The United States believes Nigeria’s elections chief should be replaced if the country, a major US oil supplier, is to hold credible national polls next year, a senior US official said.
Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top official for Africa, said Independent National Election Commission (INEC) chairman Maurice Iwu had proven himself inadequate in overseeing Nigeria’s “deeply flawed” polls in 2007.
“If Nigeria is to move forward improving its election process it probably needs to consider improving the level of management at the top,” Carson told a news briefing.
“Nigeria is a democracy that is moving forward. It deserves leadership appropriate to the task in the election commission.”
Hundreds of Nigerians protested last week outside INEC headquarters in the capital Abuja demanding the removal of Iwu, whom they deemed responsible for the 2007 polls that brought President Umaru Yar’Adua to power.
Those polls were so marred by ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation that local and international observers said they were not credible, and legal challenges to Yar’Adua’s victory lasted for months after he took office.
With new elections due by April 2011, acting President Goodluck Jonathan, who assumed executive powers almost two months ago with Yar’Adua too sick to govern, has made overhauling the electoral system a top priority.
Carson, announcing the formal launch yesterday of the US-Nigeria Binational Commission, signalled that Washington hoped to see change at INEC at least by the time Iwu’s current term ends in mid-2011.
“We hope that when it comes time to look at reappointment or the decision to appoint someone else, that his past record be taken into account,” Carson said.
The new commission, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will formally launch with the Nigeria’s government secretary Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, aims to bolster US ties to the country in areas including energy, governance and food security.
Carson said Nigeria now the third largest oil supplier to the US market ahead of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela was of huge strategic importance and thus merited the first of three planned joint commissions between the United States and key African countries.
The other two due to be signed this year are with South Africa, the continent’s industrial giant, and Angola, which increasingly rivals Nigeria in oil production.
Pic: Ailing President- Umaru Yar’ Adua of Nigeria