Coming to terms with the fact that Nigeria, which has long struggled with deepening democracy and governance, is in dire need of profound transformation, the United Kingdom, has promised to help address the different challenges and opportunities that lie ahead on the country’s path, especially as the clock to the 2019 general elections tick. Blessing Bature writes.
Nigeria is said to be have one of the most complex democratic systems in the Commonwealth of Nations where inequalities surface at every phase of democratic governance.
Considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “the will of the people shall dominate the decision and policy programmes of government, Nigeria, is yet to catch up in this regard.
In the context of these intricacies, the British Deputy High Commissioner, Harriet Thompson, said during the just celebrated “International Day of Democracy” that, “for as long as that is the case, the democratic government of Nigeria is not serving the people as recommended.”
She said, “Hence, there is need for International community to work towards promoting democratic participation in Nigeria.”
She pointed out categorically that there are lots of inequalities from a number of phases, mostly with women and people with disabilities. Harriet Thompson pointed out that apart from the passage of the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ signed earlier this year, there is still much to be done to get young people involved in governance.
The deputy high commissioner, who described Nigeria’s Democracy as relatively young, said, “ It is strong, growing, leaving on-lookers with the hope that the election of 2019 would be a fair design to strengthen its democracy.”
She said, “Apparently from the presidential election to the least election, we hope to see a free, fair and transparent process before, during and after the election and we are discussing with political parties involved as well as institutions, to understand their approach and encourage them to stay strong in their commitment.”
Head of Department for International Developments in Nigeria (DFID), Debbie Palmers, who reeled out their programmes said, as part of efforts to boost the “deepening democracy in Nigeria” project phase 2, a whooping €47.4million pounds has been donated to support and ensure efficient, effective and responsive political, electoral and democratic institution, through implementation of three components: support well prepared and well administered national and state elections.
She explained that this has put measures in place for independent observation and to mitigate risk of violence; support to increase National Assembly’s capacity for responsiveness in law-making, representation and oversight.
She harped that in the light of the international support, the role of the civil society including the media, becomes imperative in holding the government accountable at ensuring free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
Thompson said, “So, the sole existence of this programme is to support voters’ education and make sure that people understand their rights and how to get their voters’ cards, hence, we are introducing the election map for public use; supporting a range of stakeholders to ensure oversight, geared towards ensuring the credibility of the election process.”
She said pre-election phase is also supervised. “Now is election season, all the roles of the stakeholders become very important, the preparation and the training of the electoral personnel, the security forces carrying the roles are incredibly important. And the attitude of the political parties itself is important.”
According to her, “we are working with wide range of circles in political system, we are also out to mobilise women, youth groups and people with disabilities to ensure they have access and right to vote and think. This is one of the important themes of the International Democracy Day, which is looking at participation and inclusion.
“We are working towards getting people involved, and we are supporting advocacy as well as technology in the electoral process. We have carried out security and threats’ assessment to identify flashpoints. So, we are doing a wide range of work in partnership with some civil society organisations with the US government and its programsmes.”
“I want to state categorically that Britain has no interest in the outcome of this election, because we do not and will not have a preferred candidate. What we want to uphold is the process, that is what matters to us and that is what we are supporting because we have no preference to any candidate”.
Dominic Williams, a political councilor in the British High Commission, Abidjan said, “one of the reasons we are working on democracy in Nigeria is because we believe that democracy is highly valued by Britain and we believe that is the value we share with Nigeria as a member of the Commonwealth.”
His words, “As part of our Foreign policy, we believe in promoting, defending and connecting lots of people to achieve democracy in their various areas. I think there has been tremendous progress made in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999.”
In our scope, we will highlight the events of 2015, which recorded the first peaceful transition by an incumbent to an opposition party, a stride that achieved and ushered in more peace than anticipated. So that was an incredible achievement and we will like to see same in 2019.”
He said, “Britain is committed to support Nigeria to achieve free, fair and credible election come 2019. We are also enough in NH an all-inclusive election that will feature, young people and women.
So, our support in Nigeria is particularly on the processes and the way the election is managed.
It would also involve talking to political activists because; election is not only about the technical processes. “
Williams stated that the media is very important in intimating voters and candidates on their expectations. UK contributes in monitoring and evaluating the Nigerian Project.”
He said, “It is obvious that Nigeria’s projects are enormous, the budgets are enormous and the Nigerian electorates are enormous.
“We’re providing support to the Electoral Commission (INEC), we’re doing some training of electoral observers, we funded the situation room and the NGOs who are so important to society; so important in elections, we’re encouraging women and youth groups to get engaged in politics and to vote.”
“All of these are carried out through the department for International Development Programmes, which is about deepening democracy in Nigeria.
“So, there is very strong UK support for the process and we are here to make sure that the process works and to help in really getting those roots of democracy firmly embedded in Nigerian soil but not engaging obviously in the party political campaigning and so on and there is a clear distinction there, I’m sure you understand,” he said in conclusion.
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