By NBF News

Presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, yesterday told the international observers, led by the former Ghanaian president, John Kufor that only the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies can make the April general elections to be credible free and fair.

The presidential hopeful was addressing the observers, from the International Republican Institute (IRI), who were in the country to have a pre-election assessment of the preparations for the April elections by all stakeholders.

When confronted on what he consider as the threats to the polls from his own opinion, Shekarau maintained that all arrangements had pointed to the fact that the elections should be peaceful, credible, free and fair but that only two organisations were key to a successful elections. These, the Kano State governor said included the INEC and security agencies, noting that without the collaboration and connivance of the two institutions, no electoral fraud could take place if the past experiences were anything to go by.

Said he: 'The two principal actors in Nigeria's elections are the INEC and the security agencies. If the two can collaborate, and put their feet down that they will do the right thing, then no party or politician, no matter how influential will succeed in manipulating the electoral process. These are two areas where the threat can come.' Besides, Shekarau argued that one factor that had made electoral fraud attractive was because offenders were never punished. He called for the assistance of the international observers to ensure punishment for electoral offenders are institutionalized.

However, he told the visitors that majority of the stakeholders were happy at the calibre of the personalities appointed into the leadership of INEC at all levels, saying their pedigree inspired confidence in the people that the commission would deliver on its mandate. He explained that initially, there were worries over the fate of Nigeria's democracy having initially suffered turbulence and hiccups, but that so far all had been quite okay, noting that what was left was for the nation to build on it.

'What we need is to build on the process and confidence that the election will be free and fair because we know that even in developed nations, they do have skirmishes but on the long run they are not detract from the integrity of the process. He nevertheless blamed poor funding as one of the factors negatively affecting the preparations of INEC. The presidential standard bearer pointed out that this showed from the recently concluded voters' registration where some of the DDC machine ordered arrived after the exercise had started.

'This is because money was not released on time. Granted that the machines were not manufactured in Nigeria, what of the situation where INEC could not buy enough ink for thumb printing,' he added.

Governor Shekarau gave pass mark to the judiciary, saying its performance so far has been very encouraging given the volume of litigations attending 2007 elections.

'It's a clear indication of confidence reposed in the judiciary.' In his remarks, leaders of the delegation, Kufor explained that his team was in the country to assess the preparations of all stakeholders towards the next elections. This he said became paramount given the strategic position of Nigeria in Africa, adding that a credible and peaceful election in Nigeria would have effect on other parts of Africa.

He stated that he was happy when invited by the IRI to come and lead the observer team to Nigeria because of the importance of Nigeria to the rest of Africa and the world at large. 'The visit will only afford us to make observation and suggestion as to what could be done or added to make Nigeria have a free and fair election.'

To justify the position of IRI, Kufor narrated how he became the first Ghanaian president to complete his eight years constitutional guaranteed tenure as other civilian presidents before him had their tenure aborted by the soldiers hence the need to do all possible to discourage the military.