On the eve of Nigeria's presidential election, the United States is appealing to Nigerian authorities to make the voting as free, fair and transparent as possible. The State Department says a successful democratic transition in Nigeria has broad implications for the rest of Africa. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The State Department says it is not taking sides in the electoral process in Nigeria, which has been marred by violence at polling stations and opposition charges of vote-rigging.
But on the eve of the presidential vote, it is urging that everything possible be done to assure the fairness of the election, which is to lead to the first transition from one elected president to another in Nigeria for the first time since independence in 1960.
In a talk with reporters, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said it is important that Nigerians have confidence in the election process.
"We want to make sure that everything is done to make those elections as good as they possibly can be, and we think it is very important that where there are issues and questions, where there are concerns that are raised, or allegations of improprieties, that they be thoroughly and completely investigated, because the people of Nigeria need to have confidence in this system, and they need to have confidence in their new leadership," said spokesman Casey.
The United States has invested some $15 million over the last three years in helping build the election infrastructure in Nigeria and it is sponsoring nearly 200 local and international election monitors.
Spokesman Casey said that given Nigeria's size, influence and economic prominence, a successful election there has significance far beyond that country's borders.
"The development of democracy in Nigeria, I think, is an important measure for everyone in the region of the progress that can be made. And I think if you look at the role Nigeria has played in the African Union, and if you look at the role Nigeria has played in trying to support democracy and transitions to democracy in places like Liberia and elsewhere, this is a country that has a significant regional role," said Casey.
Last Saturday's first stage of the Nigerian election process, voting for state governors and legislators, was marred by violence that left about 50 people dead and also logistical problems and allegations of vote rigging.
The European Union election observer mission this week urged the Nigerian election commission to take urgent action to try to head off similar problems in the presidential vote, citing the danger of not only a non-credible election but also further violence.
Last week, the State Department categorically rejected a New York Times editorial assertion that key international partners of outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo, including the United States and Britain, had soft-pedaled (downplayed their) election concerns because of Nigeria's oil wealth and contributions to African peacekeeping.