Having just finished up my three year tenure as the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria (2007-2010), I have always marveled at these two fundamental elements of Nigeria’s national character.
Yes, things are heating up in Nigeria’s election landscape and yes, there is still a long way to go in ensuring voter registration, political party transparency, and a secure environment to enable a credible election. But make no mistake. Today more than ever, Nigerians want a fraud-free election conducted in a secure environment. And no one – inside or out of Nigeria — underestimates the challenges ahead to keep all the preparations on track and on schedule.
I would argue that it is now important to work WITH Nigeria and Nigerians to make the upcoming 2011 elections as successful as possible, rather than criticizing the process from the sidelines. In fact, every friend and every partner of Nigeria should be working in lockstep in this direction.
There is one phrase that I have thought about over the last couple of months in Nigeria before the end of my tenure – a phrase that is relevant now: “What a Difference a Year Makes.”
Recall last year this time (the Sept-Dec 2009 time period) when many outside of Nigeria were worried about destabilization of the country. Many Nigerians in-country (not necessarily all) were confident that the days of military intervention were over, in spite of the political murkiness surrounding the late President Yar’Adua’s illness. There was a sense not only that the country would get through this difficult time (and it did!) and build a better electoral process, but also a strong desire not to repeat history.
Resilience and Resolve prevailed during this period and we need to continue to call on Nigeria to depend on these two elements of its national character as it moves toward its 2011 election.
There is not a Nigerian who does not understand that getting this election process right will be tough. There is a lot to do in a very short amount of time! (See The Africa Post August 2010 @blogitrrs). But this is a time when friends of Nigeria should be helping the country get to credible elections.
There is a way of doing things in Nigeria that is not always clear from the outside, and no doubt there will be ups and downs until the 2011 election is executed. Things will look uncertain and very worrisome from time to time. But every single step or misstep does not mean a doomsday scenario is unfolding. We need to continue to encourage Nigeria to:
- Support and involve civil society at every turn in the election process;
- Support an active and free press;
- Support parallel vote tabulation or swift vote count by civil society;
- Support all efforts which will promote a violence-free election;
- Support election monitoring by both civil society and international observers;
- Support efforts to curb fraud, vote-rigging and corruption in the political process; and
- Support efforts to encourage political parties to have true internal democratization.
Consider the above My “Checklist for Nigeria’s 2011 Election.” I was a Nigeria optimist when I was there as U.S. Ambassador and I will remain one. This does not mean that I will not encourage Nigeria – as a friend and daughter of the Continent – to do things that I hope will continue to build its democracy or state when there are things of concern. This is what friends do, but they do it fairly, forthrightly and with a long-term positive goal in mind, but always with mutual respect to this nation of 150 million people.
I also have a democracy wish list for Nigeria @50 as it reaches its jubilee independence anniversary on October 1, 2010 and outlined clearly the challenges ahead in several speeches (See the Africa Post).
My “Checklist for Nigeria’s 2011 Election” above is nothing new. It is what the Chairman of the Nigerian Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Dr. Jega, Nigerian civil society, and the Nigerian people who want a clean election also have on their radar screens.
We all share the goal of rebuilding the confidence of so many Nigerians in their electoral process. Let’s all work toward supporting Nigeria in achieving these things.
About the author: Dr. Robin Renee Sanders is a featured blogger on Africa.com, and served as U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2007-2010. Her views from Sept 26, 2010 onward are personal and do not represent the positions of U.S. Government or Africare.