04/11/2011 12:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2011

Nigerian Elections Off To A Strong Start

Full Disclosure: As someone who has been active in both advising on and overseeing elections in Africa and Nigeria, I have worked for several pro-democracy candidates in Nigeria, including President Goodluck Jonathan.

International observers have been understandably wary about the elections in Nigeria. In a country where political intimidation and violence have marred every election since they gained independence, many were expecting this election to follow suit.

But thanks to a herculean effort by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian elections that kicked off over the weekend looked nothing like elections past. And those same observers who voiced concerns in recent weeks are now hailing the vote as a major turning point for the country:

"It is off to a good start. We have to acknowledge the good work of Jega and the work of Nigerian youth corps members. Nigeria should be extraordinarily proud of these young men and women who managed this process in a fair way" - US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnie Carson

"We observed an overall encouraging conduct of the elections, in a generally peaceful atmosphere. Our observers reported that the majority of visited polling units were operational, and that accreditation and voting were mainly conducted in a timely manner." - EU Chief Election Observer Alojz Peterle

"It was a real election, and it was a real vote" - NDI President Kenneth Wollack

"In our experience the National Assembly elections generally took place in a peaceful and orderly manner. The required staff and stakeholders were present and the various stages of the electoral process on polling day - including accreditation, voting, counting, tabulation and declaration of results - broadly proceeded smoothly and transparently...We believe that an important step forward has been taken in Nigeria with the successful conduct of the National Assembly elections." - Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana and Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group

Without doubt, there is still work to be done to shore up the democratic system in Nigeria. The Presidential and Gubernatorial elections will be held in the coming weeks...and then there's the task of governing. But both the Electoral Commission and President Jonathan have shown that they are ready and willing to do the hard work of transforming politics in Nigeria from a system that exploits ethnic and religious divisions and fears to one that ensures all Nigerians have the security and freedom to voice their views.