Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States says citizens at home and abroad want to ensure that the February 14 presidential and gubernatorial elections are peaceful and credible.
"For us in Nigeria, we have tasted both democratic and nondemocratic regimes, and we have seen the difference," Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye said. "We are not about to throw away the difference of democracy, which we have been enjoying since 1999, if only for the fact that you have a right to question and ask questions and demand from our rulers.
"Right now, we are also lucky that we have an electoral commission that is independent in all its ramifications for the simple reason that Nigerians now know that their votes count.”
His comments came at a panel discussion in the VOA briefing room Thursday on security challenges facing the West African country in the run-up to the general election.
Some Nigerians have expressed concern that the ongoing violence carried out by Boko Haram militants will undermine the credibility of the vote. But Adefuye said the election would proceed as scheduled.
Contributing to the panel discussion, Aminu Gamawa, a lawyer at Harvard University, expressed concern about pronouncements by some politicians that he said could undermine the credibility of the vote. He outlined some of the possible challenges the country faces in the run-up to the elections.
“If you look at the northeast, about 1.5 million people have been displaced … meaning that they wouldn’t have access to their polling units to vote," he said. "And there is a massive area with about 20 local governments that are now under the control of Boko Haram.
"There is no way you can conduct an election if you cannot guarantee the security of the electoral officers and the people of that area. That’s a big challenge, and the question is: Will the government be able to liberate the area before the election? If not, what does that mean for the legitimacy of the election?”
Gamawa also said there appears to be a “concerted effort” to discredit the Independent National Electoral Commission ahead of the election, following statements from some politicians, including calls to arrest the chairman of the electoral body.
But in response, Adefuye maintained that it is the mandate of the electoral commission to ensure it administers a credible vote. He said the government is committed to ensuring a credible election despite criticisms.
Steve Schwartz, director of the Nigerian policy and operations group at the U.S. State Department, said the department has been working closely with the electoral commission to strengthen its capacity to organize credible elections.
He said that at recent meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Goodluck Jonathan, as well as main challenger General Muhammadu Buhari, both candidates pledged to ensure that their supporters do not engage in violence during the vote.
“That was a principal reason for [Secretary Kerry's] going, was to have that conversation with the candidates to show how much the U.S. is invested in Nigeria’s success, and also to speak to the Nigerian people," Schwartz said. "He told Nigerians across the country anyone who is fomenting or perpetrating or condoning violence in the course of the elections would not be welcomed to the United States afterwards, and would be looked at critically should they apply for a visa to the United States.”
Mix of views
Contributing live via a video link from Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, John Momoh, chairman and managing editor of Nigeria's Channels TV, said some Nigerians want the vote to be postponed because of the security challenges, while others insist that it should proceed as planned.
A senior security adviser to Jonathan had said recently in London that the elections could be postponed because of the security situation. Adefuye, however, sharply denied that the government wants to postpone the election.
Momoh said some Nigerians are displeased with the suggestion that the election should be postponed.
"The whole media agree and are in unison in reporting that there was a suggestion that the election may be postponed because of the raised security issues," he said, "and the question everyone is saying, 'Why go to the UK to announce that when you could have easily passed on the information or the message at home?' If he doesn’t have any misgivings or some fears about the fact that INEC is not ready or that the security situation is not OK for the election to be held in the northeast, I don’t think he will make any comment.”