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Need for free, fair, safe election on Val Day



ON February 14, Nigerians will exercise their right to vote in a historical general election. 

  What makes this event so significant is the political and economic context of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. With over 160 million people, one in every seven African is Nigerian. 

  And in an increasingly interconnected world, security and peace depend upon the stability of all nations. With Nigeria’s recent recalibration, naming it Africa’s largest economy, a free and fair election should be the concern of each of us.

  Historically, corruption and violence have marred prior elections, and today, as Nigeria faces incredible issues such as the terrorism of Boko Haram and the Ebola outbreak, the upcoming elections will be a critical point in the trajectory of all of Africa’s future.

  In just the past (week), Boko Haram has been responsible for a 10-year-old child detonated with explosives strapped to her body, killing herself and at least 19 others in a crowded marketplace. 

  In the same week, the militants laid siege to Baga, as well as 16 neighbouring towns, killing residents indiscriminately, with estimates placing the death toll at over 2,000. 

  Amnesty International described it as the terror group’s “deadliest massacre” in history, and The Guardian reports that local defence groups said they gave up counting the bodies left lying on the streets. 

  Boko Haram is clearly connected to major extremist groups not only in terms of symbolism and ideology, but also insurgency doctrine. 

  We now see them moving from asymmetric attacks to the more sophisticated military operations of al-Qaeda and ISIS. 

  They are focusing on assimilating increasingly larger areas of territory and now control most of three major portions of Northeast Nigeria — an area that’s almost as large as the State of Texas!

  This upcoming election is incredibly important and includes a rematch between incumbent President Jonathan and a former military leader, Gen. Buhari. 

  Boko Haram rejects all democratic politics and western ideals and will most definitely take advantage of the voting process to step up attacks. These threats to “infidel” ideas of democracy are impacting voters and potential voters. 

  While in most countries there is a reasonable sense of safety for a voter, it is a devastating different set of circumstances in Nigeria. Even if the country deployed every single soldier or policeman, it would barely cover one security officer at each polling station.

  To worsen the situation, as the 12th largest crude oil producer, Nigeria’s government receives approximately 83 per cent of its revenue from oil, and declining oil prices have slashed government revenues. 

  This is diminishing all resources available to fight extremists, let alone provide an environment for peaceful social and economic development. 

  But this exact long-running marginalisation is what has allowed insurgency and extremism to take hold in the first place. And if the rest of the world cares about fighting the next al-Qaeda or ISIS, we must be proactive now.

  Peaceful activists in Nigeria are calling for civilian vigilance at polling stations and encouraging people to go out and vote. 

  These activists call for government transparency and no longer want to enable the structural and bureaucratic shortcomings of the Nigerian government by allowing fear to shape the election outcomes. 

  They want to elect those that will commit to transparency, be held accountable and work to improve lives.

  Civilian rule, transparency and anti-corruption initiatives will be the cornerstone of social and economic development, stability and security, including Boko Haram’s defeat. 

  We must unite and amplify the cries of the brave on the ground working towards a peaceful election. 

  I urge you to support our Nigerian brethren in their campaign for free and fair election.

  Over the last decade, Nigeria has experienced spectacular levels of economic growth. However, they can only achieve equitable and inclusive growth, provide good public services, maximise aid and help lift their citizens out of poverty if they are able to hold a free and fair and safe election.

  I encourage you to support the work of

• Chang is CEO, Linking the World.

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