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 CNS Story:

NIGERIA-ASSESS Aug-18-2010 (440 words) xxxi

Nigerian archbishop: President's legacy could be free, fair elections

By Peter Ajayi Dada
Catholic News Service

ABUJA, Nigeria (CNS) -- Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan could go down in history as the man who helped set his country on the path to free and fair elections, said a prominent Catholic leader.

Abuja Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan said although the president's first 100 days in office were a short time for assessing his achievements, he had started well with the appointment of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

"Our prayers and most fervent wish for him are to courageously face the electoral issue," said the archbishop, immediate past president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. "If that is the only thing he can achieve, his name will be written in letters of gold in the history of Nigeria."

Jonathan, a Christian from the South, took office after the May 5 death of President Umaru Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim. The country has a history of alternating presidents from the predominantly Muslim North and the predominantly Christian South. Yar'Adua was in the third year of his four-year term; Jonathan has not said if he will run in the next presidential election, which could be as early as January.

In June, Jonathan nominated Attahiru Jega, a well-respected scholar, to head the electoral commission. Jega has pledged to work with faith-based organizations to mobilize Nigerians to vote.

The 2007 presidential election was widely criticized -- including by the Nigerian bishops -- as not free, fair or credible. At the time, the bishops said government officials and members of the Independent National Electoral Commission failed to prepare adequately for national elections after allegations of improprieties in the elections for state and local posts.

Archbishop Onaiyekan said the issue of how an incumbent could ensure a free and fair election was a challenge for Nigeria's leaders.

"I am not saying that Jonathan should run the election so as to lose, but he should run the election in such a way that it will be free and fair," he said.

"We will know if it is free and fair, because we are on ground. That is the major job he has now in the few months ... left ahead of him," the archbishop added.

He also appealed to the president to tackle corruption in the country.

"If a president is so anxious to win an election and he begins to compromise with bad enemies who are politically more powerful, then he himself will not be a good umpire," he said. "But if he is able to let the truth be told and allows INEC to do its work properly ... I believe we will achieve success in the country."


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