As the presidential election campaign is gaining momentum, President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, General Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress, join eight others to sign a non-violent peace accord that will help bring about peaceful conduct before, during and after the February 14, presidential election across country
| By Olu Ojewale | Jan. 26, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
It was no doubt an historic occasion. On Wednesday, January 14, majority of the 14 presidential candidates contesting this year election formally signed a non-violent agreement with an undertaking to ensure free and fair polls as well run issue-based campaigns. President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, somewhat led the way as 10 presidential candidates that attended the international workshop entitled: “2015 General Elections: Sensitisation workshop on Non-Violence” signed the peace document otherwise known as ‘Abuja Accord.’
In the accord, the presidential gladiators agreed to abide by the rule of the game as prescribed by the Constitution of Nigeria. They also affirmed: “To run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels; in this, we pledge to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling; both ourselves and agents acting in our names.
“To refrain from making, or causing to make our names or that of our party, any public statements, pronouncements, declarations or speeches that have the capacity to incite any form of violence, before, during and after the elections.
“To commit ourselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence to this accord by a national peace committee made up of respected statesmen and women, traditional and religious leaders.
“All institutions of government including INEC and security agencies must act and be seen to act with impartiality and to forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence whether perpetrated by our supporters and/or opponents.” The accord was read by Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, who chaired the workshop.
Ahead of signing the accord, each of the presidential candidates was given two minutes each to make remarks on the need to avoid violence before, during and after elections. President Jonathan who was the last to speak commended the timeliness of the programme. Going down the memory lane, Jonathan recalled effects of violence that followed some elections in the country from the first republic up to the aftermath of the 2011 elections saying, it had done more harm than good to the country. “This programme is very apt and we need it so that at the end of the elections, we don’t need to kill people or burn our houses. I believe that we will get there if we all decided to do what is right in this country. I am quite pleased because the emphasis here is electoral violence, not electoral malpractices. For electoral malpractices, the courts can help to some extent, but there is nothing the courts can do about electoral violence. If a property is burnt, it is burnt. If you identify the person, he can be charged for arson, but in most cases, mob action is always difficult to control not to talk about people who were killed…
“If you looked at the 2011 elections, we approached it better. I am quite pleased that a number of civil society groups are here. It was generally agreed that the 2011 elections was quite better than any other election in the country and for that, we thank Prof. Jega and his team. Even then, after that election, there were violence in some parts of the country,” he said.
The president recalled the killing of 10 youth corps members who were killed in Kano and Bauchi states, who helped in the conduct of the elections. “The results from those states had been announced and towards the end, it was clear that a particular candidate was going to win, violence erupted in Kano and Bauchi and we asked why should there be violence? The only thing one can deduct is that, you can’t say that there were malpractices to favour the candidate that won because in Kano, we got 26 percent of the votes. In Bauchi, I got 15 percent of the votes,” he said.
According to the president, research has shown that provocative statements are usually responsible for violence during or after elections. For example, he said a governor told him that a governor in another party told him that immediately the opposition took over government, he (the governor) would be jailed. “If you are now threatening somebody that he will go to jail if you take over government, that person would want to fight as if he is defending himself from going to jail. I am not talking about the presidential candidates, but our followers. My conviction is that for those of us who are politicians, we must avoid provocative statements, we must avoid threatening ourselves,” the president said.
Besides, Jonathan said it was important that they divorce politics from religion as well. He alleged that some religious leaders preached the hate message by instigating their followers against some candidates they labelled as the enemies of their fate. “If our religious leaders do that kind of preaching, what do you expect?” he asked.
The president similarly queried the involvement of some traditional rulers who like to use their exalted position to make statements as if trying to divide the country. “This has never helped because as leaders, you have your subjects and followers. When you make these provocative statements, you are indirectly instigating them to become extremely violent,” Jonathan said.
For the country to move forward, he said apart from discussing how to minimise the electoral violence, institutions such as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and security services must also be strengthened to handle the situation. “The INEC also has a key role to play. There are certain things happening now that if not properly handled could lead to violence. First, a number of Nigerians are complaining that they don’t have the PVC. If some people don’t have voters’ card, the assumption is that from the beginning, the INEC is going to rig the election and there is the tendency for those people to go violent. I have mentioned it to the INEC chairman to make sure that every eligible Nigerian votes. If they are not able to make sure that every Nigerian votes, that is a recipe for violence,” he said.
On his part, Buhari recalled his experiences in the court while challenging previous election results, and warned that unless the judiciary shunned political biases, tendencies were that elections in Nigeria would continue to be rigged. He reminiscence on the presidential election results of 2003, 2007 and 2011 and how he was left frustrated and disappointed by courts’ decisions. He also faulted the INEC for not complying with courts’ pronouncements, alleging that some relevant institutions were similarly fond of not always following due process in spite of clear instructions.
