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2019 election provides a critical test for Nigeria, W’Africa, US Congress told

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Warns against likely localised violence across the country 

•Says US doesn’t back any single candidate

Jude Johnson 

 

The United States House of Representatives on Thursday, held a hearing on Nigeria’s general elections coming up in February, 2019 with a warning that the polls provides a critical test for the country with severe consequences for West African sub-region and Africa as a whole if the process goes wrong.

This was the hallmark of presentations by the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, US Department of State, Amb. Tibor P. Nagy Jr. and the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Africa, US Agency for International Development (USAID) , Mr. Ramsey Day, on the 2019 elections to the Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs,subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

The duo of Nagy and Day served as witnesses at hearing on the theme: “Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Elections”.Speaking first, Nagy submitted that “the Department of State agrees with the view that Nigeria’s February 2019 national elections are a critical test,” and that “The conduct of the elections could have significant consequences for the democratic trajectory of Nigeria, West Africa, and the entire continent.”

He noted  that the 2015 general elections in Nigeria was “by no means perfect,” however stated that the election was a step forward for Nigeria’s democracy as it “resulted in Nigeria’s first-ever democratic transfer of power to a non-incumbent party, thereby increasing capacity and improving conduct of Nigerian democratic institutions and election bodies.”

He continued: “In advance of the 2019 elections, the U.S. government continues to support the Nigerian goal of free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the Nigerian people.

“Through diplomacy, robust public engagement including with Nigeria’s youth and civil society, and democracy and governance programs, we are helping the country to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes. The United States does not support any single candidate.

“We support a democratic process that is free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and reflects the will of the Nigerian people.”

Nagy further listed the following three areas as part of the comprehensive strategy that the US government plans to use to coordinate a smooth process of the elections involving participants from political parties in Nigeria:

•Support a free and fair electoral process, including technical assistance to Nigeria’s election institutions, civil society, and political parties as well as US government monitoring of the election around the country;

•Prevent and mitigate electoral violence, including conflict monitoring, peacebuilding programs, and peace messaging;

•Support civic and political engagement, including support to Nigerian civil society election observation and parallel vote tabulation, social media campaigns to engage youth including through our Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), “get out the vote” campaigns, voter education, and Nigerian efforts to counter disinformation.”

“To advance our strategy, we have sustained high-level diplomatic engagement from Washington as well as robust and regular engagement by our Ambassador, Consul General, USAID Mission Director, and other officials based in Abuja and Lagos. Earlier this year, President Trump welcomed President Buhari to the White House and conveyed our expectations for a credible election. Two Secretaries of State, USAID Administrator Green, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan, and many others have either traveled to Nigeria or met with senior Nigerian officials in the United States to underscore our commitment to free, fair, transparent, and peaceful Nigerian elections in the last twelve months,” he added.

Nagy also noted some of the areas of concerns that could jeopardize a free and fair process in the 2019 elections as: “Potential attacks on the legitimacy of INEC and the electoral process for political gain; Intimidation and partisanship by security forces;

“Heightened insecurity, terrorist attacks on elections institutions, or violence towards voters, observers, or electoral officials; An inability of large numbers of internally displaced persons or persons with disabilities to vote; Voter suppression, the use of armed gangs for voter intimidation, and other drivers of electoral violence, including a lack of official condemnation of hate speech and disinformation; wide-spread vote buying that challenges the integrity of the electoral process.”

In the same vein, Mr. Day told the US Congress that the USAID had helped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to “institutionalize key reforms that ensure more credible and accountable electoral processes.”

He stressed that the USAID does “not expect large-scale nationwide violence” but noted that “there will likely be some localized violence around the elections period– particularly in places that are already suffering from violence.”He however, restated the USAID’s commitment to ensuring free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections in the coming elections.

Day also spoke on how USAID intends to mitigate the violence, saying the Agency has “woven efforts to prevent electoral violence into all of our elections programs. Examples include ‘Vote Not Fight, Election No Be War’–whose Peace Ambassador is a leading Nigerian performing artist– and ‘Stop Violence Against Women in Elections’campaigns, both of which work with local civil society organizations.

“These campaigns are part of USAID’s Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society project, with public messaging campaigns utilizing the aforementioned slogans. ‘Vote Not Fight’ is working specifically in Kaduna and Rivers states encouraging the establishment of peace accords for the 2019 general elections.”

USAID is also funding an International Election Observation Mission to provide impartial observation of the electoral process, enhance the credibility of the elections, and to support the peaceful transition of power. In addition, the program will highlight the need for inclusivity, so that women, youth, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons, and other marginalized groups are provided as full access as possible to participate in electoral processes,” he added.

