Election 2011: Jega was right on postponement to restore credibility, says American envoy

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American Diplomat Johnnie Carson

A top United States diplomat has flagged up a danger signal on Nigeria, warning that the world must draw attention in ensuring a free and fair election and must give priority focus to the nation, in the event of many unfolding social uprisings around the world.

According to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, Nigeria must attend the focus of the world as the nation cannot afford to fail in the coming election as many countries of the world are engaged in social and political uprising, such that had brought untold suffering and bloodshed to those politically volatile areas of the world.

In an updated message after issuing a warning before last week’s postponement, the assistant secretary of state warned that despite the crises in Ivory Coast, North Africa, the Middle East and Japan, the importance of the upcoming Nigerian elections must not be forgotten, indicating that a failure of Nigerian election will signal more loss of confidence in Nigeria’s electoral process.

He implied that in order to ensure continued peace, love and harmony in Nigeria, the 2011 elections must bear no resemblance to those of 2007, which drew charges of fraud and corruption in the victory of then-president Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

While commending the fact that electoral violence this year has been lower than that of 2007, Carson said, “Any election violence in Nigeria this year will be unacceptable as it will cast a dark shadow over the entire nation’s electoral process.”

On Saturday, the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] postponed National Assembly elections for one week due to the “late arrival of result sheets…central to the elections and their integrity.”

INEC Logo

Hear the respected diplomat:” This past weekend, Nigeria was to have held the first of a series of elections that will shape the direction of Africa’s most populous and second largest economy. Nigeria has not had credible national elections since 1993. And overcoming this negative legacy remains a significant challenge,” in which 2011 election will be a factor.

He however agreed with President Jonathan Goodluck’s view that the postponement of the parliamentary election was for the good of the election adding: “The United States agreed with the delay and praised INEC’s chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega whoc he claimed had brought integrity and competence to the position of electoral umpiring in Nigeria..

“However, as we have seen this past weekend, one man alone cannot overcome significant systemic and logistical challenges. Nor can one person alone turn around and transform a political culture in which stolen elections have become the norm for decades,” he said.

The problems, he said, create the “opportunity for political manipulation. And some politicians have acted in ways to make proper electoral oversight all the more difficult.”

Professor Attahiru Jega

While electoral violence this year is lower than that of 2007, Carson said, “Any election violence is unacceptable. And it casts a dark shadow over the entire electoral process.”
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed the elections will be free and fair.

 

Carson’s warning before Nigeria’s election  postponement

The top U.S. diplomat to Africa urged Nigerians to demonstrate their ability to hold fair and democratic elections as the country prepares for legislative, presidential and state balloting scheduled for April 2, April 9 and April 16, respectively.

Speaking to reporters via teleconference March 29, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said it is “absolutely essential” that Nigeria hold better elections in 2011 than it held in 2007.

The 2007 elections “were deeply flawed and, in fact, were poorly administered and poorly run,” Carson said. “They in no way reflected the ability and the capacity of Nigeria to organize and run successful elections.”

In 2011, the Obama administration wants to see Nigeria reverse its “trajectory of bad elections” and “substantially improve its election management and processes,” he said.

Carson warned that a flawed electoral process will lead to a loss of confidence by Nigerians in their leaders, their country’s governing institutions and democracy itself.

“This is an opportunity for Nigeria to demonstrate its capacity to both manage and hold democratic elections, which are the desire of the people,” he said.

Although the level of violence in the run-up to the elections is not as serious as it was in 2007, Carson said the violence already perpetrated has been “too much.” He called on Nigerian security authorities to do everything they can to ensure the safety of polling places and prevent violence, harassment and intimidation against Nigerian voters and candidates.

“Violence has no place in a democratic society or in a democratic electoral process, and all of the country’s leaders … must work to do everything they can to make these elections as free of violence and intimidation as possible,” he said.

The assistant secretary praised Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, for doing “an outstanding job of managing this process and helping to reshape an election commission whose reputation had been deeply tarnished by the leadership.”

The United States has supported Jega’s efforts through technical assistance and funding. Carson urged all election officials to respect Jega’s leadership and direction, and added that Nigeria’s state-level election officials will also be scrutinized for their conduct.

Carson said there are 17 presidential elections scheduled to occur in Africa during 2011 and the Obama administration will be watching all of them. He said that to strengthen democracy, the focus should be on the institutions rather than the individual candidates.

“The era of ‘big man’ politics in Africa should be history and behind us,” he said. “It is good, strong institutions which are most important.”

All Africans have a right to participate in the election of their local, regional and national leaders, and those elections “should be transparent, fair and credible,” Carson said.

“Election commissions should be independent of executive control and authority and independent of political manipulation,” he said. The electoral process, he added, should be “monitored by domestic groups as well as international groups and open to observation by the media.”

Full story by By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)