The United States has imposed visa restrictions on some Nigerians believed to be promotors of electoral violence ahead of elections in Edo and Ondo States. The visa restrictions were imposed on the individuals for their actions surrounding the November 2019 elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States and in the run-up to the Edo and Ondo States elections.
The U.S. State Department said the unnamed individuals have acted with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined the country’s democracy. The sanction comes a year after the U.S. government imposed visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections.
The United Kingdom and the European Union have also been urged to take similar actions against election offenders in Nigeria. A local pressure group, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), noted in a statement that the U.S. action would restore fairness, credibility and transparency to Nigeria’s electoral process.
The Executive Director, Auwal Musa, condemned unchecked violence, vote-buying and ballot looting during elections.
“CISLAC expresses total support to the new policy, which has validated the years of persistent demands by civil society, human rights and anti-corruption activists for stringent international measures to discourage electoral violence and fraud that undermine democratic principles in Nigeria,” he said.
“We are not unaware of the lack of political will at all levels of government to address electoral violence, in spite of the existence of laws and reports from several panels and commissions, with recommendations,” Musa added.
Shehu Sani, a former Nigeria senator, said the visa restrictions would help Africa’s biggest economy ensure credible and transparent elections.
“The US visa restrictions imposed on election riggers will help in the nation’s quest for transparent and credible elections by tackling impunity,” he said in a tweet.
Also, a presidential candidate in Nigeria’s 2019 election, Kingsley Moghalu, commended the State Department for the visa restrictions. He said in a tweet, “The supreme irony is that rigging elections has no real consequences inside Nigeria.”
Elections in Nigeria are often marred with violence, intimidation and ballot box snatching. At least 39 people were killed during the presidential elections in 2019.
This is about the third time the U.S. has mentioned visa restrictions for Nigerians involved in election-related violence. In 2015, ahead of a Nigerian general election, the U.S. warned that it will deny entry to anyone responsible for causing violence during the polls.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced this during a visit to Nigeria to urge its rival political camps to respect the outcome of the election.
“Given the stakes it’s absolutely critical that these elections are conducted peacefully,” Kerry told reporters. The U.S. was then concerned that post-election violence could undermine the stability of Nigeria, which is Africa’s top oil producer and ruin efforts to deal with the Islamist group, Boko Haram.
A former adviser to the State Department told the BBC that the decision to impose visa restrictions may be a sign of the declining relationship between the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Nigeria.
In recent times, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria has been heavily criticized for its high rate of visa refusal of Nigerians. Last May, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria announced stricter visa application processes for Nigerians, suspending the visa interview waiver for Nigerians renewing their U.S. visas.