US reaffirms visa ban on election riggers

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From Fred Itua, AbujaThe United States Government has  threatened sanctions, including visa restrictions, on politicians planning to interfere with the democratic processes or instigate violence in the 2023 general elections.It also backed the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and Electronic transmission of results.Political Counselor at the United States Embassy in Nigeria, Rolf Olson, spoke on behalf of the United States Government at the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Association Annual Seminar 2022 on “Promoting electoral integrity in Nigeria: Prospects and challenges” in Abuja.He noted that BVAS and the electronic transmission of vote results sheets were to ensure the integrity of Nigerian elections.Olson maintained that the United States Government does not have a candidate in the upcoming elections.On the 2023 elections, he said: “It never ceases to amaze me how often we see comments, claims, and assertions from people in social and traditional media about what our supposed objectives are in the elections, which candidate or party we favour, how to interpret certain statements or actions of ours in terms of what it means about our intentions are perceptions.“In reality, I think it’s quite simple to interpret us, especially when it comes to the elections. We always try to be clear in our messages, so let me be clear here on several important points:“The United States does not support any individual candidate or party in this election cycle (or for that matter, in any other upcoming election). Our interest is in supporting credible and transparent elections that reflect the will of Nigerian voters, in a process that is conducted peacefully. Full stop. Individuals seeking to undermine the democratic process, including through violence, may be found ineligible for visas to the United States. “We have imposed visa restrictions in the past against those responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process, and remain fully willing to do so again in the context of the upcoming elections.”He expressed government’s disappointment at the series of unproductive criticism directed at INEC and its officials in recent months, and which only seems to have expanded of late.According to the official, the United States Government is impressed by the commitment, evenhandedness, and diligence exhibited by INEC thus far in the election cycle. He added that while nobody needs to forfeit their right to express legitimate concerns about the process or about the conduct of INEC, the rhetoric attacking INEC’s motives or overall competence is unhelpful.He advised parties, candidates, and their supporters to avoid language that tries to “guarantee” victory, adding that  there is no true democratic election in which the outcome is foretold. On BVAS, Olson maintained that one of the most critical steps in conducting credible elections is confirming that the individual standing at the polling unit attempting to vote is who they say they are.  According to him, the BVAS virtually eliminates the possibility of any systematic effort to replace real voters with impostors. “It has not yet been used on a national scale, only in the off-cycle gubernatorial and other elections in the past year or so and we encourage INEC to make every effort to provide the training necessary to ensure its smooth operation on election day. The other feature is the electronic transmission of results from individual polling units of the vote results sheet. In one of my most recent overseas diplomatic assignments, I witnessed firsthand the benefit of having this kind of system to help ensure that the announced results reflect the actual results. “The BVAS and the electronic transmission of vote results sheets are incredibly important steps forward in seeking to ensure the integrity of Nigerian elections, and we welcome both the Electoral Act’s empowerment of INEC to employ the technical and other means it deems necessary, secure, and appropriate to ensure credible elections and INEC’s willingness to do so.”National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus, Okoye, disclosed that 176, 846 BVAS would be deployed to all polling units in the country.He, however, said the Commission would make available at least two BVAS devices as back-up to each of the 8,809 registration areas.While lamenting that commission’s platforms were always subject to attacks by political actors and faceless individuals and groups using hackers, Okoye said INEC is faced with the huge challenge of protecting its platforms and assets ahead of the 2023 elections. He assured that INEC’s data recovery centres would be upgraded and all its platforms enhanced.Okoye urged Nigerians to be vigilant by protecting their votes on election date.“The Commission is firm and fixed on its resolve to conduct free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. The Commission will continue to be open and transparent in its technological innovations because election business is public business and the public has a right to know what the Commission is doing.“INEC will continue to gradually infuse technology in the electoral process to enhance transparency and verifiability in voter authentication and result management. The level of technological development in the country and the state of infrastructure will invariably impact on the technology the Commission can deploy.“In this regard, the Commission will continue to make haste slowly as accuracy in result management is more important than the speed at which technology is introduced. We are confident that the BVAS and IReV will form an important pillar and component in the march towards an electoral process driven by technology to obviate malicious human interference in the electoral process.”Vice president of the Hubert Humohrey Fellowship Association, Andy Ezeani, who moderated the seminar, paid tributes to the United States Government for establishing the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship.Ezeani who is the immediate past head of Publicity Division of INEC, said the spirit and value of the Humphrey programme were amply captured in the seminar.“The idea of interrogating critical aspects of life in the society, with a view to improving the quality of policies and programmes are what the seminar is all about,” he stated.



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