“Some of you know by name retired Justice Salami who was heading the Presidential election panel. We made a presentation that in a number of states, the election was not conducted in accordance with the Electoral Act and the states were mentioned. We demanded that the register be brought to prove our case and the panel said there was nothing wrong with that and INEC was asked to comply. It was not produced. Justice Salami was redeployed and another Judge was brought who reversed that decision. That has become history,” he alleged.
Besides, Buhari noted that the INEC Act was yet to honour an aspect of the election requirements. “It was agreed that before every election, there must be an Electoral Act. There was one in 2002 for the 2003 election, there was one in 2006 for the 2007 election, there was one in 2010 for the 2011 election. Up to December 31, 2014, I was waiting for the amended Electoral Act for this year’s election and I am yet to see one. So, on paper, you can’t catch Nigerians. You can only catch Nigerians on the field,” he said.
The only female in the race, Oluremi Sonaiya, presidential candidate of the KOWA Party, said the kind of workshop being organised for the presidential candidates was uncalled for and it did not make her proud as a Nigerian. “We don’t need to gather international community to know how to conduct election. I have been sitting there so much ashamed. I hope this would be the very last time this kind of meeting would hold. We must redeem our image… It is time to demonstrate what we are really worth,” Sonaiya said. She also argued that if Nigerian politicians had been faithful and honest to themselves and the nation, there would be no need to resort to violence in settling matters.
On his part, Chekwas Okorie of the United Progressives Party, UPP, said all the institutions involved in the election process should also be made to sign the peace agreement to assure the nation that they would not be partial. Besides, he said: “The press should stop celebrating those who threaten all of us with violence.”
The international sensitisation workshop also had in attendance eminent personalities such as Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nation, UN; Emeka Anyaoku, chairman of the event and former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and Ibrahim Gambari, former Nigeria’s representative to the UN, and party chairmen among others. They also took turns to address the gathering.
In his speech, Annan asked the contestants to avoid the use of inflammatory languages and underscore the need for the country to prove its big brotherly position in Africa and beyond with the election. “Aside being the eighth largest exporter of oil, Nigeria has become a player in telecoms, agriculture and in banking. She is a major contributor to UN peace-keeping and is now at the UN Security Council. You can’t abstain from voting and then complain,” Annan said.
He, therefore, appealed to the candidates to “focus on party policies and not on individuals. Avoid inflammatory languages and don’t use ethnicity and religion to gain political sympathies. Nigeria doesn’t want to repeat the experience of Kenya where violence took them back several years. 2015 will confirm Nigeria’s progress in the eyes of the world. The stakes are high but I know Nigeria can rise to the challenge. Nigeria’s success is Africa’s success. Nigeria has the future of Africa in her hands, make Africa proud.”
In his contribution, Jega said he had identified “what I called 10 tenets of non-violent elections specifically on what we will expect. The first one obviously is internal party democracy, effective intra-party conflict resolution, accountability, Supremacy of rules, uncertain electoral outcome, willingness to accept outcomes, moderation of electioneering, trust in institutional redress, promotion of inclusiveness, well trained staff.” He assured the nation that the commission would do its best in accordance to the law.
For Gambari, the success of the February election rested mainly on the technical competence of the INEC, the prevailing security atmosphere and the need for the political actors to play the game by the rules. “The credibility and peacefulness of the impending election will depend on three critical elements. First, the technical competence of the INEC; I think that has been demonstrated. The second concern is security. The security agencies and INEC should provide security and sense of fairness to all the stakeholders. The security agencies which are supporting the elections: the police and the military must accept that their roles are to facilitate.
“The third and most importantly, the contestants themselves will have to accept the rules of the game, educate and encourage their supporters to shun violence. These three elements will be what will, in my view, lead to free and fair, credible elections in Nigeria,” he said.
Indeed, both Jonathan and Buhari were almost at each other’s jugular as their presidential election campaigns started on a bitter note two weeks ago with supporters inflaming the ember of discord. One of such occasion was when Jonathan and Buhari traded words over the burning of his campaign vehicles in Jos, Plateau State, on Saturday, January 10. The president who felt that the arson had been committed by supporters of Buhari, asked the APC presidential candidate to call his supporters to order. He said the action was a sign of desperation on the part of the APC.
