UNITED States (U.S.) has imposed visa restriction on top politicians and other categories of Nigerians it considered to have undermined the electoral process in some states.
The Department of State in statement on Monday said those to be affected are individuals whose actions have undermined the democratic process during the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.
Also in the category are those behind violence in Saturday’s Edo State governorship election and the October 10 Ondo State governorship election.
In a statement on its website, the Department said: “The United States is a steadfast supporter of Nigerian democracy. We commend all those Nigerians who participated in elections throughout 2019 and have worked to strengthen Nigerian democratic institutions and processes.
“We remain committed to working together to advance democracy and respect for human rights and achieve greater peace and prosperity for both our nations.
“We condemn the acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process.”
Controversy trailed the Kogi poll as the battle shifted from the ballot box to the court. The litigations that followed the election traversed the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, the Court of Appeal before terminating at the Supreme Court.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello and candidate of the of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner.
One of the candidates alleged exclusion from the process, although the court dismissed her request for the nullification of the election.
Violence was reported from hot spots across the state during the election.
There was also a massive violence in the Bayelsa election won by APC candidate David Lyon. But the Supreme Court nullified the victory and returned PDP candidate Duoye Diri as governor.
Domestic monitors and foreign observers complained about sporadic shooting and disruption of polling units in some voting areas in Kogi.
Ahead of the Edo governorship poll, fears are rife that it may be marred by violence, judging by the pre-election violence.
INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmud Yakubu acknowledged on Monday at a stakeholders’ meeting in Benin-city, the state capital, that polling may take place under a charged atmosphere.
Pre-election party meetings and rallies have been disrupted, leading to accusations and counter-accusations between the two major parties.
Miffed by the spate of violence, Benin monarch Oba Ewuare II brokered a peace meeting with leaders of the ruling and major opposition parties, urging them to eschew violence.
Governor Godwin Obaseki of the PDP and his major challenger Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the APC, will today(Tuesday) sign a peace pact before the Gen. Abubakar Abdusalami Peace Committee.
The State Department said it was observing the events leading to the polls in Edo and Ondo states.
It urged the stakeholders to ensure the sanctity of the ballot box.
The Department added: “As the Edo and Ondo State off-cycle elections near, we urge all stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission, the political parties, and the security services, to uphold the tenets of democracy and facilitate genuinely free and fair elections, conducted in an appropriately transparent and non-violent manner.”
The U.S. on January 24, last year, said it would consider visa restrictions for individuals responsible for undermining the democratic process or for organising election-related violence.
It said: “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.”
It added: “The Department of State emphasizes 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.”