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The United States of America has said Nigeria’s 2019 general election and a peaceful transition remains its major priority in view of the country’s strategic position in Africa. The U.S. Department of State stated this during a background briefing on the first trip of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson to Africa, monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria in New York. Tillerson would meet with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and other top government functionaries, as well as leaders of Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya during his travels from Tuesday, March 6 to 13. The department said over two decades ago, the number of countries in Africa with really democratically elected government was really very few – about three or four. It noted, however, that now there are over two-dozen African countries with democratically elected governments, which are hopefully not going to have transitions in government through coup d’etats and other illegal methods. The state department said, “As we look at the 20 elections, obviously Nigeria, though it’s not this year – it’s going to be next year – that really is a major priority focus, because that’s going to be the third most populous country in the world by 2050. “It has really very complex political issues and ethnic and tribal issues and security issues. And that’s an area that we really are focusing on how to do a peaceful transition, a democratic transition, but more important is how to hold governments accountable to the people”. The department explained that obviously, a lot of those African countries were still fragile democracies and the U.S. was trying to strengthen them. The U.S. commended the most recent elections in Liberia, saying it was the first open, fair, and peaceful transition of governments in over 75 years, adding that it is a good thing. It regretted what it called the “horrendous rule of Charles Taylor and the degradation of the institutions there”, noting that “but now we’ll be going back and they’re building, and I think with the election of George Weah that’s going to be a positive thing”. The U.S. also noted the election of Nana Akufo-Addo in Ghana, Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire and Macky Sall in Senegal, describing them as positive developments. It said, however, that Ethiopia remained a challenge for the U.S. and a focus for it as well as an opportunity. The U.S. explained that it is looking at trying to build institutions, really strengthened institutions, and also have peaceful transitions and hold governments accountable to the people in Ethiopia. It said it is also looking at how it could have reconciliation and dialogues between all of the different groups – the Oromos, the Amharas, the Tigrays, and also in Kenya with the opposition and with the ruling government. Accordingly, the department said building strong institutions and holding governments accountable are some of the things that are certainly going to be the subjects of discussion during Tillerson trip. It continued: “How do we advance political and economic reform that will help in the transition process? Those are issues too that we’re working in Zimbabwe with the transition between Robert Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa. “And also we’re looking hopefully at South Africa with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa from Jacob Zuma and seeing how that’s going to transition”. Credible Election Our Priority – INEC Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured that the 2019 general election will be free, fair and credible. Reacting to the comment by the US government that its priority at the moment is Nigeria’s 2019 general election, INEC said Nigerians will get the most credible election in the country, adding that it will continue to plan ahead. The commission spokesman, Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, told LEADERSHIP last night that INEC is determined to conduct free, transparent and credible general election in 2019. He said, “Preparations began from the day the current Commission was sworn in, in November 2015. So far, the Commission has taken several steps aimed at achieving its set goals. It has launched its 2017-2021 Strategic Plan and the Strategic Plan of Action, which are anchored on five main objectives, which are: to provide electoral operations, systems and infrastructure to support the delivery of free, fair and credible elections; improve voter education, training and research; register political parties and monitor their operations; interact nationally and internationally with relevant stakeholders and strengthen the Commission for sustained conduct of free, fair and credible elections. The Strategic Plan of Action is like the time keeper that ticks each activity as it unfolds. “We have also launched Election Project Plan (EPP) specifically for the 2019 general elections. It is a Calendar of Activities to be carried out from the day it was unveiled to the Election Day and beyond. In order to create access for qualified Nigerians to participate in the electoral process, the Commission in April 2017 launched for the first time, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. “So far, about four million Nigerians have been registered and efforts are on to tackle the challenges posed by the recent upsurge in the number of prospective registrants. Part of the measure is the purchase and deployment of new Direct Data Capturing Machines (DDCM), which are currently being deployed to the states and the reports already coming in indicate that the number of Nigerians who are able to register have increased dramatically”. Noting that it is also on record that the various elections conducted by the commission so far have been credible, Oyekanmi said, “Over 179 different types of elections have been conducted so far since the 2015 general elections, including governorship polls in five states – Kogi, Bayelsa, Ondo, Edo and Anambra. The rate of litigation over election results has dropped significantly, which means that our election results are generally accepted by majority of stakeholders. “We are also expanding the space to provide the opportunity for Nigerians with disabilities to vote. In the Anambra governorship election for instance, the Commission provided magnifying glasses for Albinos. There are plans to give qualified prisoners the right to vote too. The INEC spokesman continued: “We are keen on the deployment of appropriate technology and the Commission is now seeking collaboration with sister institutions, like the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and the NigComSat over our plan to deploy electronic collation and transmission of results, although, this has not yet been finalised. “We will continue to plan ahead and put structures in place because we know that Nigerians will not accept any flawed general elections. We are calling on all Nigerians to support us”.