- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

As Election Day has come and gone, it’s apparent that Nigeria and the United States have something in common when it comes to electoral politics. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and symbolizes the struggles of the entire continent. America sets the democratic standard for the rest of the world. This leaves both our nations with the responsibility of constructing and maintaining a system that ensures voters’ choices are made without undue pressure, recorded without malfeasance and reported with veracity.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Nigeria, our imperfect and largely fraudulent system frequently produces false results. So the people of Nigeria and Africa must now rely on the prudence and diplomacy of the next president of the United States to ensure our institutions act transparently to protect democratic rights and freedoms.

Nigerian citizens hungry for progress urge President-elect Obama to adopt policies on Africa that emphasize the rule of law and democratic processes. The prevalence of failed states and dire poverty on our continent are not disconnected from the lack of both. Fair and truthful elections are directly linked with growing economies that better manage natural resources, offer citizens a chance to develop better skills through the improvement of educational institutions, and empower Africa’s private sector to advance and compete in the global marketplace. Our imperfect electoral system has sadly allowed for the mismanagement of our rich energy industry. At a time when the world’s oil markets require stability and steady handedness, there is corruption and deception by those who oversee our precious resources.

Fostering these principles would allow the president to encourage American businesses to build better relationships in Nigeria. Foreign direct investment is the driving factor for economic growth, but without strong institutions that prevent corruption and protect the private sector, it is unlikely to happen. Increased activity and investment by American businesses in our country will help foster growth and indeed can serve as an example of progress for all of Africa. A revitalized private sector in Nigeria can create more jobs, improve the standard of living for our citizens and finally assist in defeating the scourge of poverty.

Economic prosperity can assist in promoting stability and security. In our most fragile regions fear is prevalent and the risk of losing a generation of young people simply due to negligence is great. We must act swiftly to teach our youth to become self-sufficient instead of reliance on handouts from foreign aid. These ideals are rooted in a political infrastructure and institutions that protect its citizens which Nigeria is unfortunately lacking.

This transformation requires time and patience, but young Nigerians need assistance now. It is critical that President-elect Obama continue to support the numerous Nigerian institutions that are providing secondary and collegiate education and training. The foundation for a strong primary education system exists, but there simply has not been the same success in building secondary and postgraduate opportunities for Nigeria’s youth and potential work force. Without the necessary education, training and skills to compete in an international job market that becomes more competitive everyday, the long-term prospects for growth become slimmer.

Nigeria’s imperfect electoral system has produced imperfect results, imperfect leaders, and risked the future of its people. America’s system, with all its imperfections, has managed to create opportunity, discover new voices for leadership and still provides a model for the rest of the world. American-Nigerian cooperation can foster the type of partnership that can not only help the people of Nigeria, but also provide a message of hope and a blueprint for progress to all Africans.

Atiku Abubakar is the former vice president of Nigeria.

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