16 February 2019

Nigeria: UK - Free, Fair Nigerian Elections Will Benefit Africa, the World

Few hours before the cancellation of Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for today, the British Government issued a statement saying it was important for the polls to be free and fair, "as this would benefit Africa and the world."

The British Government disclosed that it had funded a Parallel Voter Tabulation for strict monitoring of the elections and also funded the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to aid its operations.

Harriett Baldwin, Minister of State for Africa at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said this in a statement last night, adding that the 2019 Nigerian elections were important, as "this is Africa's largest exercise in democracy and for defenders of democracy, like Britain and the EU, which really matters, adding that "Democracies are coming increasingly under threat."

The statement said: "As Britain leaves the EU and steps out into a new role in the world, working with countries like Nigeria to ensure that its people can vote freely and peacefully will be an ever more important objective."

The British Government said it had systems in place to monitor the elections strictly. "We will be ready to call out attempts to subvert it as we have funded a Parallel Voter Tabulation which acts somewhat like an exit poll, helping to highlight any electoral malpractice that may have otherwise been swept under the carpet."

The statement said over 60 UK observers would be stationed in 15 states around Nigeria to report on the conduct of the elections including whether people are prevented from voting freely through violence.

"Along with observation missions from the EU, the Commonwealth, ECOWAS and many other international partners, we will speak out against any attempt to deny the Nigerian people their right to say who governs them for the next four years. The UK Government, in tandem with the US, has already made it clear that those who encourage or use violence during the election could face restrictions on their ability to travel to the UK.

"Nigeria has the chance to develop into an economic power-house and to lift millions out of grinding poverty. Credible, peaceful elections are one of the most important steps in that journey - and the UK, the EU and other defenders of democracy are working together to support them. "As Nigerians move towards this promising future, there will be positive consequences for the region, the continent and democracy around the world."

According to the statement, ensuring that the will of the people is respected is one of the fundamental building blocks for a stable, prosperous country. "In 2015, Nigeria experienced its first peaceful transition of power from an incumbent to opposition party. This week's elections offer a real opportunity to embed democracy. Nigerians, like any other people, want to be able to vote for whomever they choose, and for the election to be run fairly and peacefully. Britain's support for the values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for individual and political rights links us with other nations which share the same values.

"For Britain's role in Nigeria this means working with the EU, the Commonwealth, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the US and other supporters of democracy to help Nigeria build the institutions which ensure that Nigerians can vote, free from violence.

"To help Nigeria prepare for its elections, Britain has funded technical support to Nigeria's Independent Electoral Commission which will manage the elections. With the US, we are funding non-governmental organisations who will observe the election process."

Baldwin said, "Support by Britain in partnership with other democratic nations helped Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo move towards a peaceful outcome of their recent - albeit imperfect - elections. And at a time when we are seeing a decline in democracies around the world, support by Britain in partnership with other democratic nations has been vital in the positive steps forward we have seen in countries like Ethiopia and Armenia.

The statement described Nigeria as "a country of tremendous potential but with real challenges. Its natural resources, agricultural potential and huge market offer enormous opportunity for growth with a spill-over to the wider continent.

"There are also substantial opportunities for UK businesses. But Nigeria is also home to the largest number of people living in absolute poverty in the world. Limited basic service provision is made worse by inequality and unemployment.

"The murderous actions of Boko Haram and an escalating conflict between farmers and nomadic cattle herders add further challenges. An over reliance on the oil and gas sector and fragile peace in the Niger Delta provide both opportunities and risks."

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