Washington, DC – Chairman Tom Lantos and three key members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today expressed serious concern about prospects for the free, fair and peaceful conduct of the upcoming elections in Nigeria.

“The integrity of the 2007 elections will be the true legacy of Obasanjo administration,” Lantos said. “The Nigerian people deserve nothing less than a transparent electoral process and a legitimate government of their own choosing. Unfortunately, the slow progress of the preparations and the alarming reports of harassment against neutral election monitors and political opponents do not bode well. Congress is keeping an eye on this process, and we see cause for serious concern.”

Normal preparations for the voting on April 14 and 21– including the release of voter registration rolls, distribution of permanent voter cards, designation of polling stations and accreditation of domestic and international monitors – have been hampered in the run-up to the election. The offices of some domestic monitors and opposition party members have reportedly been ransacked by the police and security services, which have also denied permits to political parties seeking to hold rallies.

Due to its history of repressive military rule, in its 47 years of independence Nigeria has never had an election in which one civilian president succeeded another civilian. The upcoming elections are therefore historically significant. Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, is leading a congressional delegation to monitor the elections.

“Nigerians should be commended for progressing from military to civilian rule, but the progress must continue in a positive direction,” Payne said. “The upcoming elections mark a critical point in Nigeria’s history and in order to ensure a peaceful transition, it is vital that the next government of Nigeria be democratically elected and representative of the will of the Nigerian people.”

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who in 1999 led a delegation to Nigeria to observe the country’s first presidential election, noted, "Nigeria is an increasingly important partner for the United States on the African continent. The upcoming elections will be watched closely in the United States and across Africa.”

Said Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), “We call on President Obasanjo and the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that the 2007 national elections represent a level playing field where all candidates are treated fairly and every Nigerian voter has the opportunity to cast and have his or her vote counted and reported accurately.”

While the national elections of 1999 generated great hope and optimism in Nigeria, the 2003 elections were by comparison a great disappointment for their low turnout, rampant fraud and violence. Legal challenges engendered by the results of the 2003 contests were drawn out for years. To prevent a repeat of such incidents, Lantos and the other members of Congress urged President Obasanjo to instruct the security services to refrain from harassing and brutalizing voters, candidates and monitors in the run-up to the elections as well as during voting. They asked the Nigerian government to ensure that the courts adjudicate any election-related claims swiftly and fairly. And they urged all party leaders, candidates, traditional rulers and religious leaders to renounce any expression of political sentiment through violence.

“The United States wants to see a stable and prosperous Nigeria, and we support the building of democratic institutions, providing millions of dollars through the U.S. Agency for International Development,” Lantos noted. “Through this funding, legislation and hearings, Congress has long been steady in its commitment for this process. We call on the Administration to join us in issuing public statements that show the United States is serious about ensuring free and fair elections for all Nigerians.”