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Nigerian President Nominates New Electoral Chief

Nigeria's National Council of State has approved President Goodluck Jonathan's choice to oversee next year's elections. The nominee to head Nigeria's electoral commission must now be approved by parliament.

President Jonathan has nominated political science professor Attahiru Jega to lead the electoral commission. He is the vice chancellor of Bayero University in the northern city, Kano, and is a long-standing critic of military rule.

Edo State governor Adams Oshomhole told reporters that the National Council of State unanimously approves President Jonathan's choice.

"We believe the president demonstrated courage and statesmanship in appointing someone who is not known to have any partisan political affiliation and a Nigerian who has distinguished himself in his present and past callings," he said.

If approved by parliament, Jega will replace Maurice Iwu, who President Jonathan dismissed in April. Iwu is widely blamed for the conduct of 2007 elections that were marred by ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation.

That vote brought to power President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and then-vice-president Jonathan, who took power last month following President Yar'Adua's death.

President Jonathan has made electoral reform a priority of his new administration. But there has been concern that legislation before parliament would be meaningless without a strong head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC.

Oshomhole says the National Council of State was unanimous in its approval of both Jega and national electoral commissioners because they are men and women of integrity.

"When you recognize the controversy over whether or not the president should appoint INEC, the fact that we all accept that the president has exercised his powers quite judiciously in appointing someone who I believe most Nigerians will respect and appreciate. So that will be a major push on the electoral reform line," he said.

The National Council of State includes state governors, parliament leaders and former heads of state, including former military ruler and current opposition politician Muhammadu Buhari.

"A wide consultation was conducted and we have the CV's (resumes) of all those recommended. And, I think they are worthy Nigerians of the positions approved for them," said Buhari," he said.

Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu says Jega is an excellent choice to lead the electoral commission.

"He is an outstanding, a courageous and, believe me, a trustworthy individual," he said. "Many people in here when his name was mentioned, many people were so happy. It was a unanimous thing and one of the few things that I have noticed where a whole collection of the Counsel of State, and today all the former heads of state were around and everybody was happy with the choice because of the criteria and because of our desire to have an excellent, fair and acceptable election in Nigeria."

Aliyu says responsibility for the conduct of next year's vote rests with all Nigerians.

"Everybody is a culprit, include the radio people and the television people who announce wrong elections. So this is a Nigerian thing. We must all come together. Where they people said our votes must count, they stayed and ensured that their votes were counted. So it is an everybody's affair," he said.

President Jonathan must call elections by April. Some of the reforms being considered by parliament could move that date up to the end of this year.

President Jonathan has not ruled out being a candidate. That would violate an informal regional power-sharing deal between northern and southern politicians that stipulates that the next ruling-party nominee will be from northern Nigeria.

Reporter Chinedu Offor is on assignment in Nigeria. From Owerri in Imo State in southeastern Nigeria, he spoke to VOA's Joe De Capua about reaction to the new INEC chief. Cklick below to hear analysis.