The U.S. Government on Thursday urged Nigerians to value their achievements in growing into a truly democratic country as they prepare for 2023 general elections.
The Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Rolf Olson, gave the advice while delivering a virtual address at the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Association Annual Seminar 2022.
The seminar had as its theme: Promoting Electoral Integrity in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges” in Abuja on Thursday.
Olson in his keynote address, commended said Nigeria had made tremendous progress in consolidating its democracy since return to civil rule in 1999.
He commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, for the steady improvement it was making in the conduct transparent elections.
“I have been posted to six countries overseas and worked on issues of democracy in many more and you should not take for granted these achievements.
“There are far too many places where the idea of readily transferring authority to an opponent who has vanquished you causes significant resistance at a minimum – or is otherwise unthinkable.
“These mileposts that Nigeria has passed are significant ones, and Nigerians can and should be proud of what has been achieved, even as you seek to reach the other mileposts that are ahead of you,” he said.
Olson also said the U.S. would strongly support INEC to deliver on its mandate of conducting free and fair elections in the country.
He said that the U.S. has long supported INEC through technical assistance and would do so again in this election cycle.
“I have been deeply impressed by the commitment, the evenhandedness, and the diligence exhibited by INEC thus far in the election cycle, and we are confident they will continue to demonstrate those traits through the election cycle.
“While nobody needs to forfeit their right to express legitimate concerns about the process or about the conduct of INEC, the rhetoric attacking INEC’s motives or overall competence is unhelpful.
“Nigeria is lucky to have an institution like INEC guarding its most cherished constitutional right: to cast a ballot for the party of your choice in democratic elections”, he said.
Olson described the 2023 elections as a pivotal opportunity for Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country and largest economy – to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.
“We look forward to a successful, peaceful process, that reflects the will of the Nigerian people,” Olson said.
The Vice-President, Hubert Humohrey Fellowship Association, Mr Andy Ezeani, who moderated the seminar, paid tribute to U. S. for establishing the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship.
Ezeani, who is the immediate past head of Publicity Division of INEC, said the spirit and value of the Humphrey programme were amply captured in the seminar.
“The idea of interrogating critical aspects of life in the society, with a view to improving the quality of policies and programmes, are what the seminar is all about,” Ezeani said.
He said that speakers were chosen based on their quality and integrity in their respective fields.