GOVERNOR Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State sparked outrage last week on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA’s, Tuesday Live programme. He angrily responded to mounting international concerns for the free, fair and peaceful conduct of the forthcoming elections. Said he: “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that will come and intervene. They would go back in body-bags”.
This flaming rhetoric came against the background of statements issued by the European Union, EU, the United States of America and the United Kingdom calling for the campaigns and elections to be conducted in a free, fair, credible and peaceful atmosphere. The US mission in Nigeria warned it would not grant visas to election riggers and promoters of violence.
The main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, has also mounted intense pressures on the Federal Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and drawn the attention of the international community to what it described as ploys to “rig” the elections. It warned that if the elections are compromised it would pull out of the peace pact its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, signed along with other candidates.
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El Rufai saw the statements by the foreign missions and the “antics” of the PDP as ploys to invoke the “Venezuela option”, whereby the opposition, on losing the elections, would collaborate with foreign powers, perhaps with military might, to threaten the Muhammadu Buhari government. El Rufai has defended his utterance as his “patriotic” obligation. President Buhari has also thrown his weight behind him.
We join millions of well-meaning Nigerians to express our shock and regret that the governor deployed such an extreme expression which easily passed as hate speech. He could have chosen his words better, being a high-ranking leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Such careless talk can send dangerous signals to party followers and endanger the lives of foreign election observers who are in Nigeria at the invitation of the INEC. We saw how some members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, were lynched in parts of the North in the 2011 polls due to the irresponsible utterances of politicians over alleged election rigging.
The “body-bag” slur was totally unnecessary, as no foreign power has threatened to intervene in the election except as impartial monitors. The incendiary remark only served to raise unnecessary tensions. Rather than deter our foreign friends and partners for peaceful and transparent elections, it has only strengthened their resolve and those of patriotic Nigerians to hold any individual or group firmly accountable for any sabotage of the supreme mandate of the Nigerian electorate.
Leaders must learn to comport themselves in words and deeds to avoid plunging Nigeria into international disrepute.