On February 6, 2019, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State in northwest Nigeria, issued threats to foreign actors who dared to intervene in next week's upcoming national elections, while speaking on TV. Reuters reports that he said:
We are waiting for the person who 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 have got that independence and we are trying to run our country as decently as possible.
Here is El-Rufai on live television issuing the infamous threat of violence:
“When the gods want to kill a man, they make him run man first”
Elrufai has Gone Berserk. It's embarrassing that a public officer will be inciting and preaching violence simply because of fear of imminent defeat of himself and Buhari. pic.twitter.com/DHuyZGt2TE
— Oke Umurhohwo (@Stalyf) February 6, 2019
Following the suspension of Nigeria's chief justice and the appointment of acting chief justice of Nigeria on January 25, the United States, United Kingdom and European Union expressed their displeasure on the executive branch's decision without the support of the legislative branch. The three governments have consistently called for a free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections in Nigeria.
— UK in Nigeria?? (@UKinNigeria) February 5, 2019
However, their condemnation of President Muhammadu Buhari's unconstitutional CJN suspension was regarded by the Nigerian government as an “unfair interference in matters that are wholly internal.”
El-Rufai is a close ally of the incumbent President Buhari and both belong to the ruling party, All Progressive Congress. His “body bag” comments were in defense of the Nigerian government's warning to the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union.
The European Union Observer Mission to Nigeria's 2019 elections has noted that El-Rufai's threat will not stop its scheduled observation of the February 16 and March 2 elections in Nigeria. The EU team reiterated their principle of non-interference and that they were invited by Nigeria's electoral umpire, the Independent Electoral Commission.
We are aware of the comments by the Governor of #Kaduna about non-interference by foreigners during a talk show on #NigeriaDecides2019 on 5/2/19. The #EU only deploys an election observation mission when it is invited to do so by the authorities of a country.
— EUEOMNigeria2019 (@EUEOMNigeria19) February 6, 2019
‘Lunatic patriot!’ Nigerian opposition, netizens react
The Peoples Democratic Party said it might pull out of the peace accord signed by all the political parties in Nigeria if “no action was taken over the governor’s comment.” PDP's spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan further called “on the international community to immediately impose a travel ban on el-Rufai for this inciting comment against peaceful elections in our country.”
Nigerian Twitter also buzzed with reactions to the extreme comment:
Yup! A lunatic patriot. I am a patriot but have no real desire to wish people leave this country in body bags sha. Blood thirsty midget!
— February Girl ? (@Imagervet) February 7, 2019
Just apologize, stop digging in …
Can someone please tell Nasir El Rufai @elrufai to shut up! Just FREAKING shut up! You made a mistake. Apologise and move on! Stop digging yourself further in.
What the hell is the Venezuelan option?!
What intelligence do you have?
Intelligence that can't find Boko Haram? pic.twitter.com/GVXywmScaH
— Aisha Yesufu (@AishaYesufu) February 6, 2019
False comparison with the Venezuelan condition …
El-Rufai has thrown in a false equivalence with the Venezuelan situation to justify his reckless words and ignorant folks are parroting it.
— Mark Amaza (@amasonic) February 7, 2019
Like Buhari, like El-Rufai …
“If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, the dog & the baboon would be soaked in blood” pic.twitter.com/kWHWARqHDE
— Ose El Sudenih (@Papadonkee) February 7, 2019
A dangerous mindset that should be condemned by all …
— Adekunle Adefioye (@kunleadefioye) February 6, 2019
El-Rufai tried to recant his comment, claiming he was misunderstood and that he never outright called for violence. Rather, it was a warning about the consequences of undue interference by foreign governments in Nigeria's internal affairs. Hence, his remarks should be understood in the context of defending “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.”
Read more of our coverage of #NigeriaDecides2019:
- Meet Nigeria's presidential candidates of 2019
- Is the Nigerian government gagging the judiciary ahead of presidential elections in February?
- Old age, hate speech, press freedom: Critical issues in Nigeria's 2019 presidential elections
- How will propaganda shape Nigeria's 2019 presidential elections?
- Nigeria's retired military generals battle for influence in 2019 presidential elections
- With tensions rising ahead of 2019 presidential elections, Nigerians fear internet shutdown
- Victory predicted for Nigeria's top presidential opposition candidate amidst corruption allegations
Interference, independent observers and transparent elections
Both El-Rufai and the government labeled independent observations of events leading up to the 2019 Nigerian elections by the U.S., U.K. and E.U. as foreign interference.
However, the Nigerian government invited all elections observers — both local and foreign —and they were cleared by the INEC. These countries have been involved in monitoring elections in the country since the return to democratic rule in 1999. For instance, the report of elections observers during the 2007 elections led to INEC structural improvements and, consequently, the credibility of the 2011 elections.
Similarly, in 2015, international observers were involved during Nigerian elections. U.S. President Barack Obama had recorded a public video in which he spoke to Nigerians to “stand together in rejecting violence and extremism and instead show their support for a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future”. The then-chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned that those who promote violence in those elections were to be tried by the ICC.
Therefore, these calls for peaceful elections in Nigeria are nothing new. President Buhari, just after assuming office, acknowledged that the intervention of “United States and some European countries made the general elections in Nigeria to be free and fair.”