Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Convener of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, has said that the recent threats by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, is a dangerous signal not only to international observers but to local ones as well.
El-Rufai, who was a guest on NTA on Tuesday, February 5, said foreigners planning to intervene in the elections would be sent home in “body bags.”
He reversed himself the following day, explaining that his comment was not a call for violence but rather a powerful defence of the country’s sovereignty.
He further explained that he was standing firm against those trying to divide Nigerians into ethnic and religious lines, and was opposed to violence but committed to peace and harmony.
The presidency had defended the governor who came under heavy criticism, saying having made a clarification on the comments he earlier made on the role of other countries and bodies in elections, there was no need dragging the issue further.
But said if El-Rufai could threaten international observers, it meant they had concluded what fate waited for local observers, describing his comments as dangerous.
Nwankwo stated this at a pre-election training organised by the Situation Room and TheCable on Thursday in Abuja.
“We have seen a governor threatening international observers that they were will be sent home in body bags.
“The presidency’s explanations in defence of the governor did not help matters.
“If he could threaten international observers, for us national observers it is a bit of a concern. It means they have decided on what to do with us.
“But it is important to stress that this is our country and we will not be dictated to on what we want for our country.
“We will not tolerate this; those who define what national interested is should note that we will not accept it. I think the media has the role to play in defending what the national interests are.”
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Director of International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, one of the facilitators at the event said the comment made by El-Rufai was uncalled for.
“We all know what body bag is; it is capable of being interpreted in different ways and coming from an executive governor, it will portray the country in bad light.
“What is expected of a governor is to say there is nothing amiss and that even if international observers come, they will discover elections will be free and fair. Issuing threats might suggest that something is being hidden as far as the coming elections are concerned.
“It was shocking for a governor to make such a statement. Nigeria goes to other countries to intervene in elections either by way of observations, monitoring and many of our former leaders are involved in election duties in different parts of the world. So, we live in a global community and there is no way we are going to say that what is happening here is internal to us and outsiders should not be interested. Nigeria is a large country, some of these countries have interests here; they have businesses here. So to me, their concern is in order as far credible elections is a concern because they want to be sure that the country will not be thrown into chaos, so it is that assurance that there will be peaceful elections that we want from government.
“The reaction of the presidency should also have been along this line. They should not allow the impression to be created that the governor is speaking for the government of Nigeria because he is expressing a personal opinion and that cannot represent the opinion of the Federal government. The presidency should have used its own statement to correct that wrong impression.
“Some observers might feel intimidated and this will create an atmosphere of fear whereas that might be an intention to make sure we do not have as many observers come in as much as possible. That, of course, might not augur well for this government because you need credible opinions on elections. In any case, we have foreign governments currently supporting our electoral system. I know for instance that the European Union through its support to democratic governance project in Nigeria, having been providing a lot of support that runs into millions of Euros to INEC; so are we going to say they should withdraw that support?
“So we need to acknowledge what they have done to support our democracy and if they show concerns, let us address those concerns and refrain from issuing threats which could be inflammatory.”
Nwankwo said the training was to encourage journalists to focus on accurate reporting of the elections and events around elections.
Abiose Adams, Programme Officer of Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), stressed the importance of the role of the media in ensuring credible elections.
Arogundade, said: “Journalists should learn and know about diversity in Nigeria when reporting during elections.
“The four key stakeholders the media needs to aid in unbiased election reportage are: the government, INEC, political parties and civil society organisations.”
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