‘Democracy is more than the conduct of elections’
Besides, it declared that though elections were important and were an integral part of democracy, democracy encompasses respect for the rule of law and respect for human rights.
The Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Perry John Calderwood, who made the government stand known during an interview with The Guardian in Jos, stressed the need to see democracy beyond the conduct of elections.
“We have to keep in mind that democracy is more than just elections. Elections are important but democracy also means respect for the rule of law (not tolerating corruption) and respect for human rights and transparency in government,” he stated.
He said that in this respect progress was being made in Nigeria and that “so many Nigerians in so many sectors, including people walking on the street, the media people, the bureaucrats, politicians and so many are keen to see that democracy is consolidated and strengthened.”
Specifically, Calderwood spoke on last year’s general elections observing that an opposition party emerged the winner after 16 years. He disclosed that Canada contributed significantly and financially to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure the smooth conduct of the elections and smooth transition.
“In Nigeria, powers shifted to the opposition and I saw that as a healthy development and a big step towards consolidation and strengthening of democracy in Nigeria. Nigeria is a democracy like many other democracies. No democracy is perfect. But it is healthy to have a dynamic opposition party,” he added.
On corruption, the High Commissioner applauded the current effort of the federal government to combat the scourge, which he noted has a negative impact on the country, adding however that corruption was not unique to Nigeria as many countries were grappling with it.
The Canadian diplomat commended Nigerians, the government, civil society organisations, and the private sector for their steadfastness in the clamour for zero tolerance for corruption saying that corruption was not an accepted practice anywhere in the world.
However, he cautioned that government must strive to be transparent at all times in the fight against corruption.
Calderwood commented on Nigeria’s current security challenges, especially with regard to the developments in the Plateau, Kaduna and North East states, remarking that it was a high-profile security problem.
He disclosed that Canada has been of help to Nigeria in terms of providing training for the Police Force, hinting that a group from Canada was expected in Nigeria this week to provide extra–training to the Nigerian police in areas such as post–last investigations techniques and other specialised areas.
“With regard to the consequences of terrorism in the North East, Canada is one of the major donors for humanitarian support for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the country and the refugees who are outside this country. We gave about $5 million dollars in this regard and we still hope to provide more support in the years to come,” he added.
Similarly, he disclosed that Canada’s significant development programme in Nigeria stood at 50million Canadian dollars per year, which he said focused on two main areas. “They are health sector and within the health sector, the emphasis is heavily on maternal new child health. Nigerian has a very high maternal mortality rate of young children less than five years.
“Another area of our support in the health sector has been in the fight to eliminate polio, and it is very much a good news that Canada is providing $8million dollars.”
Calderwood further noted that the relationship between the two countries since Nigeria’s independence has been cordial, saying, “When I moved round Nigeria, Nigerians said that they were taught by Canadians. They were here in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and since independence, the relationship between the two countries has been more than cordial and warm.
“Unfortunately, there was a rough patch in the 1990s during the Abacha regime when Canada took a very strong stand against human rights violations in Nigeria. But since the restoration of democracy in 1999, the relationship between the two countries has blossomed and flourished. There is also trade and investment where the two countries work together and promote and share values, peace, security and human rights,” he added.
Calderwood was at the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) Vom, near Jos, where he handed over, on behalf of the government of Canada, the newly built biological containment laboratory to the staff and management of the institute.
He had told the NVRI authorities that, “The Laboratory, known as a biological safety level three (BSL 3) facility, will strengthen NVRI’s capacity to detect, diagnose and respond to infectious disease outbreaks across the region, whether they are naturally occurring or deliberately caused, leading to increased security for farmers and communities. The result will be enhanced health and security in Nigeria, Africa, Canada and beyond.”
Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was at the ceremony.
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