Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State yesterday threatened that foreign nationals who interfere in the forthcoming general elections would be given a “body bags treatment.”
A body bag is one used for carrying a corpse from a battlefield or the scene of an accident or crime to either a mortuary or place of burial.
The governor’s threat came barely a week after the Federal Government accused foreign powers, including the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom (U.K.) and the European Union (E.U.) of actions that could be deemed as interference, and warned of consequences.
These nations had condemned the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, over alleged non-declaration of assets, warning that the action taken by President Muhammadu Buhari could negatively affect the credibility of the forthcoming elections.
Governor el-Rufai, who is seeking re-election under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), spoke on Tuesday night on a live programme on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) anchored by Cyril Stober.
He argued that it is a basic principle of international law that no country should interfere in the internal affairs of another country.
“You can comment, but when you make statements on the internal affairs of a country without facts, that is interference and is very irresponsible. Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for those that will come and intervene, they will go back in body bags,” the governor said.
El-Rufai described Nigeria as an independent entity whose sovereignty would never be compromised in servitude to foreign powers.
“We are trying to run our country as decently as possible. Foreign countries have also had their own share of the challenges before attaining their current development strides.”
The governor advised all citizens to unite against violence in the country.
“No one should cause problems because their families and relations are abroad, knowing that the families of the ordinary citizens will suffer it.
“These people can stay there and say anything they like, but when violence breaks out, we and our families are the ones to suffer it. We must rise up and unite to say no to violence. We have confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct credible, free and fair elections.”
According to him, anyone accusing President Muhammadu Buhari or the ruling APC of interfering or trying to rig elections is only being irresponsible. “The government is not in any way interfering in the duties and affairs of the electoral body.”
To him, the opposition parties and their members know that they will lose the election, hence, they want to delegitimise the polls ahead of the outcomes, to create a crisis after the
The governor, who noted that Nigeria intervened in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s, said it was done based on the resolution of the international community and as a gesture of neighbourliness.
As the comments sparked outrage yesterday, el-Rufai said he spoke in defence of the nation’s dignity.
In a statement, his spokesman, Samuel Aruwan, said affirming that a country would defend itself against needless intervention was the kind of statement to expect to hear from a patriot.
Aruwan said his principal’s opinion wasn’t a call for violence but warning about the consequences of meddling in another country’s affairs.
“A notorious trait of the characters that constitute the opposition in Nigeria is the manufacture of outrage on flimsy grounds. However, contriving anger on false premises and summoning a din of feverish commentary will not alter the facts. Election season is regarded as silly season in some quarters, but it is a very serious moment.
“El-Rufai made comments every patriot can understand. He stood up for Nigeria’s dignity in the wake of those who would traduce their country and reduce it to the status of a colony in their vain quest for power.”
In a swift reaction, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) condemned the threat by el-Rufai that “members of the global democratic institutions that are working for a peaceful election in Nigeria will return to their countries in body bags.”
Consequently, the PDP threatened to jettison the peace pact it signed with the Abubakar Abdulsalami-led National Peace Committee (NPC) regarding the peaceful conduct of the February 16 presidential election.
At a press briefing addressed by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday in Abuja, PDP said it would be left with no option than to consider a review of its signatory in the national peace accord, if no action is immediately taken.
“Nigerians are still in a shock over the comments by el-Rufai, who declared on a national television that members of the global democratic institutions that are working for a peaceful election in Nigeria will return to their countries in body bags. What a threat?”
The opposition party urged the international community to immediately impose a travel ban on el-Rufai “for this inciting comment against peaceful elections in our country.”
The PDP called on the peace committee “to note the infractions by the APC and its leaders to the peace accord, including the provocative shut down of all the stadia in Kano State by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje in order to frustrate the PDP presidential campaign rally in the state.”
“We therefore call on the National Peace Committee to immediately summon el-Rufai on his inflammatory remarks against peaceful election in our country.
“The PDP holds that any situation that seeks to allow the APC to abuse the tenets of the accord will definitely force our party to review our signatory to the peace process. In that regard, we might have no option left than to allow our members to defend their votes with whatever that is available to them.
“This country belongs to all of us and no individual or group, no matter how highly placed, can subjugate other citizens or seek to appropriate any sort of absolutism to themselves,” the opposition party added.
Also in a swift reaction yesterday, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) to Nigeria said it would continue to do its work in the country in spite of claims of interference by el-Rufai. “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.”
In a statement in Abuja, Sarah Fradgley, Press and Public Outreach Officer of the EU Mission, said “the EU only deploys an election observation mission when it is invited to do so by the authorities of a country.”
In the case of Nigeria, she said the EU had been invited to observe all of the general elections in the country since 1999. “This is the sixth time the EU is observing elections in Nigeria.”
Fradgley disclosed that the INEC invited the EU to deploy an observation mission for the 2019 general elections.
“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.”
She noted that while the security of EU observers is of paramount importance, and will remain under constant review, EU observers would continue their work across the country in the run-up to and beyond the 16 February elections.
The statement said 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.”
Meanwhile, President Buhari has promised to provide adequate security to ensure that the forthcoming polls are successful.
Buhari who made the promise yesterday in Makurdi, Benue State during his presidential campaign rally at the Aper Aku Stadium, urged the people not to be afraid to come out to exercise their civic responsibility on the scheduled dates of the elections.
He called on Benue residents to vote overwhelmingly for the APC candidates from the top to the bottom, claiming that the party is the only one that could address their plight adequately.
The president recalled that when he came to Benue in 2015, he promised the people that he would provide security, fight against corruption and boost the economy; reassuring that he would remain consistent on these.
Buhari said the fight against corruption was quite challenging, but promised not to relent until the battle is won.