government should find a solution to the theft in such places as the oil sector, and demand for accountability. "I visited the northern states and interacted with some of the governors especially the Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwakwanso.

"We re-affirmed the need to stop Boko Haram insurgents from carrying out its campaign of turning Nigeria into a killing field," adding that America supports the legitimate rights of minorities and their protection among the major ethnic groups.

On why the US war against terrorism does not seem to be producing the desired results given the spate of increased killings by the Boko Haram members, Thomas-Greenfield told THISDAY that the Obama's administration was offering both logistic and technical support as well as its own experience in the fight against terrorism to Nigeria but did not need to repeat the same experience with the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda by providing ground troops.

She agreed that it was imperative the government worked along the line of unmasking the sponsors of Boko Haram activities, which was why the US recognised the terror group as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO), which will in addition to other processes source information on individuals as well as plug all sources of funds coming to the group.

The working relationship between Nigeria and the US, she said, was an excellent example of how "we want to work with the rest of Africa in terms of strengthening democracy and good governance, human rights and a broad goal partnership that evolves by the day as African countries take charge of their collective problems.

"Our partnership with Nigeria, under the Obama's administration, also accommodates Obama's vision to empower Africa, accommodating power, trade and the Young Africans Leadership Initiative (YALI). We believe if Africa is to thrive and meet the developmental demands of the 21st century, then energy should be a paramount sector.

"African leaders should work towards improving power supply and infrastructure development for its citizens." On her observations of the country in her recent travel, Thomas-Greenfield said Nigeria's march to quality education was on the rise with huge infrastructure investments in the public and private sectors while child mortality rate including the incidence of HIV was on the decline.

In Benue State, she noted, that there was an increase in improved rice production, all of these, Thomas-Greenfield affirmed were the results of a shared partnership between Nigeria and the US in various sectors of the economy.

The Obama empower African project, she said, aimed at providing 10,000 megawatts of power in six African countries including Nigeria and accessible to 20 million households. "We encourage other countries to key into this plan. Nigeria is currently exploiting this provision and on its own, I was impressed at the high level of infrastructure development going on in Lagos State. "I must also commend Liberia, currently electrifying its streets. We have in this programme 12 agencies with $7 billion that must be invested into these projects," the secretary said. She said the Obama's administration was encouraging African countries to go beyond trans-regional to cross border trade with the amazing opportunities it offers using east African countries as an example of what cross border trade offers

Thomas-Greenfield said 15000 Nigerians took part in a competitive placement programme involving 50,000 applicants on YALI with only 500 successful young Africans coming to Washington this summer for a six weeks leadership training programme and internship in both the US and their countries of origin. "At the end of the programme, these future leaders will meet President Obama at an interactive session at the White House," adding that the idea is to develop a leadership capacity for an African population where over 60 percent of the citizens are below 25 years.

On the Bi-National commission meeting in Abuja, Thomas-Greenfield said the two countries discussed issues of mutual interest covering the war against corruption, elections, good governance and democracy and the way forward as the country approaches 2015.

"We have shared values in many respects and we are here to offer our professional experience as a country, work with states and communities across borders and this is not a one-day partnership but broad and long term oriented partnership," the secretary said.

She concluded by reminding the sponsors of terrorism that Andrew Young, a close associate of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, on whose name the lecture was sponsored, said long ago that there is no problem that cannot be solved without the application of violence.

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