John Kerry urges peaceful polls in Nigeria


U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks about the Ukraine crisis after his meetings with other foreign ministers in ParisText of his remarks at a news conference in Lagos

Well, good afternoon, everybody. I am really delighted to be here in Nigeria. And I was just admiring the extraordinary view and this wonderful location. I’m particularly pleased to be here at this particular moment, just a few weeks before one of the most important elections that this country has held. And this will be the largest democratic election on the continent. Given the stakes, it’s absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully, that they are credible, transparent, accountable, so that the people of Nigeria can have faith and the world can have faith in the government that flows from it.

So I came here today to deliver a very simple message, and I met with both major candidates in order to underscore that the international community is paying very close attention to this election and that the international community is deeply committed to working with Nigerians going forward with the hopes that they will have an election that is free of violence and capable of instilling confidence in the future.

I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this weekend where I delivered a speech about the need for a long-term, comprehensive global effort to combat violent extremism, and to address the underlying causes before that extremism takes root. The unfortunate truth is that Nigerians know as well as anyone how desperately that kind of effort is needed. Day after day, the group that calls itself Boko Haram continues to kill scores of innocent civilians and attack villages and military installations in places like Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. The United States condemns these attacks which have escalated in recent weeks. And we extend our deepest condolences to the thousands of families that have been impacted, and we deeply regret the toll that this violence has taken on the Nigerian people.

We will absolutely continue to support the Nigerian military in its fight against Boko Haram. And as I said in Davos, all of us must work together to advance a strategy that will not only stop groups like Boko Haram, Daesh, and al-Qaida, but that will address the environment from which these groups emerge.

We were very happy to see the Government of Niger host a regional security ministerial meeting last week to discuss how to better coordinate counterterrorism efforts. This is exactly the kind of thing that I suggested is necessary in the comments that I made a couple of days ago. It is very important that the world cooperate more in helping countries where they want to and where they don’t the full capacity to be able to step up and take on lawless terrorist entities.

That is precisely why President Obama has announced that next month in Washington we will host an international summit on combatting violent extremism around the world. It will be held at the WH and at the State Department, it will be at the ministerial, and we hope to bring people together who have been engaged in these fights against the Boko Harams and other entities so we can share best practices, so that we could hear from people about what they need and what they think is necessary in order to be able to summon an even stronger global response.

The fact is that one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram and similar groups is by protecting the peaceful, credible, and transparent elections that are essential to any thriving democracy, and certainly, essential to the largest democracy in Africa. It’s imperative that these elections happen on time as scheduled, and that they are an improvement over past elections, and they need to set a new standard for this democracy. That means that Nigerians have to not only reject violence but they have to actually promote peace.

I met with President Jonathan earlier today and separately with General Buhari, and I was encouraged to hear once again from both men that this is exactly what they intend to do to try to press for an election that can be held with the credibility the people of Nigeria want and deserve. As President Jonathan said in his New Year’s message, none of our political ambitions is worth the blood of any of our countrymen, women, and children. And as General Buhari recently tweeted, electoral violence is unacceptable, and every Nigerian life is sacred. Both candidates have also signed on to the so-called Abuja Accord, which commits them to running exclusively issue-based campaigns, refraining from violence before and during and after election day, and speaking out against any violence that does emerge.

These are commitments that we need to see from everyone and they are commitments that need to be kept. Many people are stepping up. For example, Chairman Jega and the thousands of independent national election commission employees are taking concrete steps in order to guarantee that this election is successful. We also urge all of Nigeria’s governors to call for peaceful democratic engagement among their residents, and we ask all parties and all candidates to do the same.

And I would say to everybody that no matter what the outcome, if you have a question, if you have a doubt, if there is someplace where issues may have arisen, it is absolutely vital that whatever differences may exist be resolved through legitimate channels, through the legal channels, which are fundamental to the democratic process.

And I urge all of Nigeria’s candidates to do what is best for their country no matter the outcome on election day.

I want to emphasize that for the United States, Nigeria is an increasingly important strategic partner. Nigeria has a critical role to play in the security and prosperity of this continent and beyond.

We are committed to helping the electoral process succeed, and last week we sent an electoral security advisor in order to support INEC’s efforts to advise on security concerns and to help develop a risk mapping tool to prepare for any violence that might emerge.

So let me be clear: Anyone who participates in, plans, or calls for widespread or systematic violence against the civilian population must be held accountable, including by ineligibility for an American visa.

Violence has no place in democratic elections, and I can guarantee you that the perpetrators of such violence would not be welcome in the United States of America. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and one of the world’s largest democracies. It is blessed with some of the planet’s most valuable and abundant natural resources. Conducting accountable, credible, peaceful elections will help put the Nigerian people on a path to prosperity and regional leadership that is needed in order to address a wide range of challenges in this part of the world, including, obviously, violent extremism.

With this election, Nigeria has an opportunity to put an indelible stamp on the kind of future that Africa wants to see and most importantly that Nigeria wants and deserves. I want to reiterate what President Obama recently said, that he, I, and the American people stand with you as Nigeria’s great democratic exercise unfolds. And we stand ready to work with the Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian people, and whomever they elect next month continue – to continue building on the important partnership that we share.


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