•United Kingdom temporarily closes visa application centres ahead of polls
•No Nigerian should be intimidated in voting candidates of their choice, ACF, NEF, Ohanaeze warn
•NLC urges workers to turn out massively to vote on Saturday
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Michael Olugbode and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
Exactly three days to Nigeria’s presidential and National Assembly elections, the United Kingdom (UK), former President Goodluck Jonathan, and Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Justin Welby, have appealed for free, fair, transparent, and peaceful polls. The appeals were contained in separate messages yesterday ahead of the elections coming up on Saturday.
The calls came as key socio-political organisations from different parts of the country – Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and Northern Elders Forum (NEF) – yesterday, warned that no Nigerian should be penalised or intimidated for holding an opinion or making a free choice within the confines of the law in the forthcoming elections. They gave the warning in a statement issued at the end of a meeting in Abuja. That was as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) directed all workers to ensure massive participation in the election.
NLC urged workers to vote and make sure they safeguard their votes at the polling units.
The UK government stressed the importance it attached to Nigeria’s elections, saying it is closely monitoring the run up to the general election. It promised to continue to work with INEC and the civil society organisations to ensure that the forthcoming elections were peaceful and credible. The government called for proactive intervention to calm any tensions and prevent violence in the periods before, during and after the elections.
UK’s Minister of State for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, in a statement issued ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 general election said, “Nigeria matters to the UK, and we are following the run up to these Presidential, National Assembly and gubernatorial elections very closely. Over the last two months, I have met four of the presidential candidates and the Chairman of INEC, and emphasised our support for the process and our commitment to a strong relationship between our two countries.
“The UK government continues to work closely with INEC and our Nigerian civil society partners to provide advisory support on electoral and legal reforms, assist in strengthening democratic institutions, and advocate for the importance of civil society engagement in electoral and democratic processes to help deliver credible elections.
“It is vital for Nigeria’s stability and democratic consolidation that the electoral process is free, fair, and credible. I encourage all actors in Nigeria to intervene proactively to calm any tensions and prevent violence in the periods before, during and after the elections.”
Mitchell also said, “I call on party officials at all levels to respect human rights and electoral laws and institutions and take a firm stand against violence and hate speech. I strongly condemn any actions that undermine the peaceful and transparent conduct of the electoral process.”
According to him, “Where the UK is aware of attempts to subvert democratic processes at the national or state level, we are prepared to take action against those who engage in or incite electoral violence and other anti-democratic behaviours.
“These actions could include preventing people from obtaining UK visas or imposing sanctions under our human rights sanctions regime.
“The UK Government remains committed to supporting credible and inclusive elections, which are fundamental to Nigeria’s continued democratic growth and to the future of regional and global democracy.”
Relatedly, the British government announced that it would temporarily close its visa application centres in Lagos and Abuja during the period of Nigeria’s general election beginning February 25. The UK Visas and Immigration Centre disclosed this yesterday via its verified Twitter handle. It revealed that the Visa Application Centres in Abuja and Lagos would be closed on Friday and next Monday, following the elections scheduled for February 25.
According to the UK, customers can purchase the “Keep my Passport” in order to retain their passports during the period of closure.
The notice read, “The Visa Application Centres in Abuja, Ikeja, and Victoria Island will be closed on Friday, February 24, and Monday, February 27.
“No VAC appointments will be booked on these days, and customers will not be able to access the VAC to collect documents/passports.
“Customers have the option to purchase the Keep my Passport and Courier return services in advance of the VAC closure in order to retain their passport during the period of closure.”
Jonathan, Archbishop of Canterbury Call for Violence-free Elections
Former President Goodluck Jonathan enjoined Nigerians to be patriotic and peaceful, and display true sportsmanship as they exercised their civic rights to vote for candidates of their choice. Jonathan stated this in a message to Nigerians, according a statement by his Special Adviser, Ikechukwu Eze.
The former president urged politicians to eschew hatred and violence, be circumspect in their actions, and work towards consolidating the country’s democracy.
He told the youth, “The future belongs to you; do not allow yourselves to be used as agents of destruction and violence. Nigeria is yours to build.
“This election provides you with the opportunity to be key partners in the nation-building process by electing leaders of your choice; those you can hold to account, those you trust to defend your future and guarantee unity, peace, and prosperity in our great country.”
The former president stated that the 2023 elections meant so much to all the citizens, describing it as a moment of truth and courage.
Jonathan also said, “Democracy has put our fate in our hands. It has given us power, the power to make the right choices, determine our future, and shape our destiny. I urge you all to make your respective choices in the best interest of our land. Let us make our choices peacefully and respect the choices and rights of others.”
He added, “This is a historic week for our country, as citizens of voting age go out to cast their ballots this weekend to elect our next president and federal parliamentarians who will be expected to make laws for the common good of the land. The same exercise will be repeated for governorship and state Houses of Assembly in two weeks.
“It is a time that requires us all to exercise the highest form of patriotism in our nation-building journey and collective quest for peace and progress.
