The decision by the United States to impose visa restrictions on Nigerians who were allegedly involved in attempting to or actually undermined democracy in the just concluded Nigeria’s 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections, has elicited fresh war of words between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
While Atiku see the move as a vindication of his earlier position that the presidential election, in particular, was massively rigged in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), sees the US’ decision as echoing the president’s global popularity.
Atiku was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election.
In the build up to the 2019 elections, the US had threatened to impose visa restrictions on any Nigerian politician that operated with impunity and tried to undermine democratic principles and human rights in Nigeria.
By Tuesday, the US department revealed that some Nigerian politicians are already affected by the visa restrictions, saying “these individuals have operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights.”
Although it failed to list the individuals, Atiku, through his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, said “After the conduct of the February 23, 2019 Nigerian Presidential elections, we maintained that the polls were rigged, not credible and that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar won the elections and that his mandate was stolen.
“In the aftermath of the daylight robbery that occurred on the day of election, the administration of Muhammadu Buhari and its allies went into a propaganda overdrive to deny the obvious. However, it is a truism that no matter how far and fast falsehood, or in this case, rigging, has traveled, it must eventually be overtaken by truth.
“It seems that day has come. After many months of living in denial, the Buhari regime is now faced with the truth in the form of a US visa ban on politicians who undermined Nigeria’s democracy.
“Speaking on the ban, the US State Department in a statement by its spokesman, Morgan Ortagus on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, stated that ‘we condemn those whose acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption harmed Nigerians or undermined the democratic process.’
“Speaking further, Mr. Ortagus said, ‘the Secretary of State is imposing visa restrictions on Nigerians believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Nigeria. These individuals have operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights.’
“The above statement is a vindication of our position that the 2019 elections were ‘undermined’ by the actions of state actors and institutions. We also wish to thank the United States of America for standing with the Nigerian people against those whose desire it is to truncate our democracy.
“We urge the Nigerian people not to despair. There is hope on the horizon. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The myriad of security, economic and social challenges Nigeria currently faces, which has resulted in our nation becoming the world headquarters for extreme poverty will, God willing, soon be over, with the prospect of purposeful and result oriented leadership.”
But the BMO thinks otherwise. It said “The visa restriction order imposed on a category of Nigerian politicians by the United States government, which clearly exonerated the present administration in the country, is another indication of President Muhammadu Buhari’s acceptance and popularity in the comity of nations.
“It is instructive that the United States is taking the step in spite of efforts by opposition figures led by the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, to turn the US government against the newly elected government with false narratives. “
In a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke, BMO said that the US State Department’s position showed the futility of the opposition’s efforts to demonise the government before, during and after the 2019 elections.
“We acknowledge the decision by the American government to impose visa ban on individuals responsible for undermining the last electoral process or organising election-related violence. It is in line with a warning the US issued before the election, and we note that it is within the rights of the Americans to do so.
“And by making it clear that the actions are not directed at the government that emerged from the process, the US has tacitly cleared the Buhari administration of involvement in acts of political violence in spite of efforts by lobbyists engaged by the PDP to taint the president’s victory.
“This is a welcome decision considering that the US specifically targeted officials of the Venezuelan government and their family members when it imposed visa restrictions on the country in the wake of recent election in that country,” the group said.
The group expressed hope that the visa restrictions would cover individuals who threatened violence if their candidates failed to win the last elections, as well as others who freely used hate speech on social and traditional media in the run up to the election.
“Nigerians can easily recall how some highly placed opposition figures told the world before the presidential election that the spate of violence in the country would increase if President Buhari was re-elected for a second term.
“That comment was not only inciting but also ominous in a country with a history of post-election violence. Like many Nigerians, we drew attention to the irresponsible and unguarded statement and urged the opposition party to caution its members, but surprisingly it did not see anything wrong with it.
“There was also a slew of hate speeches on social media by key opposition figures and there was also at least one instance where an opposition spokesman in Kaduna State was filmed instigating party loyalists to take up arms against members of the ruling APC.
“And although U.S. privacy regulations prohibit the American government from naming the individuals affected by the restrictions, we hope that they would be meticulous in identifying individuals who actually fomented violence during and after the election,” the pro-Buhari group said.