By NBF News

The United States on Thursday expressed confidence that President Goodluck Jonathan was capable of organising a free and fair elections in Nigeria in 2011.

It said through its Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Maria Otero, that it sees in Jonathan, a strong commitment to deepen democracy in the country by making the ongoing electoral reform a success.

Otero, who visited the President in company with the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Robin Sanders, reaffirmed Washington's desire to assist Nigeria make the general elections crisis-free.

She said, 'When elections are fair and transparent and when everyone can see that every vote counts, the question of them being contested decreases a great deal.

'The democracy in Nigeria is one that has been operating for a long time and like every democracy it keeps moving forward and improving itself.

'We see in President Jonathan a strong commitment and strong degree of activities in being able to improve this democracy and ensure that the next election is fair, transparent and credible.'

She told State House correspondents after the meeting that one of the ways that Washington was assisting Nigeria ahead of the poll was the Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission.

Otero said, 'The working group on Bi-National Commission between Nigeria and United States is focused on good governance, transparency and integrity.

'We have already launched the first meeting today (Thursday); yesterday (Wednesday), we got input from civil society and from the private sector.

'We have talked about issues related to electoral reform, and issues related to transparency and integrity.

'Of course we talked about INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and the role it would play in moving forward in the next elections.'

The US official also expressed confidence in efforts being made by the electoral commission to ensure credible elections in 2011.

'We believe there is a great deal of commitment in moving forward and taking the necessary steps for fair, credible and transparent elections.We know there is work to be done and the US is here to provide technical assistance and we see that INEC is proceeding in the proper direction in making sure that the steps that need to be taken are properly taken', she added.

The President was said to have assured the US Undersecretary that his administration was determined to ensure free and fair elections next year.

'In the next election, there will be no cheating, every vote must count and we are totally committed to this', he said.

He was quoted as having also said that 'winning elections is not the issue, but the process must be credible, free and fair.'

While noting that the Peoples Democratic Party 'is the dominant party' in the country, Jonathan said, 'Even at that, we must ensure that things are done properly and so people can be convinced that we won fair and square.'

Noting that, 'even with the present laws we can conduct fairly acceptable elections,' Jonathan stressed that all that needed to be done was to enforce the law.

He said, 'If the law that says elections results should be announced at the polling units is enforced, every party agent would have a copy of the results and this would ensure a bottom-up credibility of the process. This is the missing link and we must do this right.

'If you alter results, that is forgery, it is criminal and the offender must be made to pay for the crime; if you snatch ballot papers, that is stealing and there is a penalty attached.'

The President also reiterated the intention of his administration to sanitise INEC and allow only people of proven integrity to man the outfit.

'If leaders are not elected by popular votes, they will never be accountable,' he said.

Meanwhile, a former National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Barnabas Gemade, has said that God has granted the party's presidential rticket to Jonathan through what he described as 'divine zoning.'

Gemade, who was part of a large Benue State delegation that met with the President , argued that the zoning arrangement in the PDP was not a binding agreement.

He said, 'In 1999, when we were forming the PDP, we were considering zoning for the purpose of dealing with incessant complaints of marginalization especially as it affects the South West due to the cancellation of June 12, so we said, let us zone the presidency to the South, specifically to the South-West, so that it will be seen that Nigeria is ready to pay its dues where people feel aggrieved, and that was done for 1999 elections.

'Thereafter, in 2003, people tried to do zoning, it was one of the most difficult things, because there was no meeting convened for this purpose, and that is why some people in the South and some people in the North stood for election.

'You remember I was also a candidate at that convention. We also had the late Abubakar Rimi from the North as well as Chief Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekwueme from the South.

'So you could never have said PDP zoned its positions clearly at that time. But in 2007, it was again agreed that, if the presidency is in the South for eight years, it should come to the North this time; and the principal decision of the party was that the North should produce the President.

'And that is why the late former President Umaru Yar'Adua emerged, even though many southerners contested, including Owelle Rochas Okorocha and Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe.'

Gemade noted that the zoning was meant to serve the necessities of a particular time. He added that apart from human beings, God can also decide to zone positions as He deems fit.

He said, 'But, be that as it may, at any given time, man is flexible, and he does things based on the exigencies of the time, and the necessity of the time.

'And it is not only human beings that can zone, God can also zone, and I believe that we are beginning to see a lot of divine zoning.

'Therefore, nobody should clobber anyone down based on his own interests of pursuing his fundamental human rights.'

When asked if it would be right for Jonathan to run for President in 2011, Gemade said every incumbent public office - holder could stand for re-election.

'I believe that no one should stop an incumbent president, or an incumbent office - holder, in any respect from exercising their fundamental human rights to contest an election,' he said.

The former PDP chairman was also of the opinion that the President would enjoy the support of Nigerians once he decides to contest.

Asked if his geopolitical zone, the North-Central, would support Jonathan in 2011, Gemade said, 'I believe that Nigerians are very understanding when it comes to issues of politics; and therefore, there is no reason why he cannot get support from all parts of Nigeria if he decides to contest.'

Asked if he would advise Jonathan to contest, Gemade explained that he would do so in private and not through the media.

'I have personal contacts with Mr. President and I don't think I should choose the media when I want to give him advice. I believe I will do that when I meet with him personally.'