Speech by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Ms. Maria Brewer at the National Stakeholders forum on Electoral Reform (January 28, 2014)

All protocols duly observed.

Good morning everyone.  I am pleased to be here today for the National Stakeholders Forum on Nigeria’s Electoral Reform.  I would like to thank the Independent National Electoral Commission, the International Republican Institute, the International Foundation for Election Systems, and the Ken Nnamani Center for organizing this event in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Let me begin by saying a citizen’s right to vote is the foundation of a democratic process.  Advancing democracy by strengthening democratic institutions, be it local, state, or national, has long been the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy.  Under the umbrella of our U.S. Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa, President Obama has underscored the importance for Africa to develop and sustain prosperous democratic nations.  The U.S. considers itself a partner with Nigeria in ensuring credible elections in 2015.  This conference is testament to our commitment to work hand in hand with Nigeria.

We’ve partnered with the Nigerian government, political parties, civil society organizations, professional organizations, and others to organize this forum in the hopes of creating a space for effective dialogue.  The panel discussions today and tomorrow are not just limited to legal matters.  They will also address the election administration, the role of the judiciary during the election process, and building effective institutions to ensure credible elections in 2015 and beyond.  Our goal is to help facilitate dialogue among Nigerian stakeholders so that they can establish a mutually agreed upon foundation for implementing meaningful reforms.  All of you assembled today are key to this process.

It is encouraging to see that this forum has brought together all the major stakeholders who have a role and a responsibility in delivering credible elections. While INEC will shoulder the heavy work of implementing electoral system reforms, we must also acknowledge the need for reforms in the nation’s political parties and civil society organizations.

While political parties can sometimes get a bad rap, they are critical to the democratic process.  They nominate candidates for public office, keep their voter base informed, training their own polling agents, and of course, ensure these agents are out in the field and reporting back to headquarters during a campaign.

Beyond this forum, our U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission is yet another avenue for our two countries to jointly discuss issues such as Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity. The purpose of the commission is to increase our cooperation.  In the area of good governance, the agreement states that the U.S. and Nigeria will support progress on electoral and election preparations to achieve credible, free, fair, and peaceful elections in Nigeria.  Our governments agreed to build Nigeria’s institutional capacity to fight corruption through improved prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution.  These goals are among the reasons why we are here today.

I would like to urge all stakeholders assembled here today to pledge their joint support for violence-free elections in 2015 and support a non-partisan national effort to address Nigeria’s security challenges.

In closing, it is our expectation that this forum will provide an opportunity to identify and bridge the gap between INEC, political parties, judicial officers, representatives of the legislative and executive arms of government, and civil society organizations to address the challenges of electoral reforms.  The U.S. is committed to its role as an engaged friend and partner of Nigeria.  But it is up to Nigeria to ensure elections are credible.  We hope that this stakeholder forum will build consensus on urgently needed legal and administrative electoral reforms to make the 2015 elections a model for genuine improvement in the electoral framework.  Your actions today could serve as the foundation for the movement away from personality-driven politics and toward the development of lasting political institutions in Nigeria.  While tackling these issues may seem daunting, I am encouraged by looking at the very talent in this room, to know we have the intelligence, the resources, the creativity, and the will to get it done.

Thank you.