It is no longer news that the United States and United Kingdom have imposed visa restrictions on Nigerians considered to be responsible for undermining the country’s democratic process. The US came up on Monday, 14th September, 2020 with restrictions, followed by the UK yesterday. The bans come as Edo and Ondo States hold elections to elect governors, with Edo’s poll coming up on Saturday while Ondo is in October.
The US restrictions as announced by the State Department include the imposition of visa bans on individuals for their actions relating to the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa States elections and in the run up to the upcoming Edo and Ondo State elections. The affected individuals have been determined to have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles.
These actions by the US are specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people as a whole, as the Department of State restated its commitment to working with the Nigerian government to realize its expressed commitment to end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability and respect for human rights. US State Department Spokesman, Morgan Ortagus, said in a statement on Monday that his country, as a steadfast supporter of Nigerian democracy, commends all Nigerians who participated in elections throughout 2019 and have worked to strengthen Nigerian democratic institutions and processes.
The statement did not list the individuals affected by the ban, although some publications mentioned some serving and former governors and those involved have been informed of the US decision either via email or SMS. Ortagus said the US remained committed to working with Nigeria to advance democracy and respect for human rights, to achieve greater peace and prosperity for both our nations, while also condemning the acts of violence, intimidation and corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process.
The Americans are urging all stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, political parties and security services involved in the Edo and Ondo elections to uphold the tenets of democracy and facilitate genuinely free and fair elections, conducted in an appropriately transparent and non-violent manner. The State Department spokesman referred to a statement of January last year when the US Government threatened to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for individuals responsible for undermining Nigeria’s democratic process or for organizing election-related violence.
Also in July of the same year, the US announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections. The bans announced on Monday are a fulfilment of those earlier threats. In its own statement via the Twitter handle of the British High Commission in Abuja, the United Kingdom said the sanctions it would impose on those working against Nigeria’s democratic process could include restrictions on their eligibility to travel to the UK, restrictions on access to UK-based assets, or prosecution under international law, just as it did after the 2019 elections.
British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, said she has held meetings with the leaders of the All Progressives Congress and the People’s Democratic Party, on the need for the parties to prevail on their supporters to avoid violence before, during and after polls in Edo State on Saturday. The UK welcomed the signing of a peace accord by the governorship candidates in the state, saying it would be deploying observation missions to both Edo and Ondo polls, while also supporting civil society-led observer teams. According to the High Commissioner, “The UK takes a strong stand against election-related violence and just as we did in the general election in 2019, we will continue to take action against individuals we identify as being responsible for violence during elections”.
Other European and North American countries such as France, Germany and Canada are expected to also take the same position as the UK and US have done. This is not the first time such countries are imposing visa bans or seizure of assets on Nigerians deemed to have obstructed the democratic process. There are divergent views as to how these measures have affected the individuals affected by such bans.
Those who have been affected have either simply ignored those countries and gone elsewhere for their business or leisure pursuits, or they just stay in Nigeria and continue with their lives. Many Nigerians also feel that the sanctions against these individuals are not sweeping or stringent enough to hurt the culprits. They would also prefer that more guilty parties are dragged into the net in an expanded effort that should serve as a deterrent to others, who should not only be politicians but also electoral officials found to be involved in election fraud.
• Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.