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Visa ban: Nigeria’s Kogi State rejects US ‘interference’ in local politics

Yahaya Bello

The Kogi State Government has kicked against the visa ban imposed by the United States of America on politicians alleged to have rigged the November 2019 gubernatorial election in the state, lamenting that this sanction adds abundant grist to the rumour mills and electrified the merchants of fake news.

The United States Government had on Monday slammed a visa restriction on some individuals for allegedly undermining the November 2019 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States.

While the identities of those affected by the visa ban were not made known, the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello was re-elected in the election that was widely reported to have been marred by violence and irregularities last November.

And in a letter addressed to the Ambassador of the United States of America signed by the Secretary to the Government of Kogi State, Mrs Folashade Arike Ayoade, Bello said the United States should have created room for a fair hearing no matter how slim.

He said although the election in the state was not without challenges, the “regrettable incidents” were only limited to a few polling units, pointing out that those who had issues with the election went through all the levels of the court,  and the apex court held that the poll “satisfactorily” complied with the Nigerian constitution and the electoral Act.

In the letter entitled, “Re: Visa Restrictions On Individuals And Inclusion Of The 2019 Kogi State Gubernatorial Elections In US State Department List Of Allegedly Compromised Elections – A Letter Of Protest”, the Kogi State Government also urged the US to accord greater empathy, more civility and much less disruption to nascent democracies.

The letter read in part, “The Kogi State Government became aware of a United States Government list of individuals who received US visa restrictions for alleged electoral malpractices via a Press Statement to that effect posted on your Embassy website.

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“In your own words, the still-unnamed individuals are cited as guilty of ‘acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process.’ They are also alleged to ‘have operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights.

“You also noted in the statement that the sanctions are derived from unspecified misconducts by the said individuals which extend from the February/March 2019 General Elections in Nigeria through the off-cycle November 2019 gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa to the as yet unheld governorship contests in Edo and Ondo States. Please note that for the purposes of this protest letter we are only interested in the citations to the extent that they are referable to Kogi State and her citizens.

“For the most part, we concedewe concede that elections in Nigeria are complex affairs which will continue to require improvements for the foreseeable future.

“The 2019 Kogi state gubernatorial election was also not without its challenges. However, it is also crystal clear from critical and composite analyses of the records (official, media, observers, etc) of the November 16, 2020 polls that regrettable incidents were limited to a few polling units, while the overwhelmingly larger portions of the ballot were free, fair and credible.

“Further, and in line with Nigerian law, the few political parties and individuals who alleged widespread electoral malpractices had free rein to contest the outcome in court. They vigorously litigated their claims over a grueling 9-month period, through a 3-step hierarchy of courts, to the inescapable conclusion at the Supreme Court of Nigeria that the said elections satisfactorily complied with the Nigerian constitution and the electoral act.

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“Our concern right now is not the prerogative of the United States of America to impose entry restrictions on anyone, for any or no reason at all, which prerogative remains unfettered, but the room for atrocious misinformation which the timing of your Press Statement and the mention of the Kogi elections therein has created in our state.

“For the February and March 2019 General elections, your advisory came out in July 2019, long before the supreme court delivered her judgments in the petitions against those elections, including challenges to President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection.

“The presumption is that in spite of your intervention, the supreme court still discovered no merit in the petitions and dismissed them accordingly.”

The secretary to the Kogi government said the ban is unacceptable and that the state government protests the US “presumption”.

“We find this unacceptable, and we protest your presumption. The least you could have done, if indeed this is about democracy and human rights as claimed, is create room, no matter how slim, for fair hearing.”

“As it is now, partisan speculation as to who is indicted, who is not and for what, has become cudgels, furiously swung in the media space by all comers. Your action has therefore added abundant grist to the rumour mills and electrified the merchants of fake news.

“Let it be noted that we are not challenging your visa bans in any way, whoever they may affect and for how long, but we do register the strongest protest possible as a State to the collateral and unwarranted interference in our political and social processes which it represents,” the state government said.

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