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2011 ELECTION MUST BE FREE, FAIR – BUSH, BLAIR

By Our reporter

Former United States of America President George Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair have said their countries' interest in Nigeria during their tenure was spurred by poor indices of development, especially health, debt burden and capacity building.

Specifically, Bush said he was concerned by statistics of HIV/AIDS when he was in office. Investigations have shown that some 50,000 infected persons had access to anti-retroviral drugs but by the time he left office the figure had risen to over two million.

On good governance, both leaders maintained that transparency, accountability and war against corruption among public officials are necessary ingredients for good governance.

'Stealing public money is not good governance. When leaders steal from the people that is bad governance, they ought to be in jail,' Bush said.

On his part, Blair said, 'corruption is wrong, it is the least efficient way of doing things, and it is important that the next election must be free and fair and nobody should try to interfere.'

Both leaders who spoke yesterday at THISDAY Nigeria-at-50 Awards at a session attended by a select audience was hosted by former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, stressed the need for press freedom, saying that vibrant and healthy press is good for societal development and democracy. However, they cautioned that the freedom of the press must be exercised with some responsibility and that stories must be factual, devoid of sensationalism to make the right impact.

Goerge and Blair also explained the sensitivity of their respective countries to terrorism against the background of September 11 attack and the listing of Nigeria as a country of interest.

For example, President Bush said, 'we are still very nervous after 9/11. He sympathised with Nigeria saying that the act of one man has destroyed the reputation of many people. He added that the US Congress is usually very concern about such matters.

Both leaders asked Nigerian government to liaise with the American administration in the area information sharing and the issue of being put on the list of country of interest so that it can be addressed.

Prime Minister Blair said one way to defeat terrorism is to show that people of different faiths can live together and that people should not disrespect each other's religion.