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2023: visa restrictions awaits election riggers—US govt

The United States (US) has threatened to sanction anyone who interferes with the democratic process or instigates violence in the 2023 general elections.

It also said it would not shy away from applying sanctions, including visa restrictions on those found culpable in election rigging.

Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Rolf Olson, gave the warning on behalf of the US Government at the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Association Annual Seminar 2022 on “Promoting Electoral Integrity in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges” in Abuja.

The US government also threw its weight behind the decision of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and Electronic transmission of results for the poll.

Noting that the BVAS and the electronic transmission of vote results sheets were to ensure the integrity of Nigerian elections, Olson maintained that the US does not have a candidate in the upcoming elections.

Recall that the US Government had imposed visa restriction on some individuals for their actions during the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa state elections and in the run-up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo state elections.

Although the US did not reveal the identities of those who have been banned, it said the decision reflects its commitment to strengthening democracy in Nigeria.

On the 2023 elections, Olson said: “It never ceases to amaze me how often we see comments, claims, and assertions from people in social and traditional media about what our supposed objectives are in the elections, which candidate or party we favour, how to interpret certain statements or actions of ours in terms of what it means about our intentions are perceptions.

“In reality, I think it quite simple to interpret us, especially when it comes to the elections. We always try to be clear in our messages, so let me be clear here on several important points:

“The United States does not support any individual candidate or party in this election cycle (or for that matter, in any other upcoming election). Our interest is in supporting credible and transparent elections that reflect the will of Nigerian voters, in a process that is conducted peacefully. Full stop.

“Individuals seeking to undermine the democratic process, including through violence, may be found ineligible for visas to the United States.

“We have imposed visa restrictions in the past against those responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process, and remain fully willing to do so again in the context of the upcoming elections.”

Olson further expressed the US government’s disappointment at the stream of “unproductive criticism directed at INEC and its officials in recent months, and which only seems to have expanded of late.”

According to him, the US is impressed by the commitment, evenhandedness, and diligence exhibited by INEC thus far in the election cycle.

He added while nobody needs to forfeit their right to express legitimate concerns about the process or about the conduct of INEC, the rhetoric attacking INEC’s motives or overall competence is unhelpful.

He advised parties, candidates, and their supporters to avoid language that tries to “guarantee” victory, adding that
there is no true democratic election in which the outcome is foretold.

Speaking on BVAS, Olson maintained that one of the most critical steps in conducting credible elections is confirming that the individual standing at the polling unit attempting to vote is who they say they are.

According to him, the BVAS virtually eliminates the possibility of any systematic effort to replace real voters with impostors.

He stated: “It has not yet been used on a national scale, only in the off-cycle gubernatorial and other elections in the past year or so and we encourage INEC to make every effort to provide the training necessary to ensure its smooth operation on election day.

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