A resident electoral commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), three governors, academics (names withheld) who participated in general elections between 2019 and this year as well as some top security officials are on the list of Nigerians affected by the latest United States of America’s visa restriction.
In addition, some top chieftains in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been added to the list of electoral offenders.
Reports say other prominent Nigerians, including lawmakers were affected by the visa restriction for allegedly undermining the electoral process in the 2019 general election and some staggered elections held between last year and this year.
A governor in the North reportedly had his visa restriction extended in the latest review while two others were added to the list, it was learnt. Also on the list are two senior media practitioners from the South.
On Monday, September 14, the US Government made good its threat to impose visa restrictions on individuals responsible for acts of violence, intimidation, and corruption during the November 2019 elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
It equally vowed to impose restrictions on individuals who engage in violent conduct in the yet-to-be held Edo and Ondo states governorship elections.
In a statement by spokesperson of the United States Department of State, Morgan Ortagus, the US, being a steadfast supporter of Nigeria’s democracy, commended Nigerians who participated in elections throughout 2019 and have worked to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and processes.
She, however, said the US remained committed to working together with Nigeria to advance democracy and respect for human rights and achieve greater peace and prosperity for both countries.
Barely 24 hours after the US action, the United Kingdom (UK) has announced that it would impose ban on those involved in violence during the forthcoming Edo and Ondo states gubernatorial elections.
In a statement released, yesterday, by the British High Commission, Abuja, the UK took a step further as it said it would impose restrictions on access to UK based assets for electoral offenders or prosecute them under international law.
The UK said it would deploy observation missions to both Edo and Ondo elections and support civil society led obsevers.
It added that it took a strong stand against election-related violence and that just as it did in the general election in 2019, it would continue to take actions against individuals it identified as being responsible for violence in Nigerian elections.
“This could include restrictions on their eligibility to travel to the UK, restrictions on access to UK based assets or prosecution under international law.
“The UK will continue to provide support and engagement as we move towards these elections. We urge INEC, the police and all other agencies involved to work together to deliver free, fair and credible elections.”
The UK said as a friend and partner of Nigeria, it was closely following the lead up to the off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 19 and October 10 respectively.
It noted that the elections were important, both as an essential element of effective governance within both states and an indicator of the strength of Nigeria’s democratic institutions.
“Our High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, has held meetings with leaders of the two main political parties, APC and PDP. The discussions focused on the need for parties’ leaders to prevail on supporters to avoid violence before and after the elections, and we welcome the Edo candidates’ signature of the National Peace Committee and INEC convened peace accord today.”
The United States and the United Kingdom had in January, 2019, said they would restrict electoral offenders and their families from traveling to both countries.
The UK particularly said in March, 2019, that it was reviewing the events of the 2019 election and would take action on visa restrictions accordingly.
PDP lauds ban
While it commended the US, the PDP has urged the US Department of State to include family members of “such anti-democratic agents who have destroyed the credibility” of the electoral process in the country.
The opposition party in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, also urged the US to invite the European Union (EU), United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia as well as other countries to impose similar sanctions on electoral offenders.
It noted that the ban would serve as a warning to those who may be planning to rig the Edo and Ondo governorship polls to have a rethink.
“This visa ban, if taken across the globe, would be a final warning to leaders of APC as well as compromised security and INEC officials, being used by the APC to perpetrate electoral violence and manipulations.”
The PDP also urged Nigerians, particularly in Edo and Ondo state to remain at alert and strengthen their resolve by voting and firmly defending their votes from the polling and collation centers to the final declaration of results.
Saraki tasks EU
Former senate president, Bukola Saraki, has asked the United Kingdom and the European Union to emulate the US.
Saraki spoke at an event organised by the Centre for Advancement of Civil Liberties to mark this year’s International Day of Democracy, yesterday.
“The US decision to place visa restrictions on certain Nigerian politicians for their ignoble roles in the 2019 elections is commendable,” he said.
“I call on the UK and the European Union to follow suit. This is necessary to send the right and strong signal that those who undermine democracy in Nigeria are enemies of the rest of the democratic world.
“The sanctions should go beyond politicians and include electoral officers, security officials and judicial officers who undermine our democracy by their actions during and after elections.”
Saraki said rigging an election is not only evident at the polls but extends to other areas such as the registration of voters, emergence of candidates, operations of political parties, preparations by the electoral commission, independence of the electoral commission and neutrality of the security agencies.
He also called for a speedy passage of the electoral act to improve the credibility of elections as well as an end to the “illegal interference in the electoral process by security agencies”.
“May be there should be a law that prevents the deployment of the military for election assignments. We should ensure strict compliance with the law on this and even go further to enshrine this in our constitution,” he said.