Former United States envoy to Nigeria, Ambassador. Walter Carrington, who, yesterday, turned 80, speaks on sundry issues including how to conduct credible elections in 2011, combatting kidnapping and how the late Gen. Sani Abacha regime almost abducted him. Excerpts:
When the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was alive, there wasn’t much US support for his government. However, things look different with President Jonathan. Why is the US supporting this administration?
I am not sure that is correct. Maybe it wasn’t apparent, it might have to do with the fact that during much of Yar’Adua’s time there was a Republican government -the Bush government – and now you have the Obama government.
That may account for some of it. However, there is great support for Nigeria back in the United States but also great frustration because so many of the problems have not been tackled. I hope that Jonathan will be able to turn things around.
The 2011 elections are five months away. Do you see Jonathan conducting credible polls within five months?
Well, he has said he would. I think he has made a good appointment as the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. So, I think everything is in place. The problem I think he has is this culture of fraudulent corrupt election and whether he can change all that in five months. I don’t know.
But I feel confident that he is going to do his best. It is going to be a different INEC than the one we have known in the past.
Do we expect any assistance from the US for the polls?
It depends on the kind of assistance the government wants. I will think that there will be election monitors coming as they had done in the past. I think that there will be technical assistance. The best person to ask this question is the US Ambassador to Nigeria, she is in a better position to tell much more.
I can only tell you what I expect to happen. Nigeria is a too important country for us not to do anything we can to help.
How can Nigerians organise credible polls in 2011 as we witnessed on June 12, 1993?
It will start with the electoral commission. It is important that the civil society is organised in such a way that they become the real watchdog; be sure that nothing goes wrong; report things that are happening but shouldn’t be happening. It will be the government’s responsibility to make changes and ensure that these things don’t happen.
One of the problems is that much of these problems in the past had taken place at the state level. It is very important that the governors call for credible elections. I read in the papers about the INEC chief telling Resident Electoral Commissioners that they owe nothing to the governors and should be independent.
That is the message. To have credible elections, you have to have independent people who owe nothing to the powers-that-be. They must be seen by the people to be independent. That is real credibility so that the people can believe that the elections will be fair – not just believe, it has to be seen to be so.[the full interview is available here]