Expectedly, the approach of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria has elicited tremendous attention from the international community. The reasons for this are not far fetched.
As the largest democracy in Africa, the entire World sees the future and hope for sustainable democracy and development of Africa in Nigeria. It couldn’t be otherwise, as the fact remains that one out of five Africans is a Nigerian.
Over time elections in Nigeria always drew the attention of the international community but the interest has heightened due to the transparent conduct of the 2015 elections which saw an opposition candidate defeat the ruling-party. Now the international community is desirous to see how this tradition can be upheld by President Muhammadu Buhari, who was the major beneficiary of the free and fair election of 2015.
An important member of the international community, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was in Abuja on October 13, for a three-day Inter-Faith Initiative for Peace,’ which was attended by Muslim and Christian leaders as well as statesmen in the country among them, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, the Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar lll and former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who Co-chairs the National Peace Committee.
Welby, in Abuja, delivered a paper on “Towards 2019 Elections: the moral actions for the common good of Nigeria” which focused mainly on the ethics of campaigning as the country’s presidential candidates plan to launch their electioneering campaigns towards the February 18, 2019 election.
After the conference, Welby visited President Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress(APC) and Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the main opposition-Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). The two candidates are seen as the main contenders even though there are about 20 presidential candidates in the race for the country’s top most political job.
“The choice of the next President of the Federal Republic is one for the Nigerian people. The Archbishop continues to pray for the peace and flourishing of Nigeria and the security of all its people.
“At the invitation of the INTERFAITH INITIATIVE FOR PEACE, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a brief visit to Nigeria on 13 October 2013 and delivered an address on ethics during electoral campaigns supporting the general desire for free, fair, transparent, peaceful and credible elections,” Welby’s spokesman said in a statement October 16 to clarify the Archbishop’s visit to Buhari and Atiku.
Like Welby, the US said it had no preferred candidate in the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria in February 2019.
A political officer in the US Embassy in Nigeria, Mr Phillip Franz, stated during a visit to Katsina State Government House on October 17, in Katsina.
“We want to emphasise that the US has no candidate in this election. Our candidate is the process. We very much respect the sovereignty of the country.
“We will support peaceful electoral process and we stand to provide whatever assistance in order to see free, fair transparent and credible election in Nigeria in 2019,” Franz said.
Earlier on August 29, the Nigerian President played host to British Prime Minister, Theresa May who was in Abuja on her first official visit since becoming the Prime Minister of Nigeria’s former Colonial Masters-Britain.
May’s visit was followed two days later, August 31 by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who led a large business delegation to Nigeria.
The two leaders discussed bilateral relations between their respective countries and Nigeria and even signed a few agreements on economic issues, the need for fair, transparent and credible elections, maintenance of security, especially the fight against insurgency in the North – East and good governance in general were central to the talks with their host, President Buhari.
Since the election is still about three months ahead, it s expected that more international leaders will visit to show solidarity with Nigeria or press for free, peaceful and transparent elections.
The international community definitely has cause for concern given the experiences of the recently conducted Ekiti and Osun state governorship elections when security agencies sacrificed their neutrality and reportedly became active participants in support of a particular political party in the process.
Besides, incidents of vote buying and other malpractices reigned as the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) appeared helpless or looked the other way while the integrity of the elections were being assailed by political actors.
Nigeria surely owes an obligation to the international community as far as the 2019 election is concerned. The success of this important election will impact on the electoral processes in other African countries who look forward to Nigeria for leadership and direction on such issues.
Regrettably, the signs are ominous as the ruling- APC appears desperate to cling unto power using the state machinery at the disposal of the Buhari administration.
The desperation to win at all cost might engender violence reaction from the opposition parties with concomitant adverse consequences on the polity.
The international community must step up the solidarity to Nigeria beyond mere visits to more tangible contributions like capacity building and logistic support towards the smooth conduct of the elections.
Multilateral organisations like the UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS and the Commonwealth should go further to raise high profile observer missions to the elections as part of efforts to ensure an open, free, transparent and credible electoral exercise.
The Buhari administration owes in the international community the duty and responsibility as much as it owns Nigerians to organize a credible election in 2019 that will the pride of every Nigerian.