Read the full presentations of Nagy and Day to the US Congress:
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
AMBASSADOR TIBOR P. NAGY, JR.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY
BUREAU OF AFRICAN AFFAIRS
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

BEFORE THE 115TH CONGRESS
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SUB-COMMITTEE ON AFRICA, GLOBAL HEALTH, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS, AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

NIGERIA AT A CROSSROADS: THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS

DECEMBER 13, 2018

Introduction
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding the upcoming elections in Nigeria. I am also pleased to be joined by my USAID colleague, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Ramsey Day.

The title of this hearing is “Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Elections.”
The Department of State agrees with the view that Nigeria’s February 2019 national elections are a critical test. The conduct of the elections could have significant consequences for the democratic trajectory of Nigeria, West Africa, and the entire continent.

The conduct of the 2015 Nigerian elections, although by no means perfect, was a step forward for Nigeria’s democracy. That contest resulted in Nigeria’s first-ever democratic transfer of power to a non-incumbent party, thereby increasing capacity and improving conduct of Nigerian democratic institutions and election bodies.

Key Goals and Actions
In advance of the 2019 elections, the U.S. government continues to support the Nigerian goal of free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the Nigerian people. Through diplomacy, robust public engagement including with Nigeria’s youth and civil society, and democracy and governance programs, we are helping the country to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes. The United States does not support any single candidate. We support a democratic process that is free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and reflects the will of the Nigerian people.

The U.S. government has developed a comprehensive election strategy to plan and coordinate our efforts. We have three main objectives:
1) Support a free and fair electoral process, including technical assistance to Nigeria’s election institutions, civil society, and political parties as well as U.S.
government monitoring of the election around the country;
2) Prevent and mitigate electoral violence, including conflict monitoring, peacebuilding programs, and peace messaging;
3) Support civic and political engagement, including support to Nigerian civil society election observation and parallel vote tabulation, social media campaigns to engage youth including through our Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), “get out the vote” campaigns, voter education, and Nigerian efforts to counter disinformation.

To advance our strategy, we have sustained high-level diplomatic engagement from Washington as well as robust and regular engagement by our Ambassador, Consul General, USAID Mission Director, and other officials based in Abuja and Lagos. Earlier this year, President Trump welcomed President Buhari to the White House and conveyed our expectations for a credible election. Two Secretaries of State, USAID Administrator Green, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan, and many others have either traveled to Nigeria or met with senior Nigerian officials in the United States to underscore our commitment to free, fair, transparent, and peaceful Nigerian elections in the last twelve months.

The State Department also hosted the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman in late October to observe U.S. preparation for mid-term elections and discuss challenges surrounding Nigeria’s elections. During this visit, INEC Chairman Yakubu observed early voting in Maryland, and met with Congressional staff, U.S. electoral civil society and legal experts, and U.S. government officials. The Chairman also met with USAID Administrator Green and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Hale.

I recently returned from Nigeria as part of my first trip to the continent. It was great to be back in Nigeria where I served as Charge d ’Affairs in 2016 and Deputy Chief of Mission from 19931995, and convey our expectations and concerns for the elections in person. I met with leadership from the two main political parties, INEC Chairman Yakubu, and civil society organizations, delivering public messages on the elections in a speech and in press engagements and private messages with key stakeholders.

That is just a summary of our Washington-focused diplomatic engagement on these elections. Our Ambassador and the Mission in Nigeria are working to advance our goals every day. My colleague from USAID will tell you more about the USAID programs in support of our three objectives. And, I can assure you that the U.S. government will remain intensely focused on the Nigerian elections in the coming months.

Expectations and Concerns
I know many of you are watching the election closely. We share many of the areas of concern that you have voiced. We are monitoring and messaging – both publicly and privately – to mitigate a few key areas of risk that could jeopardize a free and fair process. For example:
● potential attacks on the legitimacy of INEC and the electoral process for political gain; ● intimidation and partisanship by security forces;
● heightened insecurity, terrorist attacks on elections institutions, or violence towards voters, observers, or electoral officials;
● an inability of large numbers of internally displaced persons or persons with disabilities to vote;
● voter suppression, the use of armed gangs for voter intimidation, and other drivers of electoral violence, including a lack of official condemnation of hate speech and disinformation;
● wide-spread vote buying that challenges the integrity of the electoral process. On November 18, the start of official campaigning, our Mission in Abuja released a statement with 25 like-minded missions to express our desire to see free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections, specifically naming many of these concerns. I can assure you we will be watching closely for instigators of violence or those attempting to undermine the democratic process.

Many of you have expressed particular concern about violence around these elections. 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 polarization 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.

But, let me underscore that the U.S. government takes the risk of any loss of human life extremely seriously. As I just mentioned, preventing electoral violence is one of our three main objectives for our diplomacy and programs. When I was in Nigeria, I asked officials from both major parties to sign pledges that their candidates would conduct peaceful campaigns, and both major candidates have now signed a peace pledge. In assessing potential “hot spots” 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 programs 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.

Conclusion
As I said in a speech in Nigeria, only the Nigerian people can 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. The upcoming elections provide Nigerians an opportunity to shape their country and solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.

STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD

RAMSEY DAY SENIOR DEPUTY ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR BUREAU FOR AFRICA U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

BEFORE THE 115TH CONGRESS
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SUB-COMMITTEE ON AFRICA, GLOBAL HEALTH, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS, AND
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

“NIGERIA AT A CROSSROADS: THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS”

DECEMBER 13, 2018

 

Introduction
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and distinguished Members of the Sub-Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding the upcoming elections in Nigeria. I also want to thank my State Department colleague, Ambassador and Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy for his excellent description of our concerns and challenges in supporting Nigeria’s electoral processes.

USAID is deeply committed to supporting free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections in
Nigeria. We know that Nigeria’s success in achieving sustained, broad-based advancements in economic and social development for its people can only be achieved if good governance is a daily reality for all Nigerians. Since the 2015 election, our support has provided continuity in assisting with gubernatorial, off-cycle elections, and in the lead up preparations to the 2019 general elections. Our programmatic efforts have been in partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development, in addition to regular coordination with civil society groups, as well as multilateral and bilateral donors.

Elections Support
USAID’s programs align with the three objectives that Assistant Secretary Nagy described; a credible process, a peaceful election, and an inclusive process monitored by Nigerian civil society.
On the first objective of a credible process, we assist Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to institutionalize key reforms that ensure more credible and accountable electoral processes. Consistent with our State Department colleagues, we assess that INEC is progressing as expected for 2019. There are over a dozen highly qualified INEC commissioners and INEC has several board members who also served in that role in 2015. Administrator Mark Green and I met with INEC Chairman Yakubu to discuss INEC’s strategic plan for the 2019 elections, which was developed with support from USAID. Mr. Yakubu also acknowledged the importance of the National Peace Committee’s role in the 2015 elections, and noted that the Committee is re-convening for the upcoming elections. USAID continues to work with its partners to support INEC through training of both Resident Electoral Commissioners regarding alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, and of judges who will serve on election petition tribunals to adjudicate suits brought after the elections; in addition to working with civil society organizations on live conflict mapping.

As Assistant Secretary Nagy indicated, we do not expect large-scale nationwide violence, though history does tell us that there will likely be some localized violence around the elections period-particularly in places that are already suffering from violence. USAID’s long-term domestic observers are already reporting isolated cases of pre-election violence and hate speech. We continue to work with local organizations, international development partners, and Nigerian counterparts through public and private messaging, to encourage peaceful participation and tolerance.

To mitigate the risk of violence, our second objective, we have woven efforts to prevent electoral violence into all of our elections programs. Examples include “Vote Not Fight, Election No Be War”–whose Peace Ambassador is a leading Nigerian performing artist– and “Stop Violence Against Women in Elections” campaigns, both of which work with local civil society organizations. These campaigns are part of USAID’s Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society project, with public messaging campaigns utilizing the aforementioned slogans. “Vote Not Fight” is working specifically in Kaduna and Rivers states encouraging the establishment of peace accords for the 2019 general elections. Our support of the “#WatchTheVote” campaign–a campaign created by a local civil society organizations that promotes citizens in elections and electoral integrity–has already led to the deployment of long-term observers in advance of
February 16 who are reporting on INEC’s preparedness, as well as isolated incidences of preelection violence. In addition, USAID is engaging civil society organizations in each geopolitical zone to do live conflict mapping and engage in real time with elections stakeholders, including INEC. USAID is also looking for ways to complement the recently reconstituted National Peace Committee.

To advance the third objective, an inclusive elections process monitored by Nigerian civil society, USAID programs also strengthen Nigerian civil society’s capacity to monitor elections.
Local partners are preparing to field 3,000 domestic monitors for the 2019 general elections.
These monitors are trained in conducting parallel vote tabulations, or PVTs, often known as “quick counts,” using a systematic monitoring methodology that independently measures the quality of election-day processes and official voting results. When PVTs confirm official election results, they can increase confidence in the electoral process and reduce political tensions that can lead to post-election violence.
Our programs work with Nigeria’s major political parties to strengthen constituent engagement and promote party involvement in governance processes, by assisting them to become more representative and responsive to citizens, and to increase their oversight of government programs.

USAID is also funding an International Election Observation Mission to provide impartial observation of the electoral process, enhance the credibility of the elections, and to support the peaceful transition of power. In addition, the program will highlight the need for inclusivity, so that women, youth, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons, and other marginalized groups are provided as full access as possible to participate in electoral processes.

Conclusion
USAID is committed to assisting Nigeria with its electoral processes, and to encouraging peaceful elections. The 2015 election was historic. It marked the first time in Nigeria’s history that there was a peaceful transfer of power to a non-incumbent party; an illustration of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy. Our interest is, and always will be, in the integrity of the electoral process, and in ensuring that the process accurately reflects the will of the Nigerian people.


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