Nigeria: Buhari Campaign Slams U.S., Others Over Stance On Polls

President Muhammadu Buhari.
15 February 2019

The Muhammadu Buhari Campaign, yesterday, strongly denounced what it claimed were explicit acts of interference by the United States and some other western powers in the country's democratic process, saying their perspectives had become clouded with bias.

The United States envoy, Ambassador W. Stuart Symington, came in for special rebuke by the Buhari Campaign as he was accused of being ignorant of the Nigerian situation and wanting to foist a culture of fear on the country's political actors.

The United States Mission was yet to respond to an email request for a response at press time last night.

These developments were trailed yesterday by news that former US President, Bill Clinton, originally scheduled to visit Nigeria ahead of next Saturday's election, has cancelled his trip, fearing that it will "be politicised."

However, Nigerian civil society groups and the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were quick to chide the Buhari Campaign over its assertion as they affirmed that the declarations of the United States Mission and other western powers on the Nigeria situation were within the ambit of the law and international relations.

Buhari Campaign chides US, others

The Buhari Campaign in a statement issued by Mr. Festus Keyamo, the campaign spokesman, had recalled recent declarations of some western diplomats and said the envoys had a mindset that victory by Buhari could only be achieved through rigging.

Asserting the claim as wrong and a distraction from the Nigerian situation, Keyamo said: "We are deeply concerned about many of the expressions of the United States' Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador W. Stuart Symington and other Western Diplomats which have been directed towards Nigeria's upcoming elections.

"Whilst we laud and whole-heartedly welcome their interests in the elections, many of these expressions have been notably off-key.

"The continued warnings about 'flawed elections' is capable of casting an unwarranted cloud over the process. Instead of encouraging our country toward credible elections, such statements undermine public confidence.

"It would appear that these envoys seem to have discredited the election before it has even taken place.

"We truly hope some of the statements attributed to these diplomats are inaccurate. For instance, the Premium News reported that Ambassador W. Stuart Symington threatened to "hold to account" anyone whose speech, no matter the motivation of that speech, engendered hatred.

"We all agree that any speech wilfully intended to trigger violence is condemnable. However, in condemning other forms of political speech, the American envoy overstepped his ambassadorial brief.

"For instance, the American Ambassador was reported to have condemned a situation where a candidate says that his opponent's political and economic policies are abhorrent and dangerous to the greater welfare of the people and calls on the citizens to hate and reject such policies.

"In our view, this is a correct statement because it is the duty of the candidate to tell the people these truths to protect the nation from subsequent calamity.

"But Ambassador Symington says his country would punish such necessary political speeches. For us, it is significant to note that such strong political speeches are not unlawful in the United States, but Ambassador Symington is seeking to penalize such speeches by Nigerians.

"He seeks to shrink our ambit of free speech so that we may behave in accordance with their vision of well-behaved Africans, rather than in consonance with the vision of our own democracy, no matter how tumultuous and dramatic we may be.

"It would appear that his position seeks to prohibit forms of expression integral to our political discourse. These forms of expression have time and time again been adjudged to be constitutionally-protected speeches by the United States Supreme Court.

"However, Ambassador Symington intentionally issued his threats to place a chilling effect on speeches in Nigeria that, if uttered in America, would be constitutionally protected. Unfounded allegations and threats to penalize people for constitutionally-protected free speech is improper interference in our internal affairs. Sadly, what Ambassador Symington and some other western diplomats are doing border on the improper.

"We take the view that the constant statements by Ambassador Symington and the other diplomats are implicit attacks against the government of Nigeria. These statements imply the Nigerian government is inclined to rig the election in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari.

"This is unfair and unacceptable to us. President Muhammadu Buhari has never been accused of electoral malpractice all his life. However, in contrast, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar publicly boasted a few months ago that he rigged the 2003 election in the South-west States. Here, we have an open confession of blatant electoral malfeasance by the PDP candidate.

"But in all of these, there seem to be no concern by Ambassador Symington and other diplomats about this well-acknowledged proclivity of the main opposition.

"We expected that such open confession to rigging in the past would have drawn condemnation from the United States. Rather, what we witnessed recently was the ignoble act of giving such a self-confessed rigger with a decade-old indictment in America for corruption hanging over his head a special status to enter the U.S for a few days. Such is the double standard that America now displays for the whole world to see.

"It is unfortunate that most of these countries that sermonize about free and fair elections have ugly histories of denial of voting rights to people because of their colour and are still facing many challenges with their electoral systems till date.

"The continued reference and praise of the 2015 election by Ambassador Symington clearly shows he needs further briefing about the Nigerian situation. For his information, the 2015 presidential election, at the end of the day, produced the correct outcome, but with flawed figures in many areas. Though they lost, the figures attributed to the PDP were inflated in many places, especially in the South-South, to save the face of the past President and to reduce the margin of his defeat. President Buhari is determined to improve on the 2015 elections and so it cannot even be our benchmark.

"An American ambassador has a great responsibility in representing the strongest economic and military power in the world. His comments carry weight because of the status of his nation. This means his comments should reflect a deep knowledge of the subject. Sadly, Ambassador Symington has not shown in-depth knowledge of the Nigerian situation. The impression he creates by constantly harping on suspected government interference with the electoral process is that President Buhari cannot win without tipping the results. He seems to be saying that only a PDP victory will be evidence of a fair election.

"Again, he is in great error. From all of the information at our disposal, President Buhari can and should win a free and fair election. However, it appears to us that Ambassador Symington is substituting his subjective conclusions for the sovereign will of the Nigerian people. In doing so, he has abandoned the impartiality of a true envoy and has trespassed into interfering in our electoral process.

