US warns vote-buying could mar Nigeria elections
The United States on Thursday warned that widespread vote-buying in Nigeria could taint upcoming general elections in Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer.
Addressing a UN Security Council meeting on West Africa, US Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen urged Nigerian authorities, politicians, civil society and community leaders to ensure the vote is free and fair.
Nigeria is holding presidential and parliamentary polls on February 16, followed by gubernatorial and state assembly elections on March 2.
The United States sees a "risk that widespread vote-buying could challenge the integrity of the election process," said Cohen.
"We are concerned about reports of intimidation and partisanship by security forces, heightened insecurity and inability of internally displaced persons or persons with disabilities to vote," he said.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who in 2015 became the first opposition candidate to defeat a sitting president in Nigeria, is hoping to secure a second, four-year term in the elections.
He is facing a challenge from Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who served under Olusegun Obasanjo. In all, 71 candidates are vying for the presidency.
This week, the head of the national election commission, Mahmood Yakubu, said a number of measures had been taken to combat vote-buying, which was said to have been widespread in recent gubernatorial elections.
In the governorship election in the southwest state of Ekiti last year, both the ruling and opposition parties were accused of offering voters cash for their voter cards.
During the primaries to pick presidential contenders, some candidates, including Abubakar, were accused of offering financial inducements to delegates for their support.
The UN envoy for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told the council that Boko Haram attacks had increased over the last months.
During the last week of December alone, the Islamist militants staged three attacks on army bases.
Chambas said "tensions are high" in Nigeria ahead of the vote, but that prospects for peaceful elections have brightened with the signing of an accord last month in which parties pledged to support calm and order.