The Government of the United States has expressed some fear that Nigeria’s general elections scheduled for 2019 are likely to be characterized by violence.
It said the conduct of the elections could have significant consequences for the democratic trajectory of Nigeria, West Africa, and the entire continent.
The US, however, said the public disturbance that the elections would cause might not be “large-scale nationwide conflict” but “localized violence.”
The US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Amb Tibor Nagy, made this known in his presentation during the US Congress hearing on Nigeria’s forthcoming elections in Washington DC on Thursday.
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ben Murray-Bruce; and the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnena Ukeje, were present at the hearing titled, “Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Elections.”
A copy of Nagy’s speech was obtained on Friday by PUNCH.
Nagy, who is a member of President Donald Trump’s administration and his lead foreign policy adviser for Africa, said the Department of State agreed with the view that Nigeria’s 2019 general elections would serve as a critical test.
He said, “I can tell you from my impressions during my travels and my previous service in Nigeria that I fear there will be some violence around these elections, as has been the case with previous elections.
“I do not anticipate large-scale nation-wide conflict, but rather localized violence.
“We are already seeing increased tensions and polarisation as the election approaches. We assess that politicians are turning to narratives of identity politics in an attempt to improve their popularity, with potentially serious consequences for national unity.
“However, Nigeria’s political system and society have weathered such tensions before.”
Nagy said the US government took the risk of any loss of human life during the elections seriously.
To this end, he said when he was in Nigeria, he asked officials from both major political parties to sign pledges that their candidates would conduct peaceful campaigns.
He noted that the major candidates had now signed a peace pact.
Rivers, Borno, Benue, Kano listed as hotspots
He listed states that might experience violence during the elections to include Rivers, Borno, Benue, Plateau, and Kano.
He added, “In assessing potential ‘hotspots’ for violence, we look at places that are historically volatile around elections such as Rivers and Borno states.
“We look at states that are currently tense, especially if state-level politics are contentious like those in Benue, Plateau, as well as those in high-stakes locations with large populations such as Kano.
“We regularly engage with civil society organizations working in these ‘hotspots’ and support their peacebuilding efforts. USAID programmes and our public diplomacy campaigns also support peace campaigns across the country, such as #VoteNotFight.
“Through our YALI Network Nigeria campaign, Nigerians have made over 10,000 pledges to boost voter participation, reject violence, and vote with integrity.”
On expectations and concerns, Nagy said the US government was monitoring and messaging – both publicly and privately – to mitigate a few key areas of risk that could jeopardize a free and fair process.
He listed the areas of concerns to include potential attacks on the legitimacy of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the electoral process for political gain; intimidation and partisanship by security forces; and heightened insecurity, terrorist attacks on electoral institutions, or violence towards voters, observers, or electoral officials.
Others are the inability of large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons or persons with disabilities to vote; voter suppression, the use of armed gangs for voter intimidation as well as wide-spread vote buying that challenges the integrity of the electoral process.
According to him, the US government will be watching closely for the instigators of violence or those attempting to undermine the democratic process.
He added that the US was helping Nigeria to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes through diplomacy and robust public engagement.
While saying that the US does not support any candidate, he said the government “supports a democratic process that is free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and reflects the will of the Nigerian people.”
Nagy said only Nigerians could determine lasting solutions and a path forward toward peace and stability.
“2019 will be a significant year for Nigerian democracy – it has been 20 years since the country returned to democratic rule and this election’s youngest voters have never known a Nigeria without democracy,” he added.
Buhari is the one promoting violence –CUPP
However, the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Coalition of United Political Parties have reacted to the development.
The first national spokesperson of the CUPP, Imo Ugochinyere, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH said the US government was 100 percent correct in its fear of a possible outbreak of violence.
He, however, claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari was the one promoting violence by his actions, inactions and body language.
He said, “The American government is 100 percent right in its assertion. President Buhari is the one that laid the foundation for violence by not signing the Electoral Act (Amended) Bill that would have ensured credible elections.
“The President is promoting violence by giving an illegal extension of tenure to a rampaging Inspector-General of Police who has been behaving like an opposition member.
“Buhari is encouraging violence by inviting security chiefs to the inauguration of his re-election document at a time insurgents were killing our soldiers on the battlefield.”
Also, the PDP said the ruling APC and Buhari should be held responsible if there is any crisis in the country before, during and after the elections.
The party said that actions, words and attitudes of the ruling party and the President were not indicating that the Federal Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission were ready to conduct credible elections.
The party’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, therefore appealed to Nigerians and the international community to pay attention to happenings in the country ahead of the elections.
Secondus said, “We are aware that the Federal Government and the APC are jittery over the reduced popularity of the President and his acceptability by Nigerians as a result of poor performance of President Buhari.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Isa-Onilu, said the ruling party aligned with the fears expressed by the US government.
But he attributed the possible cause of electoral violence to what he described as the worrisome signals from the opposition PDP.
He claimed that the PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had attempted to avoid signing the peace agreement designed by the National Peace Committee before he was put under pressure to do so.
Isa-Onilu said, “We align with the concern raised. It is a major concern to the Federal Government and the APC. We will do our best to provide a conducive environment for the elections.”