"Instead of encouraging free and fair elections, these judgmental statements and threats only cast an unnecessary pall over the elections and the nation. This is an international disservice and not international diplomacy. The days of unquestioned condescension to Western powers are long gone, and we are not prepared at this time in Nigeria to recede to that era.

"Nigerians will define Nigeria's democracy. We shall hold fair and just elections, not because of scolding by diplomats, but because we have sufficient intelligence and morality to do what is right for ourselves. If Ambassador Symington has familiarized himself with Nigeria's history from 1999 till date, he would have realized that those in the main opposition are being haunted by their past. They think President Buhari would behave exactly like they did all these years when they consistently rigged elections and denied Nigerians the right to choose their leaders.

"If Ambassador Symington truly intends to be impartial, his statements should acknowledge that both Government and Opposition (particularly in States where the opposition have Governors in place) must respect the process and refrain from rigging. We expect him to counsel both governing party and the "Opposition from any form of electoral malpractice. After all, it is not only Governments at the centre that rig elections. Elections can also be rigged in opposition-controlled areas.

"It is not too late for Ambassador Symington to repair the damage of his uninformed statements. He needs to speak as an impartial envoy instead of a person who appears to have prejudged the quality of the process and the outcome. Until he attains that level of informed impartiality, whatever good he seeks is better achieved by his silence than by tendentious utterances."

PDP kicks

The PDP was quick to denounce the Buhari Campaign on its assertion as it urged Mr. Keyamo to be guarded in assertions which he said could put the ordinary voter in trouble.

Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Prince Diran Odeyemi, said in reaction that Keyamo's statement could not be unconnected with fears in the camp of the ruling party, "having realized that Nigerians, in their numbers have resolved to retire Buhari back to Daura."

He said: "It is unfortunate, if not reckless that Keyamo would issue such a statement. In 2015, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and others monitored elections in this country, and Muhammadu Buhari was elected.

"The PDP candidate and the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan accepted the outcome and congratulated the winner. Having realized the fate that awaits their principal, they have become restless and jittery.

"Keyamo must be careful not to make further statement that can provoke voters into anger as Nigerians are tired of the APC-led government. In any case, the international community will not be bothered about the statement."

CSOs react

Reacting to the Buhari Campaign statement yesterday, the executive director of the Civil Society and Legislative Advocacy Centre, Mr. Awwal Ibrahim said: "I believe something is wrong with some people who are supposed to be promoting Mr. President's image and his political campaigns in Nigeria, their action is very hostile and lack democratic values.

"They are undermining his political support base otherwise one wonders how such careless and unguided utterances can be coming from them against Civil Society groups and the international community who President Buhari need to move Nigeria forward.

"This is because Nigeria needs the international community's support to deal with our insecurity, assets recovery, illicit financial flow and consolidate our democracy and broaden the economy.

"Therefore it's wrong for anyone to be attacking election observers unless there is an agenda being planned to rig the election in favour of their political party and their candidates.

He further observed that the foreign observers were invited by the government to observe the election.

Mr. Samson Itodo, executive director, Youths Initiative for Advocacy, Growth, and Advancement, YIAGA, on his part said: "It is unfortunate that the Buhari campaign is alleging interference with Nigeria's political process. Nigeria is a sovereign nation governed by laws.

"The US recognises and respects that. If reminding Nigeria of her commitments to international norms and standards is interference then the Buhari govt must be a beneficiary of political interference.

"The US and other missions are partners of Nigeria and have been supportive of Nigeria development process. Therefore, it is out of place to claim they are meddling with our internal affairs. Having said, the international community must in their engagement recognise Nigeria is a sovereign nation with capacity to manage its domestic affairs."

Meanwhile, leader of the Commonwealth Observer Mission for the election, Dr Jakaya Kikwete, a former president of Tanzania yesterday said they were in the country to observe the polls and not to monitor them.

Speaking during an interactive session with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu he said: "We came here to observe not to monitor. Sometimes people call us monitors, but we just came here to observe the elections. We are at the commission today to listen to you the commissioners, whatever you have to tell us in preparedness of the commission to conduct these elections.

"Then after that, we disperse, we deploy the commissioners to almost many places in the country. We cannot cover every place in the country. It's a huge country."

Clinton cancels trip to Nigeria, says visit'll be politicised

Former US President Bill Clinton has canceled his trip to Nigeria ahead of Saturday's general elections, saying the visit could be "politicized."

Clinton was scheduled to visit the capital, Abuja, this week alongside Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

The planned trip was facilitated by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the National Peace Committee (NPC).

"Over the course of the last several days, and after various conversations with the different stakeholders, it's become apparent that President Clinton's visit to Nigeria has the potential to be politicized in a way that is not in line with the goals of the Committee. Therefore, he will not be traveling to Abuja," Clinton's spokesman Angel Ureña said in a statement.

Clinton, according to the statement, would continue to support the NPC 's work toward peaceful and fair elections in Nigeria.

He had been set to deliver a keynote speech at a ceremony for the signing of a peace accord by presidential candidates.

Clinton will speak later this week with President Muhammadu Buhari, who is standing for re-election, and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, his spokesman said.

It is expected to be a keenly contested election.

Two electoral commission offices housing voting materials were burned down within a week, the country's electoral body said Sunday

"This is a crucial time in Nigeria, and President Clinton is hopeful that the election's outcome reflects the will of the Nigerian people," his spokesman said.

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