The era when votes were awarded to favourites of the authorities and the shortchanged told to go to court is gone, President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday.
“I emphasise free and fair elections at all times,’’ he said.
The President spoke along the same line at two events at the State House in Abuja yesterday.
He received members of the Joint United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS Good Offices Mission on Elections as well as Mrs Julie Payette, Canada’s governor-general.
Speaking on free and fair elections, Buhari said: “I am highly qualified to talk on this, having ended in Supreme Court three times, after participating in elections with disputed results.
“Where will a man looking for where his next meal would come from have money to hire lawyers, particularly senior advocates?” the President said.
He reassured all that the 2019 polls would be free and fair.
President Buhari said: “The President has only one vote, governors have a vote each, just like anybody else.
“Let the people vote for whoever they choose, without their will being tampered with.’’
According to him, multi-party democracy gives many choices to the people, and Nigeria has a vibrant young population, who trust his administration to handle their affairs and resources well.
“A lot depends on leadership,’’ he said.
Buhari thanked the joint team for being in touch with the nation’s institutions, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He said the 2015 elections were run with three campaign objectives – securing the country, reviving the economy and fighting corruption” – and the opposition has not succeeded in faulting us. We are doing our best with the resources available to us.”
President of ECOWAS Commission Jean-Claude Brou, said the team came on a solidarity visit to Nigeria before the forthcoming elections, as it did with other countries, such as Senegal, Mali and The Gambia, among others which recently held polls.
He appreciated the strong role Nigeria played in the sub-region and thanked Buhari for his strides in the fight against corruption and terrorism.
Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who spoke on behalf of the UN, appreciated what he called “the strong leadership of President Buhari in Nigeria, West Africa, and Africa.”
He said: “You’ve always played politics according to the rules. We will do all that we can to strengthen the institutions.
“We’re convinced that INEC is ready to provide free and fair elections.’’
Receiving the Canadian GG, President Buhari said Nigeria’s democracy is steadily improving, with deeper understanding of the culture and tenets among the people, and strengthening of the institutions that guarantee free and fair elections.
Buhari said he saw the evolving strength of democracy in the country by contesting elections three times before winning at the fourth trial in 2015.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the President told the Governor General that Nigeria had been learning from the mistakes of those who practised democracy for a longer period, and by looking inward at its own peculiarities.
“I emphasise free and fair elections at all times,’’ he said.
The President said Nigeria’s bilateral relations with Canada will continue to be improved, considering the huge interest of the country in Nigeria and growing economic ties, with many Nigerians schooling and working in that country.
He said Canada played a brotherly role in helping displaced persons in the Northeast, following the Boko Haram insurgency.
Hon. Payette said Nigeria and Canada enjoy a warm and strong partnership that has translated into ease of migration, large trade relations and cultural exchanges.
Hon. Payette, who is an astronaut, said it was important for nations to pool resources together to start exploring the benefits of space in providing solutions to some problems on earth.
The Governor General noted that the world would achieve more by de-emphasising geographical differences and refocusing its energy on the commonality of humanity, pointing out that from space one can only see an earth without borders.
Hon. Payette said her visit was about showcasing “youth, innovation and technology’’, adding that Canada would like to partner with Nigeria in the ongoing diversification of the economy.
“We wish you free and credible elections in 2019,’’ she said.
Speaking with journalists at the end of the meeting, Hon. Payette disclosed that the two countries had resolved to deepen bilateral relations in trade and commerce, education, security, science and space technology advancement.
Payette, who is accompanied on the visit by eminent Canadians, including government officials, members of parliament and members of the business sector, noted that Nigeria and Canada had been friends and partners for decades.
Describing Nigeria as her country’s largest trading partner in Africa and largest investor in Canada, she said Canada had a strong base in Nigeria as the number of companies doing business in the country had grown significantly in recent years.
She said: “Many opportunities exist for deeper cooperation as you mentioned to me during our conversation. There is a lot of room for growth for the bilateral relation between Nigeria and Canada.
“Fortunately, we already have a strong base and we will continue to build on this.
“Nigeria is Canada’s largest trading partner in sub-saharan Africa and as well Nigeria is the largest investor from Africa in Canada.
“The number of Canadian companies doing business here has grown significantly in recent years and we really hope that this delegation would foster even more trading and commerce between our two countries,’’ she said.
Hon. Payette said that, at the height of the Nigeria – Canada relationship, more than 10,000 Nigerian students were studying in Canada.
Over 5,000 Nigerians residing in Canada have been contributing positively to the growth of the Canadian textile industry, according to her.
She said that one of the priorities of her visit to Nigeria was to meet and celebrate the vibrant youths of this country.
Hon. Payette said the visit would also focus attention on the National Space Research and Development Agency in Abuja.