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POLLS: EU tackles El-Rufai over ‘body bag’ threat to observers

•PDP threatens to pull out of peace accord, calls for international travel ban on El-Rufai
•CSOs flay Kaduna gov
•Gov in unusual plea, calls for outrage to stop
•Buhari supporters frown on nomination of Obasanjo’s friend as head of observer team

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Ben Agande , Victoria Ojeme & Dirisu Yakubu

ABUJA—European Union election observation missions, yesterday, said it will continue to do its work across the country in the run-up to and beyond the February 16 elections.

Nasir el-Rufai

Southern Christians charge INEC, security agents to remain neutral

Reacting to the comment of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, the EU in a statement said: “We are aware of the comments by the Governor of Kaduna about non-interference by foreigners during a talk show on the elections Tuesday February 5.”

The EU said in the statement issued in Abuja yesterday: “ 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.

“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 February 16 elections.

‘’For the last month the mission’s team in Abuja, as well as 40 long-term observers across the country, have followed the elections.

“ We have met with a wide range of candidates, parties, election officials, security agencies, and civil society organisations, and have enjoyed good cooperation at federal and state levels.

“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.”

Peace accord threatened

Meanwhile, the peace accord initialled by the nation’s political parties ahead of the forthcoming general election was, yesterday, under threat as a result of mutterings by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, following strong invocations by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State against major western powers.

The PDP called for an international global travel ban against El-Rufai upon the governor’s assertion that those seeking foreign intervention in Nigeria’s internal affairs would leave the country in body bags.

Besides the PDP, civil society organisations, including the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG and Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, also kicked against the statement which they described as inflammatory.

El-Rufai’s caution made on the government-owned NTA on Tuesday, was followed by objections by the Buhari Media Organisation, BMO, to the nomination of former President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania as the head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission for the elections.

The pro-Buhari group claimed that Dr. Kikwete was a well-known friend of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had recently taken strong positions against Buhari’s second term aspiration.

What El-Rufai said

Governor El-Rufai had during an interview session with Cyril Stober on NTA Tuesday Live, warned against alleged foreign intervention in the Justice Walter Onnoghen matter as expressed by the US, EU, and the UK.

“Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags. We are trying to run our country as decently as possible,” the governor said.

The governor’s assertion was followed yesterday by outrage, with the PDP threatening to pull out of the peace accord signed by the political parties ahead of the election.

The peace accord was brokered by the General Abdulasalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee.

Efforts to get a key member of the committee, Bishop Matthew Kukah, were unsuccessful yesterday.

PDP seeks travel ban on El-Rufai

The PDP, which made its position known at a world press conference addressed by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, also called on the international community to immediately impose a travel ban on the governor.

“The PDP after due consideration of comments, threats and incendiary actions by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Presidency, which are 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  shock over comments by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who declared on national television that members of the global democratic institutions that are working for a peaceful election in Nigeria would 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 party said.

TMG reacts

The TMG in a strongly worded reaction to El-Rufai’s assertion articulated by its chairperson, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said:  “The TMG condemns in strong terms the unguarded statement made by Gov El-Rufai of Kaduna State against the international election observers from the US, U.K, and EU.

“The statement to us, is an embarrassment to Nigeria as a country among the comity of nations, given that it is coming from a sitting governor who also represents a strong voice of the ruling party.

“Such reckless statement is an indication of the governor’s intolerant disposition to constructive criticism. The statement regrettably is an incitement against the international election observers and is a strong hate speech that is capable of propelling violence against those democrats who are working towards credible electoral process.

“We, therefore, call on leaders of political parties to desist from heating up the polity as speeches of this nature would do more harm than good to the forthcoming elections. We, therefore, warn the governor and other of his kind that we will not hesitate to send a petition to ICC to report these form of incitements.

“Nigerians will not wait for people like El Rufai to throw us to unnecessary violence such as what we saw during post-elections in several African countries in recent past.”

FG must protect observers – CISLAC

Mallam Awaal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, affirmed that the international observers were coming at the behest of the federal government and called on the authorities to reinforce security for the visiting observers.

“Government of Nigeria must take steps to ensure and guarantee the security and safety of all the election observers both foreign and local observers because this threat should not be taken as a joke.

“In the past local election, observers had been attacked by some political thugs and no one arrested for their violence against peaceful election observers in Nigeria. But this time around, you have a sitting governor who makes such careless statement.

“If by any way his utterance leads to an attack on election observers, surely it can cost the nation serious diplomatic crisis, and, therefore, I will strongly recommend that our security agents ensure the success of this election by providing safety and security to all.”

Buhari Group kicks against Commonwealth team leader

The assertions nonetheless, the Buhari Media Organisation raised the ante when it expressed concern over the nomination of Dr. Jakaya Kikwete, who it described as a known friend of President Obasanjo as head of the Commonwealth Observer Team.

The group said in a statement signed by its chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke: “Many Nigerians are worried that the head of the Commonwealth observer group may be swayed by Obasanjo’s skewed pre-election position that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, does not have the integrity to conduct free, fair and credible elections.

“This concern, we know, is as a result of the long-standing friendship between the two former Presidents which began long before Kikwete became the head of the Tanzania government in 2005.

“But we are encouraged by the values that the Commonwealth holds sacrosanct and the fact that the head of the election observer team has a track record as a peacemaker, especially in the Great Lakes region of East Africa.

“So we hope that Dr. Kikwete would resist the pressure that will surely come from former President Obasanjo who believes that he has a divine role to determine the winner of the Presidential election.”

BMO, however, assured the Commonwealth team and other observer missions of the readiness of the Buhari administration to ensure a favourable atmosphere for a credible general election.

“As someone who had previously been on the wrong end of shoddy electoral processes before his electoral victory in 2015, President Buhari has, on many occasions, given his word to the world about his readiness to ensure a credible election after benefitting from one.

“He has consequently, over the course of three and a half years, made sure that the election management body has everything it requires to conduct a very credible election.  And like the 20-man Commonwealth observer team would found out when it visits INEC, the commission has been operating without any form of interference from the President who is keen on ensuring that the elections are the most credible in the nation’s political history.

“He has also openly assured Nigerians that he has no interest in rigging the forthcoming elections, and would not allow anyone to rig.

“It is against this backdrop that we at BMO demand fairness and an open-mind from Kikwete and his team of election observers as they arrive Nigeria on February 8.”

What I meant – El-Rufai

Yesterday evening with the outrage pouring out, Governor El-Rufai bent over to give an unusual clarification and plea for understanding.

He said in a statement issued by his spokesman, Samuel Aruwan:  “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.

“It is also a powerful defense 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 to 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.

“Malam 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.

“Malam 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.”

 

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