Niger is not Nigeria. The two countries may be neighbours with ethnic affinity but they are two different countries with two different governments and two different heads of governments. Last week Thursday, two state governors from Niger Republic, Mr. Issa Moussa of Zinder and Mr. Zakiri Umar of Maradi State, came with a multitude into Kano, a town in Nigeria, dressed in the regalia of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s ruling party, to campaign for President Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential flagbearer. This is unprecedented.
I know of no government official of another country that has come into Nigeria to campaign for a candidate or party in Nigeria nor do I know of any Nigerian government official who has gone to another country to campaign for a candidate in that country. So, what the two governors from Niger Republic did last Thursday in Kano was a direct, rude, cocky and blatant intervention in the domestic affairs of Nigeria. Their interference is aimed at influencing the outcome of the forthcoming elections in Nigeria in favour of Mr. Buhari and his party. Foreign intervention in our elections, whether committed by Africans or Europeans or Americans or Russians or anybody else who is not a Nigerian, is unacceptable and unwelcome.
Niger seems to enjoy reasonably friendly relations with Nigeria. Last year, President Buhari gave priority to the construction of a rail line from Kano to Maradi and Zinder, from whence the two governors come. The two states also have a huge Fulani and Muslim population, so their affinity with parts of Northern Nigeria is strong. These two governors would like, I think, to continue to enjoy a good relationship with Nigeria in the days to come. But they are going about it the wrong way, which amounts, in the final analysis, to an abuse of the diplomatic relations between the two countries. It is also a challenge and an insult to Nigeria’s sovereign status.
If Buhari wins the February 16 election, the two Governors can breathe easy and come over in their flowing gowns for a party. If he loses, and someone else wins, the two governors will be crawling and begging for mercy from the winner of the election. What they have done is a gamble based on foolishness. Their appearance in Kano for a few hours is unlikely to be a deciding factor for the February 16 election. It may, in fact, not work for Buhari because many Nigerians may be offended by the fact that two governors from a handkerchief-sized country like Niger actually want to influence the outcome of our elections.
If Buhari wins, Nigerians will be watching to see if he is going to grant the two governors, even the Nigerien government, unmerited favours. So, this blatant endorsement is not likely to be eminently useful to them or to Buhari, but it has consequences for the way we run our democracy.
Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of the EFCC and now the director of field operations of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, has spoken to the Saturday Vanguard on the matter. He said: “It is a free world and it is the constitutional right of everyone to be where he wants to be. You have no right to stop anybody from doing what he wants to do. People from West Africa are free to move into Nigeria. We have a protocol or agreement that they don’t need a visa to come into this country. I know for sure that they don’t have to vote but as a free West African who believes that someone has done extremely very well and decided to identify himself with what he believes in, I don’t think there is anything wrong and I don’t think there is any crime committed. You cannot and you have no right as a Nigerian to stop them from exercising their fundamental rights to identify with their friends.”
This is bunkum. No foreigner has any constitutional right to come and interfere in our campaigns just because the ECOWAS protocol allows him a visa-less entry into Nigeria. If they want to come here and go to a night club to dance suku suku with their friends, no one will complain.
A few weeks ago, when the idea of America granting a visa to Mr. Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, was mooted, the Minster of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, warned America not to do so. His view was that granting a visa to Mr. Abubakar would be an indication that America was preferentially well disposed towards Abubakar. That could be interpreted, said Mohammed, as an endorsement. America granted a visa to the man and he travelled to the US for a few days.
I do not see how that American decision can, by any stretch of the imagination, be seen as an endorsement of Atiku. But it is obvious that in an election season, especially in Nigeria, every and anything can be turned into a political tool.
Since last year, the Western countries have shown immense interest in Nigeria’s forthcoming elections. Last November, 24 countries, including United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and some European Union countries, issued a joint statement calling for free and fair conduct of the polls.
They said: “who wins the elections is for the Nigerian people to decide. Our concern is to see a process leading to free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections. We hope to see transparent campaigns and we urge all voters to use their democratic rights and vote. We are particularly keen to see greater participation of women, youth and people living with disabilities.”
These countries, especially the US and UK, have also threatened to use their visa power to deal with election riggers. The concern about free and fair elections is tied to the fact that, without it, Nigeria may step into a bloody conflict zone and because of its size the whole of West Africa may become affected.
Besides, the oil world is volatile and any disruption in the oil-producing communities as a result of the elections may bring about a disruption in global economy and peace. Don’t forget that many of these countries have massive investments in Nigeria, so their concern is not misplaced.
Their concern is not new. Before the 2015 elections, the US government sent its Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, to Nigeria to ascertain the preparedness of Nigeria for the conduct of free and fair elections. Even though Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has claimed in his book that Mr. Barack Obama was trying to twist his arms, especially over anti-gay legislation, it is unlikely that he lost the election because America wanted him to lose it.
Many Nigerians are worried about the happenings in recent weeks and how these might affect the conduct of the elections. These actions include the deployment of the army in all the 36 states for election duties and the failure or refusal of President Buhari to sign the amended Electoral Act, which could have improved the management of the election.
On the heels of these issues came the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr. Walter Onnoghen, in a manner that suggests a hidden agenda. This has raised the nation’s temperature unduly as well as elicited a rash of petitions and court cases, throwing into an avoidable uncertainty the prospects of a rancour-free election.
Those who think the international community is trying to interfere in our elections have not yet proven their case. Their concern, as far as I can see, is normal.
Nigeria is an important country in West Africa, and has Africa’s biggest economy. Its population is in the region of 200 million. Anything that goes wrong with Nigeria will go wrong with West Africa and the rest of the West African countries do not have the capacity to absorb millions of refugees, if it comes to that, from Nigeria.
Nigeria is a sovereign country but there is nothing like absolute sovereignty because we live in an interdependent world. When we accept aid and grants and investment funds from other countries, we invariably surrender part of our sovereignty. So, if they tell us they want our elections to be free and fair, they are not interfering in our affairs. No, they are not.
Something else to worry about the coming of the two governors and their citizens from Niger.
Will they also come to vote for their favourite candidate so as to make their intervention more productive?