The Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party on Wednesday expressed anger over the telephone conversation between the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and the President-elect, Bola Tinubu.
Blinken pledged stronger ties between the US and Nigeria during a 20-minute telephone call to Tinubu, who is in France.
The US Department of State spokesperson, Matthew Miller, in a statement said Blinken spoke with the president-elect on Tuesday.
The development came 24 hours after the Joe Biden administration announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who allegedly disrupted the recently concluded elections.
The US said the affected persons were involved in voter threats, results manipulation, physical violence, and other activities that undermined democracy. The identities of the culprits were, however, not made public.
But dismayed by Blinken’s communication with Tinubu, the PDP standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar, who is challenging the ex-Lagos State governor’s victory at the tribunal, said the Secretary of State’s assurances of bilateral cooperation contradicted the position of the US on the general election in Nigeria.
The former vice president was referring to a statement issued by the US government on March 2 in which it acknowledged the complaints and frustrations expressed by some Nigerians about the manner in which the presidential election was conducted and the shortcomings of the technical elements used in the poll.
Also, the Chief Spokesman for Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, said it was worrisome for Blinken to be discussing bilateral relations with Tinubu.
During the phone conversation, Blinken said he was committed to further strengthening the US-Nigeria partnership with the incoming administration of the president-elect.
Miller said the two leaders “discussed the importance of inclusive leadership that represents all Nigerians, continued comprehensive security cooperation, and reforms to support economic growth.”
The statement read, “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke this morning with Nigerian President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu to emphasise his continued commitment to further strengthening the U.S.-Nigeria relationship with the incoming administration.
“The Secretary noted that the U.S.-Nigeria partnership is built on shared interests and strong people-to-people ties and that those links should continue to strengthen under President-elect Tinubu’s tenure.
‘’Secretary Blinken and President-elect Tinubu discussed the importance of inclusive leadership that represents all Nigerians, continued comprehensive security cooperation, and reforms to support economic growth.”
Also, a statement from the Office of the President-elect, signed by Tunde Rahman, said Tinubu told Blinken that he would hit the ground running and unify the country on his assumption of office on May 29.
He further pledged to work to ensure continued positive relations with the US, adding that his immediate priorities would be to deliver institutional reforms and development programmes to deepen our democratic institutions and bring help to poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
Rahman’s statement read in part, “Asíwájú Tinubu spoke during a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Initiated by the US diplomat, the telephone discussion, which was frank and friendly, took place on Tuesday evening.
Tinubu assures US
“The President-elect said his immediate priorities would be to deliver institutional reforms and development programs to deepen our democratic institutions and bring help to poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
“He also expressed his determination to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy and faithfully serve the people as their president.
“During the talks that lasted about 20 minutes, President-elect Tinubu recalled being granted asylum by the US when he was forced into exile during his struggle for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, and, while reaffirming his democratic bona fides, expressed his absolute belief that the result of the elections, which he clearly won, reflected the will of the Nigerian people.
“He further urged the US to factor in Nigeria’s important place in Africa and provide needed assistance in the areas of security and economic investment in order for the nation to lead the way and be a shining example to the rest of the continent.
“Secretary Blinken assured that Nigeria should expect a good and mutually-beneficial relationship with the US.’’
“He promised to play his part in ensuring and sustaining a cordial relationship between the two nations, saying a democratic and peaceful Nigeria is important to the United States as it is to Africa.
“Both President-elect Tinubu and Secretary Blinken ended their discussion with pleasant greetings and a promise to keep the channels of dialogue and communication open, whilst maintaining a strong relationship between the two nations”, the statement added.
But reacting to the US engagement with Tinubu on his verified Twitter handle @atiku, on Wednesday, the ex-vice president said he was in disbelief that the US top diplomat could give legitimacy to what he described as the sham election of February 25.
He tweeted, “I am in disbelief that Secretary Antony Blinken called Tinubu, a contradiction to the publicly stated position of the US on Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election.
‘’This is inconceivable considering that America, as the bastion of democracy, is well briefed on the sham election of February 25. To give legitimacy to the widely acknowledged fraudulent election in Nigeria can be demoralising to citizens who have hedged their bet on democracy and the sanctity of the ballot.’’
The Deputy National Youth Leader of the PDP, Timothy Osadolor urged the president-elect not to get carried away by ‘’a mere phone call from a United States official.’’
He added, “Tinubu and his co-travellers should not be fooled by the phone call from the Secretary of State of the United States government. It is not an endorsement of his person or his hotly contested and smeared purported victory.
‘’Rather, the United States government knows the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with the powerhouse of Africa in its current challenge as the world superpower. With the BRICS nation at its jugular economically, China at her tail economically, militarily, and technologically and the top spot of world power, it makes sense for the USA to be looking for strategic allies around the globe and make no mistake, in the community of nations.’’
Osadolor argued that the Blinken phone call could not legitimise Tinubu’s election victory which he said would likely be nullified by the court.
