Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham writes for The Hill on the importance of the United States maintaining strong ties to Nigeria and the US efforts to ensure a smooth transition after Nigeria’s presidential elections:
The historic victory of challenger Muhammadu Buhari over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s recent presidential election, the latter’s graceful concession and the apparently smooth transition that is underway ahead of the May 29 handover represented not only a milestone for the West African country but also a significant boost for democracy across the continent. In all fairness, the happy outcome was also a major win for President Obama and his team, one the administration now needs to consolidate.
In the lead-up to the polls in Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy, the administration, which in its 2012 Africa strategy document made sustained focus on the credibility of democratic processes a priority — declaring “support for democracy is critical to U.S. interests and is a fundamental component of American leadership abroad” — marshaled its diplomatic resources in a way it has not often done. In January, Secretary of State John Kerry was dispatched to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, to meet with both major presidential candidates and deliver the message that the election be conducted peacefully and that it be “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.” When the polls were postponed, Kerry issued a statement expressing “deep disappointment.” Right before election day, Obama made an exceptional video appeal to the Nigerian people to vote peacefully and resist calls to violence. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield led an official diplomatic mission to observe the March 28 vote.