US Warns Politicians Against Use Of Hate Speech During Elections

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Stuart Symington
Stuart Symington

As the general elections draw closer, United States has warned politicians in the country whose utterances incite people to violence would be held to account for the crime.

Speaking with journalists on Thursday in Makurdi, Benue state capital, after a meeting with Samuel Ortom, the state governor, Stuart Symington, US ambassador to Nigeria, warned politicians against the use of hate speech.

Symington advised public officials not to obey illegal directives issued in the name of President Muhammadu Buhari.

He urged political leaders to ensure free, fair and credible elections.

Although the ambassador did not mention Buhari’s name, all indications point to Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has revealed that foreign powers planning to interfere in next week’s elections would “leave Nigeria in body bags.”

El-Rufai made the comments in a live interview on NTA Wednesday.

The governor was responding to questions on the criticisms made by the United States, European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom on the credibility of the election following President President Muhammadu Buhari.

Muhammadu Buhari’s controversial suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

El-Rufai, who is a staunch supporter of Buhari and a major critique of Onnoghen, said, “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags.”

The governor admitted that Nigeria played a role in the elections in Liberia and Sierra Leone many years ago, but added that it was done in collaboration with the international community and for the enthronement of democracy.

He said the foreign countries criticising Nigeria did not become stable democracies overnight but were given the opportunity to grow at their own pace without any interference.

El-Rufai added, “Nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country. We have got our independence and we are trying to run our country as decently as possible and we know the history of those countries that are trying to teach us.

“We know their history, we also know their own stages of development and they went through these challenges. So, please, let us work together, let us challenge one another, but don’t lecture us.”

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had, last week, called on western powers to ensure that elections are free and fair, adding that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was planning to rig the polls.

The US and the UK had, a few weeks ago, threatened to place a visa ban on any Nigerian politician who rigs elections or promotes violence.

But responding, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) said its election observers are impartial, but did not interfere in the electoral process and operated according to a strict code of conduct.

The mission stated that it was invited to monitor the 2019 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), adding that this was the sixth time it was observing elections in the country.

The EU EOM said this in a statement in Abuja Wednesday by its Press and Public Outreach Officer, Sarah Fradgley, in response to the threat by El-Rufai against foreign election monitors in the country.

EU said while the security of its observers was of paramount importance, and would remain under constant review, “EU observers will continue their work across the country in the run-up to and beyond February 16 elections.”

It stated, “We are aware of the comments by the Governor of Kaduna about non-interference by foreigners during a talk show on the elections Tuesday 5 February.

“EU election observation missions give commentary and analysis, and make recommendations about the electoral process. EU election observation missions are impartial, do not interfere in the electoral process, and operate according to a strict code of conduct.

“While the security of EU observers is of paramount importance, and will remain under constant review, EU observers will continue their work across the country in the run-up to – and beyond – the 16 February elections.”

The Mission said it’s 40 long-term observers have met different categories of candidates and people across the country, including election officials, security agencies, and civil society organisations, and have enjoyed good cooperation at federal and state levels.

“The mission looks at all aspects of the election, including the campaign tone, the transparency of the election administration, the neutrality of security forces, and the independence of the judiciary, the statement added.

Meanwhile, the Presidency said last night that the governor spoke in defence of national interest when he warned foreigners against interfering with the internal affairs of Nigeria.

In a statement by Mr. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, the Presidency said the Kaduna governor, having made a clarification on the comments he earlier made on the role of other countries and bodies in elections, there was no need dragging the issue further.

“We have taken note of the clarification to a reported earlier statement by the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, concerning opposition call for foreign interference in our domestic affairs and to say that latest statements by him should rest the issue for good.

“There is nothing more to sneeze at. The governor spoke strongly in defence of national interest. It is clear that El-Rufai, our party the All Progressives Congress (APC), and all its candidates have reposed their faith in democracy through general elections.

“They are all of the view that there is no place for violence against local people or foreign citizens in our midst,” the statement said.

The statement added that the federal government under President Buhari will cooperate with election observers and will not let the international community down in the conduct of the coming elections.