Ahead of Nigeria’s general elections back in February, the United States government said it would consider placing visa restrictions on individuals who undermine the process or are involved in organizing electoral violence.
Earlier this week, it made good on its promise and issued visa restrictions on Nigerians who, it says, “operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights.” Despite email inquiries from Quartz, the US State Department did not name the banned individuals or state how many politicians are affected.
One reason for that, says Matthew Page, a Chatham House fellow and former US State Department official: “The US doesn’t name and shame because visa information is covered by privacy regulations and thus confidential.” The uncertainty around “who or what type of person was targeted or how many” could also see bad actors continue to fear they are at risk, he adds.
While unconfirmed, it’s likely the visa restrictions have been issued to high-level politicians who typically have enough power and access to resources to possibly “undermine” elections or co-ordinate violence.
The restrictions come after elections which were marred by sporadic violence across several parts of the country: according to SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical intelligence firm, over 600 (pdf) people were killed during the last election season. YIAGA Africa, a coalition of election observers, also described the polls as a missed opportunity for Nigeria’s electoral commission to improve the quality of elections.
On the face of it, a US visa ban does not serve as much of a deterrent for errant politicians who will retain the ability to travel elsewhere or simply choose to remain in Nigeria. But such bans, even when not publicly confirmed, are often politicized as indictments on a politician’s transparency record by opponents. One of the more prominent examples is former vice president and 2019 presidential aspirant Atiku Abubakar who has long struggled to shake off talk of being subjected to visa restrictions by the United States over bribery scandals.
While there is some uncertainty as to the visa bans for politicians, the Trump administration has been explicit about its other clampdown measures on visas for Nigerians: it indefinitely suspended an interview waiver program for Nigerian applicants in May.
Even though the US State Department emphasized the actions are “specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people or the newly elected government,” it is likely to further unsettle Nigerians interested in applying for US visas and likely spark more speculation.
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