“Nigeria is no pushover! So, the relationship with Nigeria, her people and her leaders is key. The only thing is that they (the US) only called a temporary or stop-gap president who, if things go as expected, will most likely be vacated by the court of the land. So, Mr Tinubu will do well not to delude himself into thinking he is now legitimized by the phone call,” he said.
Faulting Blinken, Tank said, “It is worrisome at this point to hear them discuss bilateral discussion at the point in which the issue of election is being challenged in the court of law.”
The spokesperson, however, stated that the discussion on the bilateral relationship should not be taken as an endorsement.
He said, “As we are concerned, we are aware that a statement was issued by those who have been part of the rigging machine in Nigeria’s electoral system. We don’t want to take issue with regard to any call being made to a government that is already seen to be illegal.
“We cannot gratify such statement as a kind of endorsement. We will rather call it a caution to see whether the judiciary will make do with what is already on their desk.”
But the All Progressives Congress saw the interaction between both Tinubu and Blinken as a welcome development.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, said the majority of those criticising the US for its action needed some form of enlightenment on what ‘democracy’ and ‘bilateral relationship’ connote.
“I think these people (opposition) misunderstand the meaning of democracy. They should also learn the meaning of bilateral relationships. Once an election is conducted and there is a body that is charged with the responsibility of deciding or playing umpire in the election. If that body has made a pronouncement, it stands valid until it is vitiated by a court of competent jurisdiction.
“Nobody is saying people should not go to court to challenge an election outcome. But nobody should say the announcement by the electoral umpire is void simply because there are those who are challenging the outcome.
The position of the law is that you are innocent until proven otherwise. And who alleged is burdened by proof. It is for him to prove the wrongdoing or the invalidity of the result.
“Now, while that is ongoing, it doesn’t mean countries should not have a bilateral relationship. Every country is a sovereign entity that cannot be challenged by individuals who have contested and lost elections. They should go and continue licking their wounds and allow the legal process to continue. Diplomacy and diplomatic relationship cannot be dictated by their own wishes. No, it doesn’t work like that.
“There is nothing wrong with Blinken calling the president-elect. It is actually in line.
America is the bastion of democracy, the biggest democracy in the world and one country that has practised democracy longer than any country in the world knows the meaning of that better than any other democrat in the world. For Blinken to call and discuss with the president-elect, they know the implication and meaning. There is nothing undemocratic or bad about it.”
In an exclusive chat with one of our correspondents, Tinubu’s media officer, Tunde Rahman noted that the matter of endorsement of the incoming administration by the two countries had never been in doubt.
“The US is one of the first countries to acknowledge His Excellency Asíwájú Tinubu’s victory, saying the competitive election represented a new period in Nigeria’s history and democracy. That was in a statement by the State Department Spokesman, Ned Price, on March 1.
“And of course, you should be aware of a recent letter from UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak where he expressed his readiness and delight in working with President-elect Tinubu and even invited him for the Africa-UK investment summit holding next year,” he said.
On what the phone call portended for Nigeria based on US policy in Africa, the media officer stated that it spoke volumes about the numerous potential both countries can benefit from the relationship.
He stated, “What does the telephone call portend? It is that the US understands and appreciates the important place of Nigeria in Africa and in the world at large. President-elect Tinubu and Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to bring about and sustain a mutually-beneficial partnership and relationship.
“Both spoke about their shared values with respect to democracy and diversity and agreed to work together in these areas. Secretary Blinken talked about inclusive government. This is what President-elect Tinubu is all about.”
Sultan on inauguration
Meanwhile, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar, has said nothing would stop Tinubu’s inauguration on May 29.
He, therefore, urged Nigerians to pray for the incoming administration to succeed in steering the affairs of the country.
The Sultan, who was speaking during a roundtable engagement with traditional and religious rulers in Abuja on Wednesday, said everyone should know that a new administration would take over on May 29 “whether they like it or not.”
The event organized by the World Bank was to fashion a way out to increase human capital development in the country especially, the girl child education.
The Sultan appealed to the attendees not to abandon the advocacy of ending child marriage and other impediments to the growth of the girl when they get to their community.
He said, “There must be change because in the next few days or weeks, there will be a new government. What can we contribute to that government to stabilize?
“Whether anybody likes it, it must take place, a new government is coming on 29 May, so what can we do besides prayers because we believe in the Almighty, we believe in God that gives and takes.
“After that, so what? What do we do to help the government stabilize and move the country forward?”
He added that it is an opportunity for religious and traditional leaders to work together for the betterment of the country.
“Let us continue to work as one big family with different mothers and fathers or whatever it is, but our main father and mother are Nigeria. As religious leaders, there must be equity and justice in whatever is being done and that is what I think we need to talk about the most,” Sultan said.
He added that it was an opportunity for religious and traditional leaders to work together for the betterment of the country.
“Let us continue to work as one big family with different mothers and fathers or whatever it is, but our main father and mother are Nigeria. As religious leaders, there must be equity and justice in whatever is being done and that is what I think we need to talk about the most,” Sultan said. (punch)