Those who unduly interfere with Nigeria’s forthcoming general elections are to face restriction of visas and other punitive measures from the United States (U.S.) and United Kingdom (UK).
In two separate statements yesterday, both countries said they would be monitoring the elections ‘closely’ to ensure that they are free, fair and credible.
Specifically, the U.S. said although it had no preferred candidate, it was interested in the process because of Nigeria’s relevance to Africa and the world.
“The conduct of the upcoming elections in Nigeria is important not only for Nigeria, but for the African continent. The United States government does not support any specific candidate or party in the upcoming elections.
“We support the Nigerian democratic process itself. We support a genuinely free, fair, transparent, and peaceful electoral process. We and other democratic nations will be paying close attention to actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during and after the elections.
“We will not hesitate to consider consequences –including visa restrictions –for those found to be responsible for election-related violence or undermining the democratic process. Under U.S. immigration law, certain violations may also lead to restrictions on family members.”
Also, the UK in a statement, said it was committed to the growth of Nigeria’s democracy through free and fair polls, promising to deploy several observers to monitor the exercise.
It added that it would be on the look out for those bent on using violence and social media to influence the outcome.
“Twenty-three days to the presidential and national assembly elections and 37 days to the governorship and states assembly polls, the British High Commission in Abuja would like to reaffirm our support for free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria.
“We will continue to support the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian civil society to help them deliver credible elections,” the statement read in part.
In the recent past, the European Union (EU) had imposed economic sanctions on Cambodia after the country’s ruling party claimed to have won every seat in a Senate election in which many opposition supporters were stripped of their voting rights.
Another country that was sanctioned was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), especially the ruling coalition’s candidate for the presidential elections, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and 13 other senior officials.
The economic bloc imposed sanctions in 2016 and 2017 on Shadary and 15 other nationals over violent crackdowns on protests and repeated delays to the election, which was originally meant to hold two years earlier. Two of the 16 affected persons have since been transferred to a United Nations (UN) sanctions list.
The sanctions ranged from travel bans to freezing of assets, even though the EU disclosed the possibility of reviewing the restrictive measures.
Meanwhile, the announcement by the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, to withdraw from the race barely 24 days to the commencement of the general elections yesterday generated a controversy from several quarters.
In a tweet on her Twitter handle, she premised the decision on the need to build a coalition for a viable alternative to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The former Minister of Education noted that her stance was a product of broad consultations after considering reactions from Nigerians at home and abroad in the wake of the presidential debate which held on the 19th of this month.
“I have decided to step down from the presidential race and focus on helping to build a coalition for a viable alternative to the #APCPDP in the 2019 general elections. This coalition has now more than ever before become an urgent mission for and on behalf of the citizenry,” she stated.
A statement by the spokesperson for Obiageli Ezekwesili Presidential Campaign Organisation, Ozioma Ubabukoh, added: “I wish to state that over the past three months, I have been in private, but extended talks with other candidates to birth a coalition that would allow Nigerians to exercise their choice without feeling helplessly encumbered by the evil twins of #APCPDP.
“While the deliberations continued, I never hesitated for a moment in my willingness and determination to sacrifice my candidacy in order to facilitate the emergence of the envisaged strong and viable alternative that Nigerians could identify with in our collective search for a new beginning.
“My commitment to this promising political recalibration has been consistent and in consonance with my agreement, at the request of candidates under the Presidential Aspirants Coming Together (PACT) arrangement in 2018, when I consented to supervise the internal selection process as an outside observer passionate about building an alternative force.”
It went on: “However, despite resistance from the ACPN on this and other issues, I have decided that it is now necessary to show by action and example my determination on this issue by stepping down my candidacy so as to focus squarely on building the coalition to a logical conclusion.”
Reacting, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) faulted the decision of the one-time Vice President, African Region of the World Bank, informing her that the move contravened constitutional provisions.
The electoral umpire specifically stated that no standard-bearer could at this point back down from the contest.
According to the timetable and schedule of activities, the last day for withdrawal or substitution of candidates was November 17, 2018 for the presidential and National Assembly polls.
“Therefore, the deadline for Ezekwesili or any candidates in that category to withdraw or be replaced has passed,” a statement quoted the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, as saying.
He observed that the withdrawal changes nothing, as her party and name will still appear on the ballot.
The ACPN, on its part, said the erstwhile #Bring Back our Girls (BBOG) facilitator never consulted it before announcing her pullout, a claim, she punctured through her campaign spokesperson.
The party stated that it had declared support for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari on the APC platform.
At a news conference in Abuja, the national chairman and vice presidential candidate, Alhaji Ganiyu Galadima, said Ezekwesili’s announcement was not a surprise to them, as she only pre-empted the party’s decision to support another flag-bearer.
He said: “She only pre-empted the decision we would have reached today (yesterday) which was to withdraw her candidacy and give to somebody else.”
Besides, the presidential standard-bearer of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Fela Durotoye, has indicated readiness to form a coalition with his counterparts in African Action Congress (AAC) and Young Progressives Party (YPP), Omoyele Sowore, and Prof. Kingsley Moghalu.
In a statement, he said the move was to ensure that “an alliance is formed and we present a united front. I am ready to come into any coalition with my brothers – Omoyele Sowore and Prof. Kingsley Moghalu – and submit myself to any transparent process that will help us arrive at a selection of a consensus candidate from among us.”
He added: “I have always believed that leadership is about service and sacrifice and today, I would like to commend Dr. (Oby) Ezekwesili for leading the charge to form a viable coalition to present a consensus candidate for the 2019 presidential elections.”
Rivers women expressed displeasure at Ezekwesili’s decision, demanding the main reason for the sudden change of heart.
They spoke yesterday in Port Harcourt at a programme organised by Gender and Development Action, (GADA) in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) where over 60 women, drawn from different parts of the state, were enlightened on “stop violence against women in politics.
Yesterday too, the presidency sought integrity tests for outdoor campaign structures and fabrications, including daises, tents, stages, and electrical and other equipment.
The appeal was contained in the president’s condolence messages to families and relatives of some of his supporters who lost their lives in an automobile accident while heading for rallies in Jigawa State.
Four persons reportedly died and six others injured in the incident.
He also condoled with relations of two other loyalists who died in a stampede in Sokoto State. Buhari said: “The death of any party supporter touches me because these were poor Nigerians who made sacrifices to make Nigeria a better country by identifying with my change agenda.
“I will never forget the sacrifices of these ordinary Nigerians who travelled long distances to attend my presidential campaign rallies.”
“These ordinary Nigerians were the pillars of our democracy because without them, we, politicians, become irrelevant.”
Besides, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) Africa, yesterday raised the alarm that voters’ inducement, buying of permanent Voter’s cards (PVCs) and violence have remained unabated in spite of sustained reportage of the acts.
Its Executive Director, Samson Itodo, said INEC should make more efforts to safeguard the accreditation process for the 2019 general elections due to reports of PVCs’ purchase in parts of the country.
In its third pre-election observation conducted by 822 Watching the Vote (WTV) Long-Term Observers (LTOs) deployed in each of the 774 local council areas nationwide, the group observed that while the electoral umpire was preparing for the polls, political parties were busy employing tactics to undermine the credibility of the exercise.
The report, titled: Has The Appetite For Electoral Integrity Dwindled? showed an upsurge in buying of PVCs compared to previous years, adding that the reason for the menace remains unclear.