In a statement issued in Abuja, on Monday, January 12, Femi Fani-Kayode, director of media and publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, warned Buhari and the APC not to prepare the ground for the re-enactment of the post-election violence of 2011. The statement read in part: “It is on record that General Buhari’s utterances since 2011 have fuelled violence especially the post-election violence in parts of the North which claimed the lives of many youth corps members who were deployed as ad-hoc staff for that year’s election… The Jos attack on the campaign buses of President Goodluck Jonathan would appear to be a pointer to what the opposition APC presidential candidate is planning before and after the February 14, presidential election.”
However, the Buhari Campaign Organisation distanced itself from the allegation, saying that the incident in Jos was carried out by aggrieved PDP members who felt short-changed at the party’s primaries. Garba Shehu, director, media and publicity of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, said in a statement that “the incident in Jos was passed as a PDP on PDP violence flowing from their rigged primaries. That is the earliest security report we got. Nobody should change that and use it to demonise opponents.” Shehu pointed out that Buhari was the first to condemn the incident the moment it was reported on the day.
As the dust was settling on the incident, an explosion rocked the APC secretariat in Abam Ama, Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State. It was learnt that some unidentified persons threw dynamite into the three-storey secretariat at about 3:00 am which caused extensive damage to the ground floor.
Just as the news of the explosion hit Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, another round of violence was recorded in Rumueme, Obio/Akpor LGA where four APC members were attacked with machete by persons believed to be political thugs. Christian Asifamak, chairman of the LGA and an APC member, who narrated the incident, said that his office was the worst hit as the entire wall was pulled down by the impact of the explosion. Asifamak alleged that the attack was a deliberate provocation by the PDP to draw the APC into a battle that could destabilise the local government. He said: “We, however, wish to warn our brothers in the PDP to remember that the land of Okrika has been known to defend itself and its people against aggression and that any Okrika person who brings crisis to the land answers for it.”
As the situation was getting frosty, the President Goodluck Jonathan’s Campaign Organisation, accused the INEC of conniving with Buhari to subvert the nation’s constitution by clearing the APC candidate for election without him submitting copies of his educational qualification to the electoral body. Fani-Kayode, who addressed a press briefing, quoted copiously from the Constitution and the Electoral Act that, whereas the law expressly states that a candidate must present and attach his or her personal documents to the INEC’s form, Buhari did not do so in 2011 and in the form he submitted for next month’s election. He said this amounted to violation of law which ought not to have been ignored by the INEC. Jonathan joined in the issue asking Buhari to respect the law of the land.
In a swift reaction to Fani-Kayode’s allegation, Shehu said Jonathan should address the nation on the issue of insecurity and stop wasting the time of Nigerians on a spurious certificate issue. In his personal reaction, Buhari said his certificates were with the military, which was readily admitted by the Army. The INEC, on its part, said that anyone that was not satisfied with its clearance of the former head of state to contest election could go to court. But like a bad coin, the issue has continued to make the rounds in public circles.
However, with the peace accord in place, will all the controversial issues be laid to rest? That is a billion naira question. In the mean time, a lot of Nigerians have hailed the peace pact as being in the right thing to do. But there are also skeptics who think that the paper signed accord may amount to nothing if politicians chose not to educate their supporters on the need to allow peace to reign. “I agree that the peace accord is a beautiful thing; but I am not excited. I am not excited because I don’t want to belong to the group of Nigerians who are much in love with beautiful lies instead of painful truth… If none of them ask their supporters to go and cause trouble they (supporters) read from the body language. That was what happened in 2011 when there so much violence in some parts of the country,” Ehiedu Aniagwu, a radio commentator, said on Thursday, January 15. He pointed out that prior to the current peace deal some persons were already pulling down signboards of opponents in various parts of the country without any move to stop them. For instance, in some parts of the North, certain parts are said to be intolerable of accommodating Jonathan campaign trains. Besides, Aniagwu warned that the peace accord was not justiciable, and as such could not be used to challenge any of the candidates in court.
John Ebujo, a public commentator, who lives Abeokuta, Ogun State, said the decision to sign the accord was pleasing to a lot of Nigerians and, therefore, appealed to the politicians to respect it. “It is my hope that the gladiators would be less inflammatory in actions and words. Henceforth, they should be preaching peace to their followers as they move around in their respective campaign trains,” Ebujo said.
Expressing a similar sentiment, Jeremiah Oluwole, a Lagos resident, agreed that the accord was a good project, but asked the politicians to be temperate in their language and lessen the already heightened tension.
Nigerians also expressed the hope that as both Jonathan and Buhari were shown hugging and smiling at the workshop, they would be able to replicate the same mien after the release of next month election results? That, for now, is hard to say. But Nigerians, indeed, the whole world would is watching to see how truthful the Nigerian politicians are and whether they will honour the agreement they signed on Wednesday, January 14.