President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday set the tone for rancour-free 2019 electioneering as he joined 67 other presidential candidates to sign a peace accord anchored by the National Peace Committee.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was, however, absent at the signing ceremony, citing communication gap between his party and the secretariat of the peace committee.
Although the committee led by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), said invitations were sent to all 73 presidential candidates, including Atiku, the spokesman for the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, told newsmen last night that neither Atiku nor PDP received the invitation.
The peace accord is an undertaken by the presidential candidates to ensure peaceful and rancour-free campaigns before, during and after the 2019 general elections.
The candidates are also expected to avoid hate speech, fake news or any act capable of causing socio-political unrest in the country.
It was gathered that the event was attended by 68 presidential candidates, including that of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to ensure free, fair and credible election.
Explaining why Atiku failed to attend the event, PDP said that it never received any invitation, but, however, promised to investigate whether there were communication lapses or not.
‘’I have spoken with our candidate, the national chairman and the national secretary of our party and even my private secretary whether they received the invitation or not. They all told me they never received the invitation. We need to find out what happened,’’ Ologbondiyan stated.
He, however, added, ‘’Because of our high regard for members of the committee, we are investigating whether there was deliberate act by some people to withhold the invitation in order to prevent our candidate from attending the session.
‘’But globally, our candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is known as an ambassador of peace; he is a man of peace; he is committed to peaceful elections and our party is also determined that we have free, fair and credible elections in 2019. We know those who said in 2011 that blood will flow freely if they lose election and in line with their threat, thousands of innocent people were actually killed.’’
Aside Atiku, some of other presidential candidates, Donald Duke of Social Democratic Party (SDP); Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressives Party (YPP); Oby Ezekwesili of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN); and Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress, were also absent.
Buhari, accompanied by APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, joined 67 other candidates to appended their signatures to the peace accord at the event, which took place at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja.
Other signatories included, Mass Action Joint Alliance (MAJA), Legacy Party of Nigeria (LPN), Change Nigerian Party (CNP), Congress of Patriots (CP), Liberation Movement (LM), Labour Party (LP), Modern Democratic Party (MDP), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN), Nigeria Community Movement Party (NCMP), National Interest Party (NIP), New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP), Nigeria Peoples’ Congress (NPC), and New Progressives Movement (NPM) among others.
In the accord, the candidates agreed to run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels, pledging to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious incitements, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by themselves and their agents.
They also agreed to refrain from making or causing to make in their names and that of their parties, 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 themselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence to the accord by a National Peace Committee made up of respected statesmen and women, traditional and religious leaders.
In addition, those who signed the accord resolved to support all institutions of government, including INEC and the security agencies to 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 their supporters and/or opponents.
Emphasizing the import of the event, the Chairman of the National Peace Committee, Abubakar, said peace was essential in ensuring credible polls, commending Buhari’s commitment to ensuring credible polls.
He, however, warned that security was a source of worry and cautioned them against acts of commission or omission capable of making matters worse, while calling on the leadership of the security agencies to lead by example and temper their utterances and action with responsibility and patriotism. He was also displeased with incitement by some religious leaders.
On his part, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), who said there would not have been need for worries over the conduct of elections if the processes of electioneering had been straight forward, appealed to politicians and the electoral umpire to build on the gains of the peaceful transfer of power in 2015 to further entrench democratic ethos in Nigeria.
Also addressing the people on behalf of all traditional rulers in Nigeria, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, harped on the need for Nigerians to come together to see how things could work better in the country, saying, “What is critical to us is to know that Nigeria is greater than everyone of us.”
Delivering a goodwill message, former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and an active participant in Nigeria’s electoral reforms, Justice Mohammed Uwais, also called for collaboration among all stakeholders towards ensuring peaceful elections in 2019.
The Head of EU delegation to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, noted that Nigeria set an example for Africa and the world in 2015, urging that the country should sustain the tempo in the coming election.
The EU official said, “We welcome steps taken so far towards 2019, and we will continue to support free and fair polls. We urge all to avoid hate speech, violence and vote buying and say yes to peace, inclusiveness, gender equality and access for disabled persons.
‘’We again stress our impartiality as we do not support any particular party or candidate, but support institutions responsible for carrying out the appropriate mandate.”
Addressing the gathering, Buhari emphasized the need to build mutual trust as a way to institutionalize democracy in the country, and pleaded with the security agencies and the electoral umpire to remain neutral in the interest of peace.
He said, “I wish to call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all arms of security agencies to put the nation first in their conduct. The world is watching us and the task of building or institutionalising trust in our political system and institution is fundamental to the growth and development of our country.
“We are gathered here today to perform a very important part of our quest for peaceful political process. We are here to install trust into various contestants. Given the central role that governance plays in our nation state, it is clear that without trust our society cannot thrive or develop.”
The president said the building of trust was a collective duty of all citizens and that the primary concern of those signing the peace accord was to bring about laws, norms, guidelines that would guide the conduct of the election.
He noted that as part of democratic practice, methods of electing leaders have been difficult for people because Nigeria has not had a long tradition of democracy.
