Less than 24 hours after the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, cautioned foreign election observers against interfering in the forthcoming general elections, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some Nigerians are unsettled with the governor’s comment.
While featuring on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) late night programme: Tuesday Live, el-Rufai had warned foreign countries to steer clear of the internal affairs of Nigeria.
Among other things, el-Rufai had said: “Those that are calling for everyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that will come and intervene. They will go back in body bags, because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country.
“We’ve got that 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 these things; we have read their history. We also know that in their stages of development they went through these challenges.”
Reacting to the governor’s comment, the PDP said yesterday that it might be forced to review its signatory to the national peace accord over el-Rufai’s threat.
At a press conference in Abuja yesterday, PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, who issued the “pullout” warning, called on the international community to immediately impose a travel ban on el-Rufai for the comment which the party said, was against peaceful elections in Nigeria.
According to the PDP, the “comments, threats and incendiary actions by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Buhari Presidency have been directly inimical to a peaceful, free and fair election.
“The PDP is left with no option than to consider a review of its signatory in the national peace accord, if no action is immediately taken to curb this trend.
“Nigerians are still in a shock over comments by the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir 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?
“We call on the international community to immediately impose a travel ban on el-Rufai for this inciting comment against peaceful elections in our country,” the PDP said.
In the TV programme held on Tuesday, el-Rufai had stated: “They (foreign nations’ comments) were based on non-information and they are most irresponsible and I am happy that the presidency responded to them.
“As Nigerians, we must understand that these guys can sit pretty in their country and say things but when the crisis breaks we are here. We are the victims, our wives and children are the victims; and we must rise up and unite and say that no to violence in this country.”
el-Rufai condemned the petitions sent by the PDP to the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU), Germany and France, calling on the foreign countries to prevail upon President Muhmmadu Buhari not to derail the nation’s democracy.
My Statement Not Call To Violence – Kaduna Gov
But faced with a barrage of criticisms from some Nigerians and the international community over his comments, el-Rufai said yesterday that he did not call for violence ahead of the 2019 elections, but only affirmed that Nigeria would defend itself against needless intervention.
In a statement issued in Kaduna by his spokesperson, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, the governor said that warning about the consequences of meddling in another country’s affairs was legitimate.
The statement reads: “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.
“When Malam Nasir el-Rufai appeared on NTA’s Tuesday Night Live, he 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.
“The video of his comments is in circulation. Any fair-minded person with modest familiarity with the English language and unimpaired comprehension can understand it. It does not contain any call for violence. What is a powerful defence of sovereignty? Are some sections of our political class implying that they will acquiesce in or collaborate with foreign intervention in our country?
“Affirming that a country will defend itself against needless intervention is the kind of statement you expect to hear from a patriot. It is not a call for violence. Warning about the consequences of meddling in another country’s affairs is legitimate.
“Non-interference in the affairs of other countries is a basic principle of international law. Threatening to intervene in another country implies the use of force. Those who are basing their electoral calculations on foreign intervention need to be discouraged. Only the lawful votes of the Nigerian people should make or unmake governments.
“Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has issued a powerful call for vigilance and a clear notice that other countries should not mistake the supine posture of the opposition for national weakness.
“Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has stood firmly against those who have been trying to divide Nigerians on ethnic and religious lines. He is resolutely opposed to violence, and firmly committed to peace and harmony.
Let the false outrage stop,” the statement said.
We’re Committed To Peaceful Polls – Presidency
In its reaction to the controversy, the presidency last night doused the mounting tension, saying that the Buhari administration would cooperate with election observers and would not let the international community down in the conduct of the coming elections.
The presidency in a statement by presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, assured Nigerians and the international community that Buhari would do everything within his power to ensure free, fair and credible elections in the country.
He said: “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 statement 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 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 opposition PDP ought to own up to the mistakes of its own policies for 16 years, which have led the country to a sorry past that has cost lives, jobs and growth instead of dwelling on diversionary issues.
European Union Reacts
In a related development, the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission said it was aware of el-Rufai’s threat.
The EU said its personnel were in Nigeria’ to monitor the election at the instance of the Independent National Electoral (INEC).
Based on the governor’s comment, the EU said that it would review the security of its personnel in the country
According to the EU, its involvement in election monitoring in Nigeria dated back to 1999 on the invitation of INEC.
EU said: “We are aware of the comments by the governor of Kaduna State about non-interference by foreigners during a talk show on the elections Tuesday, 5th February.
“The EU only deploys an election observation mission when it is invited to do so by the authorities of a country. The EU has been invited to observe all of the general elections in Nigeria since 1999. Thus this is the sixth time the EU is observing elections in Nigeria.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission 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.”
It promised to review the security of its observers ahead of the election.
“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,” EU said.
Arewa Youths, Shehu Sani Decry Gov’s Threat
Meanwhile, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) has condemned the governor’s comments.
In a reaction, AYCF chairman, Yerima Shettima, said that el-Rufai can only say that in Kaduna State.
Shettima asked President Buhari to be courageous enough and warn foreigners coming from neighbouring countries to stay away from Nigerian politics.
He said: “We are worried about the way they are encouraging more foreigners into our political activities. The latest event in Kano has actually proven beyond reasonable doubt that the APC government was busy encouraging foreigners to interfere in our national life which is not right, even within the international law; it’s not acceptable as that is not the standard.
“Having said that, I’m also concerned and worried that maybe he got carried away, as a governor, he has a limitation that he can only make such declaration in Kaduna State.
“If it’s general then we expect the president to summon courage to speak against the foreigners because he has more friends in the neighboring countries like in Niger, so that should be referred to him,” he said.
Also, Senator Shehu Sani, who represents Kaduna Central in the Upper House, advised the federal government to call el-Rufai to order.
Sani supported the call for a travel ban on el-Rufai.
On his Twitter page, Sani appealed to the federal government to dissociate itself and also denounce the threat.
He said: “The federal government and the ruling party must unequivocally dissociate themselves and unambiguously denounce the threat to murder foreigners; silence or neutrality on this dangerous and tragic statement is consent.
“Travel ban and appropriate global sanctions is needed here,” Sani stated.