Monday, May 31, 2010

U.S. raises alarm over 2011 poll

United States of America yesterday raised fears over 2011general elections, arguing that the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to produce an accurate time table for the elections could pose a major challenge.

Ms Robin Sanders, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, said this while answering questions at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja.

Sanders said: "The big challenge is that you do not know when the elections are going to be held yet, though the decision is in the hands of the National Assembly."

She said her observation emanated from concerns expressed by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) at the maiden meeting of the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission (BNC) which ended last Thursday in Abuja.

"Those are the things that we were briefed on your side, and I hope resolutions will be made very quickly. Election date is one of the things to figure out first before everything else.

"I will tell you quite honestly that, the focus of the BNC's first working group was on elections, credibility, clean, unrigged; transparent elections are kind of the order of the day now and the theme of the day.

"You certainly need an election date, a sooner-rather-than-later kind of determination; you need a clear and transparent voter register."

Sanders said for INEC to conduct a credible election, it must ensure that the voter registration exercise was transparent, while the elections should be held according to the time-table when it was eventually put in place.

She expressed the willingness of the US to offer technical assistance to INEC, stressing that the Federal Government must be willing to deliver good governance to Nigerians.

"Certainly, internal political democracy is a big challenge and I think that, that really is not something that any outsider friend can do for Nigeria.

"That is going to come from political will; only Nigerian elements have the role there," she said.

On strategies to ensure implementation of the outcomes of the BNC, Sanders said both sides had engaged senior officials to outline challenges and commitments.

"I think to have a senior member of the US Government lead a delegation shows our seriousness and commitment, and I think Nigeria had an array of ministers during the BNC telling us some of the challenges, where the challenges are; telling us what their commitments are.

"I think that is one of the positive signals," she remarked.

The ambassador said the US Government was willing to work with Nigeria on the BNC's strategic action deliverables.

She said the next thematic group meeting of the BNC, which includes energy and investment, is scheduled to hold from June 10 to June 11 in Washington DC.

It will be recalled that the BNC's major thematic areas are good governance and transparency, promotion of regional co-operation and development toward creating opportunities and benefits for the people of the Niger Delta.

Others are guaranteeing security, countering terrorism and pursuing reform and boosting investment in the energy industry as well as ensuring that Nigeria achieves food security.

Meanwhile, Sanders has challenged the Federal Government to conduct credible and transparent elections in 2011 that its friends and Nigerians will be proud of.

She said the US was concerned as a friend, and urged the Federal Government to endeavour to put in place machinery that would ensure a credible and transparent election. 

The ambassador said she was happy that Nigeria had survived the "very fragile environment of insecurity" which stretched from November 2009 until recently.

"It's been a very fragile environment; there has been a lot of insecurity. I think since you found a way out of this tragic period; I think you can accommodate and talk about elections," she said.

She said Nigeria had the resources, the talent, creativity, innovativeness, intelligence, commitment and dedication to have free and fair elections.

The envoy said Nigeria's democracy was facing challenges, like any other growing democracy, adding that Nigerians had to work hard to overcome the challenges.

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