In January, the US Department of State had warned that there would be consequences, including visa restrictions, for those who, through their actions or in-actions attempted to undermine democracy in the country before, during and after the 2019 general elections. So, like the sword of Damocles, the visa restriction announcement came from the spokesman for the US Department of State, Morgan Ortagus, in Washington.
In their effort to protect democracy and Nigerians, Ortagus said: “These individuals have operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights”. It is therefore part of the US Department of State’s commitment to the growth and sustenance of democracy in Nigeria that they are issuing the ban.
This visa restriction came barely a few weeks after the European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM) Nigeria 2019 submitted a damning report on their findings during the elections. They reported on the severe operational and transparency shortcomings, electoral security problems and the resultant low voter turnout. They observed acts of violence, deaths, intimidation, abuse of incumbency at both state and federal levels, even in the area of media operations where either the state or federal government has monopoly.
If anyone has any doubt about the observations of the US and EU about the elections, the number of reported deaths which stands at more than 100, and the number of post-election litigations that is more than 1,000 are eloquent testimonies of the actions of the ‘enemies’ of the democratic processes in Nigeria. The 20 years of democracy has not been encouraging, as each election seems to be worse than the last when logically the people and the global community feel there ought to be progressively better election processes from party primaries to the general elections.
Even though the United States visa policy seems not to allow the naming of culprits in instances such as this, it is a welcome action for a democracy that seems the most abused on earth. Given the position of the country as the political and economic giant of the continent, the viability of its democracy is of utmost importance to the global community.
For so long, individuals and groups have gotten away with violating the electoral processes to the detriment of the people and stability of the political space, with the plethora of negative consequences like deaths and arson, bad governance, loss of economic and political viability and brain-drain, among others. The actions of the United States and the EU are eloquent warnings to all those who, through their actions or inactions thwart the will of the people who are the mandate givers in a democracy.
It is equally curious that the Chief Ken Nnamani-led Constitutional and Electoral Reforms Committee that was charged to look at the laws and make recommendations is yet to effectually make any impact. The country seems to lack an effective process of punishing those who sabotage democracy.
The move by the US would possibly tame some of the offenders as it would have far- reaching impact. Some of the culprits have children and funds in the US and this means any slush funds would be lost and their family bonding broken as they cannot go there anymore.
It is shameful that almost six decades after independence, Nigeria still needs some external democracy policemen to rein in electoral offenders. If the country was seen as self-cleansing in this process, the world would have faced other development challenges rather than dissipating energy and resources trying to ensure compliance.
It beggars belief too that the country does not have a workable reward and punishment system that gets offenders punished as a deterrent to others. Sabotaging democracy in any nation is seen as one of the worst crimes against not just the people but a distortion of the world order. A post-1945 establishment of the United Nations signalled an attempt at global brotherhood that seeks to enhance a global sense of peace and unity.
We welcome all the help from the world to help punish and, may be end interference by individuals and groups, and implore countries like the United Kingdom to follow suit as that would be very impactful in ending impunity in our democratic space. But the country must also try self-purge for development and progress. No country can cure internal aberrations more than its own citizens. Election manipulation is an ill-wind that blows no one any good.
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