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Nigerian governor warns foreign governments: Interfere in our elections and ‘go back in body bags’

Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State [Image shared in the Gallery of Kaduna State website]

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:

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.

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.

‘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:

Lunatic patriot!

Just apologize, stop digging in …

False comparison with the Venezuelan condition …

Like Buhari, like El-Rufai …

A dangerous mindset that should be condemned by all …

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.”

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.”

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