Nigerian vote must set an example for world: Britain

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Nigerian elections in April must set an example for the world, Britain's minister for Africa said Wednesday, with the country under pressure to hold a credible ballot after a series of deeply flawed votes.

Henry Bellingham, who is responsible for UN affairs, told journalists in Lagos that Nigeria's vote was particularly important considering the large number of elections in African nations this year.

"This is Africa's largest democracy," he said. "It's absolutely essential that Nigeria sets an example to the world."

Nigeria, a regional powerhouse, has been outspoken in demanding that Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo quit power in favour of his internationally recognised rival Alassane Ouattara following November elections there.

Its high-profile stance has increased pressure on Nigeria to hold a fair vote, said Bellingham.

"After the events in Cote d'Ivoire, where Nigeria and ECOWAS have been taking a really strong line, I think it's even more important that these elections are free and fair," he told reporters.

ECOWAS is the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, which has threatened force to oust Gbagbo if peaceful efforts to have him step down do not succeed. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan currently chairs the bloc.

Nigeria goes to the polls in April to elect a president, lawmakers and state governors.

With a history of flawed and violent elections, Africa's most populous country is under pressure to have a clean ballot this time around.

Addressing the standoff in Ivory Coast, Bellingham said pressure must be maintained to push Gbagbo out, with the option of force in the "background" if he remained defiant.

"It's really important that the pressure is kept up on the Cote d'Ivoire. ECOWAS must be supported by the UN and it's being supported, I'm glad to see, by the AU," he said of the African Union.

"We want a peaceful solution. We must go through all, exhaust all possible options. But it's very important the military option is kept in the background."

Bellingham was in Nigeria as part of a regional tour to promote trade and investment between Britain and West African countries. He is due in Ghana on Thursday.

Around a million people of Nigerian origin live in Britain, according to the British High Commission.

© 2011 AFP

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