US concerned at reported Nigerian election intimidation

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United States (US) said on Thursday that Nigeria’s upcoming national elections will be “a critical test of democracy” in the country and the region, and expressed concern at reports of intimidation and partisanship by government security forces.

US Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen told a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on West Africa that the Trump administration is also concerned about heightened insecurity in Nigeria, the inability of disabled and displaced people to vote, “and the risk that widespread vote buying could challenge the integrity of the electoral process”.

He urged Nigerian authorities, political parties, civil society and community leaders to address these risks and ensure that the February 16 elections are free, fair and peaceful.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second term. The main opposition challenger is veteran politician Atiku Abubakar, but Oby Ezekwesili, a former World Bank vice president who led the global campaign to free Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists, is also among the dozens of other candidates running.

The winner will lead Africa’s biggest crude oil producer and the continent’s most populous country.

The recent surge in attacks by Boko Haram extremists and the offshoot Islamic State (IS) West Africa Province has caused alarm in Nigeria and posed a major challenge for Buhari. He took office in 2015 vowing to fight corruption and to defeat Boko Haram, which split after one faction pledged allegiance to the IS.