Nigeria’s Acting President Goodluck Jonathan assured the international community that Africa’s most populous country would hold free and fair elections next year.
Jonathan has made overhauling the OPEC member’s electoral system a top priority to avoid a repeat of the flawed 2007 polls, which brought President Umaru Yar’Adua to power.
“I promise Nigerians and the rest of the world that the 2011 elections in Nigeria will be credible,” Jonathan said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington yesterday.
The acting president, on his first foreign trip since assuming executive powers two months ago because Yar’Adua was too ill to govern, sought to put to rest any question over who was in control of sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest economy.
“This is our time. Either we continue with more of the same or our change begins,” Jonathan said.
“From now, the focus must be on electoral reform, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and the rest of the country.”
An uneasy truce is in place in the Niger Delta, where militants have severely disrupted output in the country’s main oil-producing region.
Reform legislation is currently before parliament. But time is quickly running out for changes to be implemented in time for next year’s elections, which are due by April 2011.
Former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida yesterday became the first major politician to announce he would run for president next year, and campaign for a smaller federal government.
The United States, by far Nigeria’s biggest trade partner, has been unusually outspoken about the West African country’s chances for free elections.
A senior US official said this month that Nigeria’s election chief, Maurice Iwu, should be replaced if the country stands a chance for holding fair national polls.
Iwu oversaw the last presidential elections in 2007, which were so marred by ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation that local and international observers said they were not credible.
Pic: Nigeria’s Acting President- Jonathan Goodluck