“Let us approach this election with devotion, dedication, and selflessness, by ensuring that we don’t jeopardise our country’s peace and unity as we exercise our franchise and pursue our political dreams and aspirations.
“In recent times, West Africa and a few other nations in our continent have witnessed a crisis of democracy that has led to unconstitutional change of governments, which has derailed their democratic quest for peace and development.
“We must not allow our elections to be a source of violence and anarchy. We must desist from the temptation of yielding to those desirous of making our communities and states, theatres of conflicts for their selfish ends.”
Jonathan urged Nigerians to realise that the primary purpose of democracy was to uphold the freedom and dignity of citizens and deploy the instruments of governance toward advancing and improving the well-being of the people.
He stressed the need to strive to consolidate the gains the country had recorded in its democracy in the last two decades by ensuring that the elections were peaceful, just, and fair.
The former president also urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies, and other critical stakeholders in the country’s democracy to be professional, civil, and non-partisan as they carry out their duties during the elections.
He stated, “This way, we can deepen citizens’ faith in our democratic process and minimise the likelihood of electoral violence.
“To politicians, this is a time to be circumspect in our actions and work towards consolidating our democracy. Power is sought and held in trust to be selflessly exercised in the interest of the people and seeking it at all costs negates this ideals and projects politicians in a bad light.
“Let us eschew hatred and violence and display true sportsmanship, during and after the poll. I urge you all to make your respective choices in the best interest of our land. Let us make our choices peacefully and respect the choices and rights of others.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Justin Welby, also appealed for free, fair, transparent and violence-free elections.
The clergy, who made the call on his Twitter handle, @JustinWelby, wrote, “As Nigerians prepare to elect new leaders in the coming days and weeks, I sincerely appeal for free, fair, transparent, and violence-free elections, conducted with the fear of God.
“My prayer is for the elections to produce a caring leadership that seeks to protect and provide for the needs of all Nigerians in this land of amazing talent and abundance, and that the results are honoured by all.
“I call on Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to hold up the nation in prayer for a successful exercise.”
No Nigerian Should Be Intimidated in Voting Candidates of Their Choice, ACF, NEF, Ohaneze Warn
The socio-political groups warned against intimidation at the polls, in a joint statement signed by ACF Secretary, Murtala Aliyu, ACF Director, Advocacy and Engagement, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed; and Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, for Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The statement said the meeting, among others, reviewed the state of political campaigns and explored ways in which their groups could contribute to the emergence of leaders from credible elections conducted under peaceful conditions, as well as a peaceful transition to the next administration.
The groups stressed the need for responsible conduct by all politicians and vigilance by other leaders and elders towards ensuring that the country produced the best leadership possible under the most peaceful conditions.
The groups resolved that all Nigerians had a role to play in ensuring the conduct of credible elections and a peaceful transition to the next administration.
They stated, “All voters must be availed the opportunities to freely exercise their political choices. Nigerians living in all parts of the country must be encouraged to stay put, under secure circumstances, to vote and exercise their franchise.
“We hold it as a sacred principle that no Nigerian should be penalised for holding an opinion or exercising his free choice within the confines of the law.”
The groups stressed that governments at all levels, security agencies and host communities should give every Nigerian, wherever they live and work, assurances of their safety and the protection of their rights during elections.
They stated, “We urge our fellow citizens who may be planning to travel to areas of origin to resist every temptation to do so. Let them make their staying back a clear demonstration of real willingness to protect their rights to live wherever they are and participate in all election activities like all other Nigerians.”
They stressed that Nigerians should be aware that they would be going into defining elections, wherein leaders should be elected on the basis of competence and capacity to drive “our economic development, social justice and political unity forward”.
They added that they believed it was possible to conduct the elections without violence or rupture to the country’s deep roots in all parts of Nigeria.
“Indeed, we believe no one will benefit from the subversion of credible elections or a peaceful atmosphere under which they will hold,” the groups stressed.
They pointed out that groups such as theirs had a responsibility to reduce distances between communities and build bridges that should strengthen the unity and security of the country.
NLC Urges Workers to Turn Out Massively to Vote on Saturday
NLC directed all workers to ensure massive participation in the election of the next president of the country.
A statement by NLC president Joe Ajaero, yesterday, warned that the labour movement would not accept any disruption of the electoral process by those he described as vested interests. It urged INEC to ensure that the elections were free and fair and that the peoples’ votes counted.
The statement highlighted the decisions reached at the National Administrative Council (NAC) meeting of NLC, “That INEC should not only ensure that the electoral processes are transparent but reflects the wishes of voters.”
NLC urged all election observers to pay serious attention to the processes adopted in the conduct of the election to see that they conform to constitutional provisions. It stated that it also deliberated on the issue of six months’ salary arrears owed workers of Abia State and directed the state’s branch and affiliates to commence mobilisation for strike immediately after the expiration of the ultimatum given to the state government on Friday, February 24.