I am pleased to be here in Nigeria in the run-up to next year’s elections.
It is an incredibly important time for the country, and I have seen the passion of the people first hand during my visit.
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest, and one of its most vibrant democracies. It has made huge progress in recent years ensuring credible, free, fair and peaceful elections. It is vital to Nigeria, her people and to the confidence of the international community that this continues as the country heads towards elections in 2019
I have just met with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission and heard how UK support has been instrumental in the election preparations.
We are proud of our unwavering support to INEC and civil society, which has ensured that they have been able to make important improvements to the election process.
The INEC Chairman and I recognize that there are still challenges to face, and that there is still more to do.
We strongly support INEC to carry out its constitutional role, free from political pressure and intimidation, and encourage it to demonstrate neutrality and impartiality in its application of the electoral laws, to build voter trust and confidence.
It’s a tough job, but I commend INEC for their efforts to deliver truly free, fair, credible and peaceful elections, that Nigerians can be proud of.
During this visit, I had the opportunity to meet with civil society groups and hear about their efforts to ensure that women, Persons with Disabilities and young people are able to embrace politics, and to feel that have a voice and a choice.
This past weekend, citizens of Ekiti went to the polls and voted for a new Governor.
The British High Commissioner was joined by the EU Ambassador and US Consul General who led an international group of observers at those elections.
Though the elections were largely peaceful, and results widely endorsed by key stakeholders, vote buying by both the main political parties was widely criticised.
There is time to tackle some of the challenges noted before next year’s elections. But INEC will not be able to solve all electoral problems on its own. Everyone in society has a role to play and a contribution to make.
Political parties must respect a code of conduct adhering to the highest standards. We encourage security agencies to remain visibly neutral and ensure a safe and secure environment for the electorate.
Nigerians are entitled to an issues-based campaign with focus from all candidates on Nigeria’s national interest and long term sustainability.
I know people can get passionate about politics; in the UK, we have some lively debates inside and outside of Parliament. Even within a party, we don’t always agree on what the position should be.
But one of the fundamental principles of democracy is the very freedom to hold different views without fear of violence, prejudice or divisiveness, and for our society to be stronger because of it.
This is vital for Nigeria’s reputation and stability, as well as to protect and further enhance the business and economic conditions for investment and sustained growth.
Whatever the outcome next year, the elections are Nigeria’s opportunity to demonstrate progress towards strengthening democracy. I am confident that this ambition is within reach.
I am therefore calling on political leaders, the media and Nigerians at large, to act responsibly and use their platforms to urge the people to exercise their democratic right, and to do so within the law.
I look forward to the upcoming election, and the invigorated, energetic and engaging public debate that will precede it.