The February 25 election, which will determine Nigeria’s president, is being held amid inflation and general insecurity.
The United States said it was restricting entry to people “believed to be responsible for or complicit in the undermining of democracy in Nigeria,” ahead of the country’s elections this year.
Wednesday’s announcement also refers to the families of those accused of anti-democracy efforts, according to the US State Department. Nigeria’s February 25 election will determine who will replace President Muhammadu Buhari, who has reached the country’s two-term limit after eight years in office.
“Additional individuals who undermine the democratic process in Nigeria — including before, during and after the 2023 Nigerian elections — may be considered ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said 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 the target of recent violence.
Earlier this month, Nigerian police repelled attacks on electoral commission offices in the southeastern state of Enugu. In December, five people were killed in three attacks on offices in the southeastern state of Imo.
However, officials said the election would not be postponed.
Meanwhile, high inflation has caused economic hardship in the country, one of the factors cited in the increase in the number of young people who registered to vote last year.
In a statement on Wednesday, Blinken said the decision to impose visa restrictions “reflects the commitment of the United States to support Nigeria’s aspirations to fight corruption and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.”
This announcement follows recent commitments by the administration of US President Joe Biden to strengthen ties with countries across the African continent. In December, Biden hosted the second summit of American-African leaders, and during the talks, Washington concluded a series of new partnerships and promised greater investments in the continent.
And US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is currently in the middle of a three-country tour of Africa, stopping in Pretoria, South Africa on Wednesday.
Blinken’s statement on Wednesday made it clear that the restrictions are aimed at “certain individuals and are not aimed at the Nigerian people or the Nigerian government”.
The press release did not specify the specific goals of the new policy.
Eighteen candidates will compete for the presidency of Nigeria, according to the first polls Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the most likely candidates in a country long dominated by two parties.
Peter Obi, the Labor Party candidate who has focused his campaign on fighting corruption, is also seen as a favorite.
Allegations of electoral rigging have long plagued Nigeria’s elections, although officials have vowed that 2023 will be different. They attached that promise to new technology designed to prevent repeat voting, as well as measures aimed at cracking down on vote-buying.
The elections in February will also determine the composition of the National Assembly.