•Expresses surprise about Nigeria’s livid reaction to visa ban on election riggers
The United Kingdom has responded to the Nigerian government’s condemnation of its threat to impose a visa ban on perpetrators of electoral violence in the country, saying it respects the sovereignty of Nigeria, but reserves the right to determine who gets British visa.
Ahead of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, the British government had threatened to ban anyone guilty of electoral violence and seize their assets in the UK. The warning came a day after the United States placed a visa ban on individuals who compromised recent governorship elections in Nigeria.
The federal government protested the threat and visa restrictions, saying such actions by the US and UK were disrespectful to Nigeria’s sovereignty.
But speaking in Abuja on Thursday at an orientation programme for people with disability seeking Chevening scholarship opportunities in the UK, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, said the issue of visa restriction on perpetrators of electoral violence was the UK’s policy and did not amount to an assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty.
She said: “It is our visa policy, and we can determine who comes to the UK. So, that is a non-sovereign right and all we are saying is that in line with the Nigerian policy, that those who commit violence or who incite violence, there may be an implication for that person when they apply for a visa to the UK.
“So, I think it is actually completely consistent with the Nigerian policy. This is our visa policy, but obviously, it is for Nigeria to determine how they deal with these perpetrators in Nigeria.”
On wether the UK would heed the Nigerian government’s response and drop such plans of imposing a visa ban on electoral offenders, Laing said she was surprised at the reaction.
She said prior to the 2019 general election, the federal government welcomed the UK policy, stating that the UK welcomed the fact that the Nigerian government was following up on electoral malpractice, and commended the peaceful conduct of the September 19 election in Edo.
Last week, the British embassy, in its statement threatening election violence perpetrators, said: “The UK takes a strong stand against election-related violence and, just as we did in the general election in 2019, will continue to take action against individuals we identify as being responsible for violence during the 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.”
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, had announced his country’s visa ban on Nigerian election riggers, adding that actions have also been taken against some persons in the run-up to the September and October 2020 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo.
The identities of those affected by the ban were not disclosed.
Pompeo’s statement read: “In July 2019, we announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections. Today, the Secretary of State is imposing additional visa restrictions on individuals for their actions surrounding the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa State elections and in the run up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo State elections.
“These individuals have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles.
“The Department of State emphasises that the actions announced today are specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people. This decision reflects the Department of State’s commitment to working with the Nigerian government to realise its expressed commitment to end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.”
The US said it remained a steadfast supporter of Nigerian democracy and commended all those Nigerians who participated in elections throughout 2019 and have worked to strengthen democratic institutions and processes.
However, the spokesperson of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwonye, noted that such punitive measures by foreign countries were unnecessary as the government had shown commitment to ensuring credible elections, adding that there are laws providing necessary sanctions for offenders.
Nwonye said: “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.
“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 U.S. to cooperate with our relevant agencies.”