By Kayode Sanni-Arewa
The United States on Tuesday said it was disturbed by widespread cases of ethnically-induced voter suppression in Lagos during the March 18 governorship election, saying such action would not go unpunished.
The U.S. mission in Nigeria, in a statement on its website, said such acts undermine Nigeria's democratic experience and visa bans would be imposed on political actors responsible.
People like Bayo Onanuga, a top adviser to President-elect Bola Tinubu, and Musiliu ‘MC Oluomo' Akinsanya, another ally of Mr Tinubu's, have publicly called for violence against Nigerians of Igbo origin in Lagos, saying the nation's commercial capital belongs to the Yoruba ethnic group.
Mr Onanuga, in particular, defied widespread condemnation to back down on his dangerous rhetoric, insisting instead that the Igbo ethnic nationalities have no place in Lagos politics and government.
Thousands of Igbo residents reported being turned back from polling centres by political thugs loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress, with many voters being asked to speak Yoruba before being allowed to access the ballot.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was reelected on the back of the suppression of opposition votes, has sued for calm following his victory, saying he would make efforts to mend fences and stymie ethnic divisions across the state.
The U.S. statement on Tuesday followed similar observation by other election observers, who said Nigeria's 2023 elections fell short of the standards upheld in previous cycles in recent years.
Read the full statement of the U.S. below as announced here:
Nigeria carried out the second round of its electoral process with gubernatorial and state assembly elections on March 18. The United States is deeply troubled by the disturbing acts of violent voter intimidation and suppression that took place during those polls in Lagos, Kano, and other states.
Members of the U.S. diplomatic mission observed the elections in Lagos and elsewhere and witnessed some of these incidents first-hand.
The use of ethnically charged rhetoric before, during, and after the gubernatorial election in Lagos was particularly concerning. We commend all Nigerian political actors, religious and community leaders, youth, and citizens who have chosen to reject and speak out against such violence and inflammatory language, affirming Nigerians' commitment to and respect for the democratic process.
We call on Nigerian authorities to hold accountable and bring to justice any individuals found to have ordered or carried out efforts to intimidate voters and suppress voting during the election process.
The United States likewise will consider all available actions, including additional visa restrictions, on individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Nigeria.
Following the February 25 national elections, the United States joined other international observers in urging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to improve voting processes and technical elements that experienced flaws in that voting round.
The March 18 elections appear to have had significant operational improvements, as polling stations generally opened on time and most results were visible on an electronic viewing platform in a timely manner.
The United States renews its call for any challenges to election results to go through established legal processes, which must not be interfered with.
We further call for Nigeria's people to work together as they participate in and continue to strengthen the country's vibrant democracy.