JOHANNESBURG - Nigeria’s upcoming national election is "a bellwether for the continent" said a top U.S. State Department official, who noted the United States is working with every one of the dozen African nations planning an election in the next two years.
Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield said top Nigerian officials assure her the vote will go ahead as scheduled on March 28. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, its biggest economy, and the continent’s top oil producer.
And so it follows everyone, including top U.S. officials, are watching as Nigeria plans to hold a key national election. The vote was set for this month, but was moved back when the military said it would not be able to provide sufficient security amid fighting the extremist Boko Haram group, which has waged a war of terror in the nation’s north.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters this week she has been personally assured by top Nigerian officials the vote will be held in late March.
“We are all watching this election. This election will be a bellwether for the entire continent. The world is watching, the continent is watching, Nigeria’s neighbors are watching this election," said Thomas-Greenfield. And our hope is the election will be free and fair, it will be transparent, it will be peaceful, and the results of the election will reflect the will of the people of Nigeria.”
She noted the United States is working with “every single” one of the dozen or so African nations planning to hold elections this year and in 2016, including Burundi and Ethiopia.
Thomas-Greenfield said another U.S. concern is the recent trend of African leaders changing the constitution to extend their term limits, as Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila may be trying to do.
“Our policy broadly has been one of supporting term limits and supporting the change that Africans themselves have indicated that they want. So we are not just pressuring President Kabila to honor the constitution of your country, we are pressing other countries as well to honor their constitutions, because this is what we hear the people of Africa want,” she said.
Returning to Nigeria, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz noted with concern the Nigerian government has not granted visas to foreign journalists seeking to cover the poll.
“I think what that very unfortunate prohibition does is make it more incumbent upon Nigerian journalists to get out there and tell the story. To tell it objectively and honestly, to make sure both sides in this election get their fair say, but to make sure also that neither side in this election gets away with lying, gets away with suppressing the truth," said Frantz. "So the absence of a large contingent of international journalists is unfortunate, but it is not determinative.”
Nigeria votes March 28.