According him, “The conducts of our elections have been consistently marred by violence caused by the behaviours of most sections of the political class and their supporters, but there are encouraging signs that we are learning to embrace the responsibilities expected of us.
“We are here to commit ourselves, as key actors in the political process; party leaders and presidential candidates, to peaceful and credible conduct of the process. We, the candidates pledge to uphold the highest standard of conducts and encourage our teeming supporters to do same.”
The event attracted notable Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, including, former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd); United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative in West Africa and the Sahel, Mr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas; Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu; Adams Oshiomhole; Interior Minister, Lt.Gen. Abdurrahman Dambazzau (rtd); the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 111; Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Archbishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States, Chairman Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and several others.
There was, however, a mild drama at the ICC venue of the event after the agreement had been signed by the president and some other candidates, as the National Chairman of Change Nigerian Party (CNP), Mr. Usman Ikeleji; and the National Chairman of Young Progressive Party (YPP), Mr. Bishop Amakiri protested that only Buhari was allowed to make a speech at the event.
Ikeleji said, “Why didn’t they allow any party chairman, even the chairman, Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC), the umbrella body of registered political parties in Nigeria, to speak? What are we talking about? We thought all party chairmen will be given opportunity to speak.
“When we started this peace accord, most of them were not there; they didn’t allow us that even started this thing to even speak! These men are deceiving us – for how long would they be deceiving us?
“I am not in support of it. Our IPAC chairman is the one that is the chairman of all the political parties.”
Amakiri on his part said, “We needed a platform to come and talk. You won’t just bring us here and ask us to just come and sign. Any painstaking process should be done under due process.”
But contending that the aggrieved party members were only attracting undue media attention to themselves, the National Chairman, Sustainable National Party (SNP), Mr. Bashir Ibrahim, said the protesters did no channel their grievances properly.
According to him, “There is no issue in what the people are raising. They are just making issues out of nothing. The INEC chairman who is the custodian of the election is here and he did speak. So, speaking or not speak does not have anything to do with peace accord. You are invited to come and sign, not to come and address.”
He said before they came to the event they ought to have written to draw the attention of the organisers to what they want corrected.
It took the intervention of Abubakar, who pleaded that the error was his, to pacify the angry party men.
When he was asked that it appeared that the event was a monopoly of the government in power, unlike the last time when he got the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and Buhari to sign the accord, the former military leader said, “Are you accusing this committee of working for the president? As far as we are concerned every party was invited and you can see the number of people who participated.”
Asked if there was still room for those not present to sign the peace accord, he said, “Yes, it is open for them to come and sign the peace accord.”
Meanwhile, Atiku, on Monday night, held an interactive session with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on his plans if voted into power.
A statement by his Media Office said Atiku was at the Ecumenical Centre, Abuja on the invitation of CAN, for a two-hour interactive session with members of the Christian body that wanted to know how he would govern Nigeria if he wins the 2019 presidential election.
According to the statement, issues discussed during the session included how an Atiku government would improve power supply, and increase the number of women and youth in governance; whether he was under any influence by foreign concerns to do their bidding; how the challenge of high maternal mortality rate would be addressed; how to grow the economy; put a check on insecurity and how he would stop nepotism in governance.
The former vice president was quoted as saying that Nigeria slipped into recession because of capital flight and attendant closure of companies in the country, following government’s pronouncements which sent the wrong signals to investors.
He added that the clampdown on domiciliary accounts forced investors to massively withdraw, close accounts and move their funds elsewhere, adding that the impact of the capital flight was the closure of companies and loss of jobs.
To tackle the epileptic power supply in the country, Atiku said, he would adopt the “captive power strategy” where specific power stations would provide power supply for specific areas, adding that the strategy would ensure availability of power supply across the country within his first two years in office.
He stressed that a study has revealed that the adoption of captive power stations would yield greater results than reliance on gas to generate power, saying that there were companies willing to provide power at affordable rate using the captive power strategy.
Atiku listed the retooling of the nation’s armed forces for better performance among other strategies that have been penciled down as means of improving the effective security network of the nation.
On how to revive the economy, he said that he would create the right environment that would attract foreign and local investors who ran away from the country due to harsh economic and investment climate.
Speaking, the Methodist Bishop of Ikeja Diocese and CAN Director of Mobilization and National Issues, Bishop Stephen Adegbite said that Atiku convincingly addressed all the fears, issues and concerns raised by members of CAN, is an indication of his physical fitness.
“You have made history today by being the first presidential candidate to honour our invitation and we do not take it for granted”, he was quoted as saying.
The event, according to the statement, attracted Christians from various denominations had panelists which included, Head, Anglican Communion in Nigeria, Primate Nicholas Okoh; Head, Legal of CAN, Barr. Samuel Kwankur.
Others are Bishop Anthony Anyiador, National Treasurer for CAN; Director of Youths, Engr. Abiodun Sanyaolu; Chaplain, National Christian Centre, Bishop Peter Ogunmuyiwa; Acting General Secretary of CAN, Mr. Joseph Daramola; National Coordinator for 2019 elections for CAN, Dr William Okoye and Chief Kenny Martins, among others.