Ex-UN chief, Annan, warns Nigeria about election violence

FORMER United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, on Wednesday urged Nigeria to hold peaceful elections next month, warning that violence could be a set-back to progress across Africa.

Voters elect a new president and parliament on February 14, then two weeks later return to cast their ballots in gubernatorial and state assembly polls.

But with a precedent for election-related violence — and a raging Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s far northeast — there are fears that this year’s vote could be the bloodiest yet.

Annan, speaking at a conference in Abuja attended by President Goodluck Jonathan and main opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, said the impact of unrest could have far-reaching consequences.

“What happens in Nigeria affects us all, not just in West Africa but Africa as a whole,” he told delegates. “If Nigeria does well, the region as a whole does well. But the reverse is also true.”

Recent weeks have seen an increase in Boko Haram attacks, which analysts say is a further attempt by the Islamists to undermine the legitimacy of the secular government and the upcoming vote.

The International Crisis Group warned in November last year that an “increasingly violent” political climate and rhetoric from political parties must be checked to avoid widespread unrest.

Last time round in 2011, which was widely regarded as the cleanest since civilian rule was restored in 1999, nearly 1,000 people died in post-poll protests in the religiously divided central region.

The IGC said long-standing ethnic, religious and tribal tensions had not been resolved since, making the risks of violence “particularly high”.

Annan said a pledge of non-violence by all parties “will reassure Nigerians and foreign friends who are concerned about potential election-related violence”.

Candidates and their supporters needed to avoid a “win-at-all-costs” mentality but put the interests and concerns of voters first, he added.

Election-linked violence in places such as Kenya “put the country back years and hurt everybody”, he said, adding: “Nigeria doesn’t want to repeat that painful experience.”

“The world is watching. Nigeria’s success in forthcoming elections will be Africa’s success. Nigeria has the future of Africa in its hands,” said Annan.


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