Yahaya Bello writes US, says ban unacceptable
Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The federal government has said that the decision of the United States Government and United Kingdom to impose visa restriction on anyone that undermine the democratic process in the country ahead of the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states is disrespectful to the sovereignty of Nigeria.
Also, Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello has protested against the visa ban by the United States of America on politicians alleged to have rigged the November 2019 election in the state.
The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ferdinand Nwoye, in a statement issued yesterday, said it should be noted that there were ample provisions in the country’s laws to sanction violators and perpetrators of electoral violence and fraud.
He stated: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to state that the Nigerian Government has taken note of the concerns of some of our partners, specifically the US and UK governments regarding the elections in Edo and Ondo States.
“They have also expressed their intention to take punitive measures against those they decide will be involved in what they termed as ‘undermining democracy’.
“Furthermore, it should be noted that there are ample provisions in our laws to sanction violators and perpetrators of electoral violence and fraud. It would be considered disrespectful of the sovereignty of Nigeria for any outside authority to sit in judgment over the conduct of our citizens and apply punitive measures such as visa restriction, unilaterally.”
Nwoye stressed that the responsibility for the conduct of elections in Nigeria solely resides with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commissions.
He noted that the federal government, and especially the President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to providing all necessary logistic, financial and security support to the electoral process.
Nwoye noted that the President has continually urged all parties and contestants to peacefully conduct themselves before, during and after the elections, and supported patriotic non-governmental initiatives such as the Abdusalami Abubakar Peace Committee.
He added, “While we appreciate the support and encouragement of our international partners such as the EU, we urge our equally valued partners such as the UK and US to cooperate with our relevant agencies by providing them whatever concrete evidence of observed misconduct to allow our laws and regulations to take their course.”
In a letter to the Ambassador of the United States of America by the Secretary to the Government of Kogi State, Mrs. Folashade Arike Ayoade, the governor said the US should have created an opening or platform for fair hearing.
Titled, ‘Re: Visa Restrictions On Individuals And Inclusion Of The 2019 Kogi State Gubernatorial Elections In US State Department List Of Allegedly Compromised Elections – A Letter Of Protest’, Kogi State Government also urged the US to accord greater empathy, more civility and much less disruption to nascent democracies.
Parts of the letter read, “The Kogi State Government became aware of a United States Government list of individuals who received US visa restrictions for alleged electoral malpractices via a Press Statement to that effect posted on your Embassy website.
“In your own words, the still-unnamed individuals are cited as guilty of ‘acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process.’ They are also alleged to ‘have operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights.
“You also noted in the statement that the sanctions are derived from unspecified misconducts by the said individuals which extend from the February/March 2019 General Elections in Nigeria through the off-cycle November 2019 gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa to the as yet unheld governorship contests in Edo and Ondo States. Please note that for the purposes of this protest letter we are only interested in the citations to the extent that they are referable to Kogi State and her citizens.
“For the most part, we concede that elections in Nigeria are complex affairs which will continue to require improvements for the foreseeable future. The 2019 Kogi State Gubernatorial Election was also not without its challenges. However, it is also crystal clear from critical and composite analyses of the records (official, media, observers, etc) of the November 16, 2020 polls that regrettable incidents were limited to a few polling units, while the overwhelmingly larger portions of the ballot were free, fair and credible.”
Governor Bello insisted that in line with Nigerian law, the few political parties and individuals who alleged widespread electoral malpractices had free rein to contest the outcome in court where they “vigorously litigated their claims over a grueling 9-month period, through a 3-step hierarchy of courts, to the inescapable conclusion at the Supreme Court of Nigeria that the said elections satisfactorily complied with the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act.
“Our concern right now is not the prerogative of the United States of America to impose entry restrictions on anyone, for any or no reason at all, which prerogative remains unfettered, but the room for atrocious misinformation which the timing of your Press Statement and the mention of the Kogi elections therein has created in our state.
“For the February and March 2019 General elections, your advisory came out in July 2019, long before the Supreme Court delivered her judgments in the petitions against those elections, including challenges to President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection. The presumption is that in spite of your intervention, the Supreme Court still discovered no merit in the petitions and dismissed them accordingly.
“In our case, ie, Kogi State, you made the tactical decision to release the update shortly after the Supreme Court delivered judgments in the 4 petitions which made it before her. Amongst a plethora of well-reasoned pronouncements the Apex Court dismissed the said petitions for failing to prove their allegations and for having no ‘scintilla of merit’. The inference from your timing is that the judgment is somehow tainted and did not meet the justice of the case, thereby casting aspersions, not only on the Nigerian Judiciary, but on the second term mandate freely bestowed on His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello by the good people of Kogi State.
“We find this unacceptable, and we protest your presumption. The least you could have done, if indeed this is about democracy and human rights as claimed is create room, no matter how slim, for fair hearing. As it is now, partisan speculations as to who is indicted, who is not and for what, has become cudgels, furiously swung in the media space by all comers. Your action has therefore added abundant grist to the rumour mills and electrified the merchants of fake news”.
He further stated that the position and release by the United States of America had given a handle to those claiming without proof that the election was tainted and had allegedly been meeting the press and using the said ban as a reference point.
He stressed that the governor was not challenging the visa ban but registering the strongest protest as a state to the collateral and unwarranted interference its political and social processes which it represents.
“We believe that if the United States of America, despite her commanding heights and much longer experience as the acclaimed Bastion of Democracy in the world, is still locked in a fight to defend the integrity of her own electoral processes to this very day, then she ought to accord greater empathy, more civility and much less disruption, to nascent democracies,” the letter concluded.