Nigeria leader's ally says foreigners who intervene in poll face 'body bags'

ABUJA (Reuters) - A key ally of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday said people from overseas who sought to intervene in the country’s election to be held in little over a week would go back in body bags.

Executive Governor of Kaduna State Nasir El-Rufai speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kaduna, Nigeria November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nasir El-Rufai, governor of the northern state of Kaduna, made the comments during a discussion program on the Nigerian Television Authority when the topic of the international community’s role in elections was raised. It followed an international outcry over the suspension of Nigeria’s top judge.

The Feb. 16 vote in Africa’s top oil producer pits Buhari, a military ruler in the 1980s who was voted into office in 2015, against main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, a businessman and former vice president in a race widely seen as tight that has become increasingly rancorous in the last few weeks.

The discussion about the role of foreign countries in elections was raised on the program in which reference was made to concerns expressed by the European Union, the United States and Britain over the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen over allegedly breaching asset-declaration rules.

“We are waiting for the person who will come and intervene. They will go back in body bags because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country,” said El-Rufai.

“We have got that independence and we are trying to run our country as decently as possible,” he said.

Last year Buhari and Atiku both signed an agreement stating a commitment to hold a peaceful election.

Following El-Rufai’s comments, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party said it would be “left with no option than to consider a review of its signatory in the national peace accord” if the ruling party did not stop “comments, threats and incendiary actions”.

The chief justice - who was suspended and replaced with an acting replacement last month - could preside over a dispute over the election result. Nigeria’s judiciary has helped resolve electoral disputes in past votes, some of which have been marred by violence and vote rigging.

Last week the Nigerian government said it would not accept any foreign “meddling” after statements by the EU, the United States and Britain expressed fears about the impact of the judge’s suspension if the election result was disputed.

“While the security of EU observers is of paramount importance, and will remain under constant review, EU observers will continue their work across the country in the run-up to - and beyond - the 16 February elections,” said the EU election observation mission in a tweet in which it stated that it was aware of the governor’s comments.

Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Tom Brown