The February 25 elections, which will determine Nigeria’s president, are taking place amid inflation and widespread insecurity.
The United States has said it is restricting entry to people “believed to be responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Nigeria” ahead of that country’s elections this year.
Wednesday’s announcement also extends to the families of those accused of anti-democratic efforts, according to the US State Department. Elections on February 25 in Nigeria will determine who will replace President Muhammadu Buhari, who has reached the country’s two-term limit after serving eight years in office.
“Additional individuals who undermine the democratic process in Nigeria, including in the lead up to, during and after the 2023 Nigerian elections, may not be eligible for US visas under this policy,” said Secretary of State for USA, Antony Blinken, in a statement.
The vote in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, comes as the country faces widespread insecurity, with the electoral commission itself in the crosshairs of recent violence.
Earlier this month, Nigerian police repelled attacks on electoral commission offices in the south-eastern state of Enugu. In December, five people were killed in three attacks on offices in the southeastern state of Imo.
However, officials have said that the elections will not be delayed.
Meanwhile, high inflation has caused economic hardship in the country, a factor cited in a surge last year in young people registering to vote.
In Wednesday’s statement, Blinken said the decision to impose visa restrictions “reflects the United States’ commitment to supporting Nigeria’s aspirations to combat corruption and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.”
The announcement follows recent commitments by US President Joe Biden’s administration to strengthen ties with countries across the African continent. In December, Biden hosted the second US-Africa Leaders Summit, with Washington forging a series of new partnerships during the talks and pledging more investment in the continent.
And US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is currently in the midst of a three-country tour of Africa, stopping Wednesday in Pretoria, South Africa.
Blinken’s statement on Wednesday made it clear that the restrictions are directed at “certain individuals and are not directed at the Nigerian people or the Nigerian Government.”
The announcement did not name any specific goals of the new policy.
Eighteen candidates will compete for the Nigerian presidency, and early polls show Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the most likely contenders in a country long dominated by the two parties.
Peter Obi, a Labor Party candidate who has focused on fighting corruption in his campaign, is also considered a frontrunner.
Allegations of voter fraud have long plagued Nigeria’s elections, though officials have vowed that 2023 will be different. They have anchored that promise to new technology aimed at preventing re-voting, as well as measures aimed at stifling vote buying.
The February elections will also determine the composition of the National Assembly.