By Prudence Arobani
#TrackNigeria: The United States Government has briefed the Nigerian community and officials resident in the country about its involvement and position in the upcoming general elections in Nigeria.
The officials, drawn from the Department of State, told Nigerians at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, that the United States had no preferred candidate in the February 16 and March 2 elections.
At the interaction, which was at the instance of the Nigerian Embassy to the United States, the officials said the focus of the United States Government in the Nigerian elections was about the process, not the policies.
They said the United States’ interest is to help support a process that leads to credible result that reflects the will of the Nigerian people, and took turns to answer questions from Nigerians.
Leader of the delegation, Tobias Glucksman, Deputy Director, Office of West Africa at U.S. Department of State, said the U.S. interest was very much centred on democracy – building democracy, democratic institutions, strengthening the processes.
Glucksman said U.S. officials had been very careful in their statements to show that the country was neutral and did not support a particular candidate, and to avoid any contrary perception.
During the questions and answers session, the officials said the statements by the United States had shown balance and no favouritism to any candidate adding, the statements are not directed at any candidate, but to all the candidates.
They also said the United States stood with pronouncements made so far by its ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Stuart Symington on the elections.
The U.S. representatives said their government had, over the last week, been reaching out to various partners to review how they see the elections and how to engage and support Nigeria at this critical moment.
They added that they held a briefing on Monday for the civil society and representatives of political parties, heard their perspectives and concerns, and briefed the U.S. Congress about what the country was doing, saw and hoped to achieve.
The U.S. representatives pointed out that Nigeria had important influence, not just in West Africa, but on the continent and around the world, and were strategically an important country for the United States.
The officials said it was a general consensus that the 2015 elections were, since the transition to democracy, perhaps, the most credible process Nigeria had, which was celebrated as the first transition to an opposition party.
The U.S. Government representatives added that since the 2015 elections, Nigeria had played a helpful role in supporting credible processes throughout the region.
They noted that 13 elections had held in the region and at least six of them had resulted in the transfer of power to the opposition parties, describing it as sign to deepen the democratic institutions and processes throughout the region.
According to them, the U.S. is as engaged just as it was in the 2015 elections and the country has made a lot of investment in terms of technical assistance it provides to Nigeria.
On the diplomatic side, they said the U.S. has been doing a lot about a credible election process through Bi-National Commission and visits by its officials to Nigeria, especially, former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson in 2018.
The officials reiterated their country’s expectations of free, fair, transparent and peaceful process, saying it pledged support in that regard when President Muhammadu Buhari visited President Donald Trump at the White House in April 2018.
They disclosed that U.S. officials had met with main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar in Washington in January as well as a high-level delegation that came on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to them, the U.S. Government has opportunity to meet leaders from both sides of the major contenders, and also other political stakeholders in Nigeria.
The officials stressed that they made sure the engagements were at the same level so there was not a perception that United States was somehow showing favouritism.
Earlier, the Deputy Head of Mission, Nigerian Embassy, Amb. Hassan Hassan, said the informal meeting was to enable U.S. officials interact with the Nigerian community, officials and other experts so as to provide a better understanding about preparations for the elections.
Hassan said: “The State Department wants to allay everybody’s fear because we have heard news flying around that the Government here is siding with one political party or the other.
“It’s this week that we’re having the elections and we hope this will go a long way in allaying the fear and reassure that we as a country, are going to have a smooth, free, fair and credible elections,” Hassan said. (NAN)