Nigeria Preps for Vote, and Reassures Allies

Next month, Nigeria will hold elections that could mark the nation's first transition from one democratically elected government to another. Nigeria is a major oil-supplier to the United States, which is monitoring the vote. A Nigerian official recently visited Washington to reassure investors and administration officials that the elections would be free and fair.

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Nigeria also happens to be a major oil producer and a key player in peacekeeping operations in Africa. No wonder the U.S. will be closely monitoring elections there in April. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Nasir el-Rufai is a presidential appointee who runs the capital, Abuja. On a recent trip here to the U.S., his job was to reassure American businesses and officials that Nigeria is ready for the first transition from one elected democracy to another.

Mr. NASIR EL-RUFAI (Minister, Abuja Federal Capital Territory): We have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that each and every election that we prosecute gets better.

KELEMEN: Past elections have been marred by vote fraud, and el-Rufai says registration this time got off to a rocky start.

Mr. EL-RUFAI: We brought in thousands of HP laptops with biometric software, such that every person that is registered, we also took his fingerprints. But we had problems with the number of machines and the fact that Nigeria has challenges with electricity.

KELEMEN: That's not the only challenge. Nigeria is one of the world's most corrupt countries, and some candidates accuse President Olusegun Obasanjo of using an anti-corruption campaign to go after opponents. El-Rufai denies this.

Mr. EL-RUFAI: Even within our ruling party, when a governor is indicted for corruption, he says it's because he's not friendly with President Obasanjo, but we're in the same party. In Nigeria, everyone is innocent. Everyone tries to attribute a reason for his misconduct.

KELEMEN: He's been supporting President Obasanjo's hand-picked successor, one of five leading candidates. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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