Nigeria 2023: Why US, UK visa ban may not stop electoral violence 

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Friday, 27 January 2023 14:48
While President Buhari was voting in Daura in the north, violence was kicking off in Rivers State. Bayo Omoboriowo/ Nigeria Presidency/Handout via Reuters

Less than a month to Nigeria’s presidential election, the US has announced visa restrictions on Nigerian politicians who perpetrated violence previous polls. It may not be enough to deter election riggers, experts say. 

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the imposed visa bans without revealing the identities of those affected, but said the US remains committed to advancing democracy. 

“We are committed to supporting and advancing democracy in Nigeria and around the world. Today, I am announcing visa restrictions on specific individuals in Nigeria for undermining the democratic process in a recent Nigerian election,” Blinken said, adding that some relatives of those affected may also be subject to the restrictions. 

Politicians’ thugs don’t apply for visas so how will you ban them? Do they read newspapers or know about such a policy?

“Additional persons who undermine the democratic process in Nigeria – including in the lead-up to, during, and following Nigeria’s 2023 elections – may be found ineligible for US visas under this policy. 

Blinken explained that the visa ban is per Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

It is not just the US that has threatened to impose visa restrictions. The UK High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, said last November that those sponsoring electoral violence would also be hit with a visa ban. Like the US, the UK also has never revealed the identities of those penalised. 

Hidden identities 

However, a section of Nigerians have expressed reservations over the latest attempt by the US to forestall violence. Omoyele Sowore, a human rights activist who is also running for president, tells The Africa Report that it would have been better if the US had revealed the identities of those affected by the visa restrictions. 

Sowore, who lived in the US for 20 years, faults the lack of consistency when it comes to the secrecy of those affected by the visa ban.

“My problem with the visa ban is that even though it may help a little bit, as long as the US does not disclose the identities of those banned, it doesn’t play any major role in discouraging electoral violence.  

“If the people know those [who’ve been] affected over the years, it would serve as a deterrent. As long as their identities remain shrouded in secrecy, it doesn’t have much value. When they imposed visa bans in Kenya, they named names, so why is Nigeria’s case different?” he says. 

The US had similarly revealed the identities of key allies of Russia’s Vladmir Putin who were also barred from entering the country.

Dual citizenship

Another reason the visa restrictions may not have been as effective is the fact that a large number of Nigerian politicians and their children hold either American or British passports. 

Candidates’ application forms obtained by The Africa Report from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also reveal that a number of politicians have dual citizenship. They are as follows:

  • Bukola Saraki, the former Senate President and a key member of Atiku Abubakar’s presidential campaign in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), holds a British passport.
  • Femi Gbajabiamila, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is a senior member of Bola Tinubu’s campaign in the All Progressives Congress (APC), admitted that he is an American citizen.
  • Ditto for Senate President Ahmad Lawan.
  • Senator Opeyemi Bamidele of the APC also admitted to swearing allegiance to the US government.
  • Senator Chimaroke Nnamani of the PDP Bankole Wellington is an American citizen
  • Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo, a transport kingpin in Lagos, who has been accused of perpetrating acts of violence and is a member of Tinubu’s campaign, has also been reported – by local media – to possess an American passport, as was revealed by one of his aides.
  • Senator Teslim Folarin, the governorship candidate of the APC in Oyo State, admitted to being a British citizen
  • Tonye Cole, the Rivers State governorship candidate of the APC, is also a UK citizen.

Ineffective policy?

Joe Keshi, who at different times served as Nigerian Ambassador to Togo, Ethiopia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Namibia, tells The Africa Report that the fact that many Nigerian politicians possess dual citizenship has already made the proposed visa ban ineffective. 

According to Keshi, the foot soldiers who perpetrate the acts of violence on election day are hooligans who have no intention of travelling outside Nigeria, hence the futility of the visa restriction. 

“Politicians’ thugs don’t apply for visas so how will you ban them? Do they read newspapers or know about such a policy? They are so poor that they cannot imagine applying for visas so this policy can’t affect them. 

“The Americans clearly don’t have a good grasp of the situation. Once you are an American and you possess a passport, they cannot cancel your passport and abandon you in Nigeria,” Keshi says. 

However, Mike Igini, an activist who is a former official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), tells The Africa Report that the policy is spot on. Even so, when asked if the policy could be effective enough to forestall violence, he says: “Absolutely not.”

The former resident electoral commissioner says for the visa restriction to be more effective, Western countries should go the extra mile.

“It should be extended to INEC officials and security agents and other key actors in the political space that promote electoral violence in Nigeria. Visa ban should be slammed on them while their children abroad should be deported,” he said.

He however adds that the INEC’s latest reforms as well as the new Electoral Act have made election rigging more difficult. 

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