Ngilu joins powerful Nigeria election observer mission

Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu. Courtesy.

Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu in is Nigeria as part of a high-powered international election observer mission for the country’s presidential and National Assembly elections slated for Saturday.

Mrs Ngilu has joined a 38-member delegation led by retired Botswana President Festus Mogae, which will serve under the American based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).

She is the only Kenyan political leader to take part in this mission, following nomination by the NDI and the IRI.

In a press statement on Tuesday, the governor’s office she was selected because she’s the senior-most female political leader in the country, having served in various elective capacities.

“Governor Ngilu has been a public servant for more than 27 years, as Member of Parliament for Kitui Central Constituency for four consecutive terms, from 1992 to 2013, and as a Cabinet secretary in the national government of from 2002 to 2015,” the statement said.

It also noted that she is the leader of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) and that she made history when she became the first woman to run for president in Kenya.

The governor left Kenya on Sunday. On Wednesday, she will attend the ceremony for the signing of the National Peace Accord between the leading candidates – President Muhammadu Buharu and his main rival former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

The signing at the Abuja International Conference Centre will see stakeholders commit to accepting the outcome of the result that the Independent National Electoral Commission will announce.

Mr Mogae served as Nigeria’s president for two five-year terms, from 1998 to 2008.

Upon his retirement in 2015, he was appointed to head the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) tasked with monitoring the implementation of the South Sudan peace agreement.

Also in the mission is former Latvian President Vaira Vike Freiberga, who was elected in 1999 by Parliament for a four-year term and re-elected in 2003.

The team also includes former US Ambassador to Kenya Johnnie Carson, a Senior Adviser at the United States Institute of Peace; former Gambian Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang; IRI Vice Chairman Randy Scheunemann and Derek Mitchell, the NDI’s third president.

The run-up to the Nigerian presidential poll has been characterized by charged campaigns and the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen three weeks ago.

As the head of the judiciary, the chief justice plays the vital role of settling election disputes so Mr Onnoghen’s suspension triggered protests from opposition parties.

Former US President Bill Clinton, who was expected to deliver the keynote address at Tuesday’s signing ceremony, cancelled his trip to Nigeria at the last minute citing the charged political climate.

Mr Clinton was to visit Abuja this week alongside Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Four years ago, President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) dominated the north and south-west of the country whereas the party’s main rival, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was more popular in the south and south-east.

However, unlike in the 2015 election, when northerner Buhari faced southerner Goodluck Jonathan, the main challenger is the PDP’s Mr Abubakar, who is also from the north.