The United States Thursday called on the Nigerian government and election officials to do everything they can to assure the fairness of the country's upcoming elections. The run-up to the two-stage legislative and presidential elections beginning Saturday has been marred by opposition charges of vote-rigging and intimidation. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The State Department is appealing to Nigerian authorities to take all possible measures to enhance public confidence in the elections, and officials here are rejecting the notion the United States has been soft on election abuses in Nigeria because of diplomatic and economic considerations.
Nigerian voters go to the polls Saturday to elect state governors and legislators, and again a week later on April 21 in a presidential poll that should lead to a transition from one elected head of state to another for the first time since independence in 1960.
However, opposition politicians have accused the government of outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo of attempting to keep opposition candidates off the ballot, intimidating voters, and stalling on arrangements for election monitors.
Earlier this week in an editorial, The New York Times said key international partners of Nigeria, including the United States and Britain, have been far too tolerant of political abuses by Mr. Obasanjo because of his support for peace efforts in Somalia and Darfur, and because of his country's oil wealth.
However, at a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack categorically denied any soft-pedaling of U.S. election concerns. He said the United States is a committed supporter of free, fair and open elections in Nigeria and has taken the matter up directly on various occasions with authorities in Abuja.
"We have talked to the Nigerians periodically about the importance of having the right kind of elections," said Sean McCormack. "And the right kind of election means, one that is free, fair and transparent, not only on election day but also in the run-up to the election, where candidates have full access to the media, that they have an opportunity to express their views, and to try to convince voters to vote for them, free from intimidation."
McCormack said the United States has not just lent rhetorical support to that effort but has backed it up with millions of dollars in aid to help Nigerian parties prepare for elections, to train election workers and poll watchers, and otherwise build an infrastructure for elections that meet international standards.
A written statement issued here said U.S. election aid to Nigeria in the last three years had totaled nearly $15 million.
It said the United States is supporting nearly 200 observers of the upcoming polling accredited to the U.S. mission in Nigeria and to two U.S. non-governmental groups, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
The U.S. statement said election confidence-building steps should include the immediate granting of full and transparent access for both domestic and international election observers, as well as the posting and publishing of results at each polling station.
It urged all Nigerian parties to refrain from violence and to exercise their liberties responsibly and according to the rule of law.