'We Have Dodgy Elections Too'
Hillary Clinton has risked provoking American conservatives by drawing a parallel between political corruption in Nigeria and George W Bush's contested election win in Florida in 2000.
The US Secretary of State made the comparison while talking to an audience of activists in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, yesterday, during an 11-day tour of Africa.
The apparent gaffe came only two days after Mrs Clinton rebuked a student in the Democratic Republic of Congo for asking what her husband, the former president Bill Clinton, thought of the issue of Chinese trade in Africa. "My husband is not Secretary of State," she fumed."I am.”
It turned out that the question had been mistranlated and the student had been seeking the views of President Obama.
Yesterday, Mrs Clinton was asked for her views on Nigeria's presidential election of 2007, in which the victorious candidate, Umaru Yar'Adua, claimed to have received 70 per cent of the vote, but which poll monitors said had been rigged.
Her reply was uncontroversial: she pointed out that elections were rarely perfect "and in a democracy there have to be winners and losers".
But she added: "Our democracy is still evolving. You know, we had all kinds of problems in some of our past elections, as you might remember.
"In 2000, our presidential elections came down to one state where the brother of the man running for president was the governor of the state. So we have our problems, too."
In that election, which gave Mr Bush his first term in power, the nationwide result came down to the electoral votes on offer in Florida, where Mr Bush's brother Jeb was governor.
The prospect of a constitutional crisis was averted only by a Supreme Court decision to rule out a statewide recount.
State Department officials defended Mrs Clinton's remarks, saying that she had not been making a partisan point but one about the peaceful transfer of power in the US.
"The point she is making is that it's about a disputed result and then the willingness of the candidates to accept a flawed result rather than, say resort to violence," an official said.
Nigeria is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The 2007 election brought tales of missing ballot boxes, inflated voter counts and even of voters being shot at polling stations.