The United States has announced the imposition of visa bans on Nigerians who had a hand in the disruption of the February 25 and March 18 general elections. By this action, it expressed the displeasure of the international community with Nigerians who participated in violence, voter intimidation and manipulation of results during the 2023 general election. In a statement published on the website of the US State Department, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said: “The United States is committed to supporting and advancing democracy in Nigeria and around the world. Today, I am announcing that we have taken steps to impose visa restrictions on specific individuals in Nigeria for undermining the democratic process during Nigeria’s 2023 elections cycle.”
The US government, however, made a clarification on the visa ban. According to it, it was specifically targeted at certain persons and not directed at the Nigerian people or government in general. The individuals concerned will be subjected to restrictions on their visa applications to the United States. They are restricted under a US policy that targets individuals who the US government believes are complicit in undermining democracy. “These individuals have been involved in intimidation of voters through threats and physical violence, the manipulation of vote results, and other activity that undermines Nigeria’s democratic process,” Blinken said.
In the build-up to the 2023 general election, some highly placed individual’s perpetrated electoral violence in word and deed. A certain transport union chief and some political barons released statements threatening ethnic and group violence against those who would dare to vote against their preferred candidates. The video of the transport chief threatening fire and brimstone against members of particular ethnic groups went viral, but he was never questioned by the security agencies. The elections were fraught with irregularities and violence in different parts of the country. Ballot boxes were burnt and some voters were stabbed in the face with broken bottles. Many were badly beaten by party agents issuing decrees against non-Establishment voters.
Against this background, the US visa restriction is a good development. Every effort that can be made to discourage election violence should be embraced by all lovers of democracy and its tenets. Nigerians are hoping that all those who participated in threatening voters and who actually perpetrated election violence have been captured in the US visa ban. This will go a long way in showing future disruptors of elections that there will be consequences for their nefarious activities. However, the Nigerian government must demonstrate firm commitment to electoral probity by prosecuting electoral offenders. Many of those who perpetrated violence during the 2023 polls escaped prosecution because of the support given to them by political barons.
The Nigerian government should not wait for foreign governments to show the way forward in dealing with electoral offenders. While the US government has taken a bold step in holding electoral offenders accountable, the Nigerian authorities have not even spoken about those who acted in a disruptive manner during the elections, let alone seeking to punish them. This is unfortunate, especially as many local and international observers submitted in their reports that the elections fell short of international standards and the expectations of Nigerians. If foreign countries could be concerned enough about the malfeasance that occurred during the election to issue visa bans, Nigeria ought to demonstrate the same fidelity to electoral ethos. Sadly, though, officials of the Nigerian government celebrated the 2023 polls, calling them the best in the history of the country. Nigeria should stop playing games with its reputation. Foreign governments would not have issued the kinds of reports they issued, and neither would they have taken action against perpetrators of electoral violence if the elections had been free, fair and credible.
The government should not leave the punishment of electoral crimes to foreign governments alone. The actions of electoral offenders have the potential to truncate democracy in the country. Governments constituted through compromised elections lack legitimacy. It is therefore important for the government to follow the lead of the US and ensure that those who compromised the 2023 general election are made to face the full wrath of the law.