The travel restrictions placed on Nigerians who had operated with impunity and undermined the democratic process, as recently announced by the United States (US), is a welcome development. The action was a follow-up to a decision in January 2019 to ban individuals involved in electoral violence from entering the US.
Often, the US uses visa restrictions as a form of punishment for electoral and other political offenders. A few years ago, the Donald Trump administration imposed travel restrictions on certain citizens of countries such as Iran, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela. Earlier in February 2020, the travel ban policy for citizens of Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania took effect. The restriction only allows people from the affected countries to travel to the US temporarily and no more on permanent basis. It was a response to security concerns and human rights violations in the affected countries. While Tanzania is alleged to have increased its repression of the media, human rights advocates and political opposition since 2015, Myanmar reportedly engaged in ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims since 2017. The totalitarian regime in Eritrea has reportedly driven out about 480,000 people and made them refugees.
Taking a cue from the United States, the United Kingdom (UK) recently threatened to not only impose visa ban but also seize assets of Nigeria’s electoral offenders and prosecute them according to international law. In a statement, the UK’s High Commission in Nigeria promised to deploy observation missions to both the Edo and Ondo governorship elections scheduled for September 19 and October 10, 2020 respectively.
The visa ban by US and the UK is commendable. The ban shows that the eyes of the international community are on Nigeria. Oftentimes, our elections are characterised by violence, ballot snatching and other electoral malfeasance. In the 2019 general election, these maladies manifested to the chagrin of local and international observers. Over 620 people reportedly died of violence during that election. In 2011, about 800 people died after the presidential election in different parts of the North.
In Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections held last year, scores of people also lost their lives to needless killings by political thugs and, in some cases, by security agents. The brutal killing of a PDP women leader in Kogi State, Mrs. Salome Abuh, is still fresh in the memories.
These electoral infractions have persisted because of the “do-or-die” nature of our politics. Elections are fiercely contested and nobody wants to concede defeat. This is partly because of the monetisation of the electoral process and by extension our politics. After spending so much on elections, candidates become desperate to win and recoup their money.
Besides, most people who seek public office do not intend to serve but to enrich themselves. They make mouth-watering promises to the electorate only to win and do the opposite of what they promised. When it is time to change them through the ballot box, they manipulate the system and continue in their plundering spree.
The low turnout often experienced during our elections is partly because of this. People no longer believe that their votes will count. They resign to fate and wish that some extraordinary forces should intervene to remedy the situation.
The judiciary does not help matters. While the courts have the final say on election disputes, their judgements, at times, raise more questions than answers. Consequently, many Nigerians have lost confidence in the electoral system and even the courts.
We advise the politicians to take the visa ban threat seriously. The countries involved may impose stiffer sanctions if care is not taken. Some may argue that the US and UK are interfering in the internal affairs of Nigeria. This does not hold water as the world has become a global village. What affects one country affects the other directly or indirectly. We should be looking beyond the immediacy of our environment.
Nigeria must see the visa ban as a wake-up call to sanitise the electoral system. The police should be firm in apprehending and prosecuting violators of the electoral laws. Relevant authorities, especially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the courts should sit up. The reforms of the electoral and political systems have become more urgent than now. It is sad that election, which ought to be a celebration of the democratic choice, has been turned into warfare by unpatriotic political actors. Those, who violate the process through which the people periodically choose their leaders, must not go unpunished. This is the significance of the visa ban by US and UK. Beyond the ban, INEC and the police must rise to the challenge of apprehending and prosecuting electoral offenders.