By Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard
Elections are a celebration of freedom and choice. The Nigerian people are fortunate to live in a country where they hold the power to determine the country’s next leader, but with that comes the responsibility to be involved, informed, and make their votes count. The U.S. Embassy urges all registered Nigerians to vote in the elections of February and March.
Since 1999, Nigeria has demonstrated a strong commitment to peaceful, credible, inclusive, and transparent elections. Having arrived in Nigeria over three years ago, I’ve witnessed critical changes that reinforce elections that can reflect the will of its citizens.
Last year President Buhari and key stakeholders signed the Electoral Act of 2022, strengthening Nigeria’s electoral system and cementing Nigeria as a democratic leader in a region that has been experiencing backsliding.
The U.S. government applauds that Act, which formally granted INEC the ability to use “BVAS” – the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System – to accredit voters and transmit election results electronically. This type of system is a proven method to significantly reduce the potential for electoral fraud. We also welcomed the law’s provisions that facilitate voting by persons with disabilities, which are an important step towards ensuring accessibility for all voters. These developments are just some of the reasons the United States has confidence in Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) ability to organize and conduct credible and transparent elections.
The U.S. also welcomes the work of the National Peace Committee, a vital player in helping to ensure that the electoral process is carried out in an environment of calm and respect for the rights of others. I was among the many observers at the late September signing of the first of the NPC’s two peace accords and was reassured by the pledge of all 18 political parties and presidential tickets to run campaigns free of violence and inflammatory rhetoric. As election day nears, I urge the political parties and candidates to live up to their pledge. There will soon be another opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to the democratic process by signing the second peace accord, in which they pledge to accept the results of the elections as announced by INEC.
As part of the U.S. commitment to robust and transparent elections, I want to reiterate that we have taken steps to impose visa restrictions against those responsible, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in the past, and remain willing to do so again going forward.
The commitment to peaceful, credible elections does not rest solely with politicians and nongovernmental organizations. The Nigerian public must remember that with the power to elect leaders also comes the responsibility to do so peacefully at the ballot box. How can voters do their part to ensure successful elections? There are several steps:
• Remember to bring your valid PVC to vote on election day.
• Know your polling unit ahead of election day. For more information regarding your polling unit, visit INEC’s website.
• Be informed. Find out where the candidates stand on issues that matter to you.
• On election day, VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE.
Remember: the only election poll results that matter is the ones that INEC will announce after the voting is finished. Election days often bring surprises, and no outcome is preordained by pre-election predictions.
I would like to conclude by emphasizing that the United States does not support any single candidate. Our only interest is in a fair democratic process that reflects the will of the Nigerian people.
Participating in elections is a key freedom that many people in countries around the world do not have. No matter which political party you support, your vote matters. Go vote in February and March 2023. In doing so, you will make Nigeria proud as a leader and beacon for democracy.
Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard is the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria