On Wednesday in Abuja, all the presidential candidates participating in next month’s general election signed an accord to follow the rules of the game and shun violence in all forms. The accord, which involved conducts before, during, and after the elections, also stipulates that the institutions engaged in the conduct of the poll must be seen to be impartial.
The exercise, coordinated by the Independent National Electoral Commission, is a usual pre-election ritual. Before every election in recent years, politicians have signed peace agreements like clockwork. But such accords in the past have hardly fared beyond the paper work and photo opportunity for the politicians and officials of the electoral umpire.
Yet, ahead of the next general election, a lot of issues make it ever more compellingly urgent for the candidates and politicians to practise the peace they sign. Perhaps, most important is the seemingly intensifying doomsday predictions about Nigeria’s post-2015 election fate. The politicians have a choice to disappoint or gratify the doomsayers.
Like some of the prominent Nigerian and foreign citizens who witnessed the signing of the peace undertakings on Wednesday in Abuja had counselled the candidates, they owe the country a duty to preach and do only the things that would promote unity and progress in society.
Former United Nations Secretary-general, Dr. Kofi Annan, told the candidates at the event, “I know that you have the power in this room to influence what candidates and supporters do and say in the weeks ahead. I hope you would use that power to focus attention on your parties’ policies, not the personalities. Let us talk about how to fix Nigeria’s problems.”
Former Secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, cautioned, “The country’s unity in diversity must not be undermined by campaigns that seek to exploit either of our two major national fault lines – ethnicity and religion. Any injudicious introduction of these two factors into the contestation for votes in any part of the country will be bound to stoke up chains of violence.”
The politicians carry the hopes of millions of citizens and they have a responsibility to fulfil, and not dash, such hopes for a better country.
What with the terrible reports of electioneering violence and threats of violence, however, it is doubtful if the politicians have as yet given serious thought to the enormous responsibility they shoulder.
Last Sunday, an explosion rocked the secretariat of All Progressives Congress in Abam Ama, in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State. About the same period, there was another round of violence at Rumueme, in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state, which resulted in the cutting of four APC members with machetes by suspected political thugs. And in Akko Local Government Area of Gombe State that Sunday, several property belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party, including the party’s office and two vehicles, were, reportedly, burnt after fighting broke out between supporters of PDP and those of the rival APC.
These happened barely 24 hours after two buses belonging to the President Goodluck Jonathan campaign organisation were set ablaze along Bauchi road in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State by a mob.
On January 6, during the kick-off of the APC presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari’s nationwide campaign rally in Port Harcourt, some members of the party from Khana, Asari-Toru, and Degema local government areas of Rivers State, who were on their way to the rally, were attacked by unknown gunmen. No one died in the attack, which occurred along the Bori-Saakpenwa Road, in Khana Local Government Area, and Okpo community in Asari-Toru Local Government Area of the state, though some of the APC supporters sustained gunshot wounds.
Some reckless statements by the politicians have not helped matters.
Lagos State PDP governorship candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, recently warned that people from the oil-rich Niger Delta could “shut down the system” if Jonathan did not get a second term. Agbaje, reportedly, said this at a meeting in London organised by his supporters and the UK chapter of PDP. The statement was under the simplistic – yet dangerous – assumption that other presidential candidates do not have supporters in the Niger Delta.
Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose spoke in a similar vein recently. In a statement criticising APC’s oft-iterated claim that the opposition party would form a parallel government if Buhari was rigged out of the presidential race, Fayose slammed Buhari as an “Islamist who is out to return power to the northerners and implement Islamic agenda.”
The governor alleged, “This campaign of hate from the APC has now triggered a kind of reasoning in the mind-set of other stakeholders, especially the Niger Delta people, who see the Goodluck Jonathan presidency as their turn, with the reality that, if Buhari wins, there will be crisis in the Niger Delta, the area that produces the resources with which Nigeria is sustained.
“If the Niger Delta region erupts in crisis and the Igbo in the South-east return to the old antics and decides to secede, what happens to the North that can only contribute between three to five per cent to the economy of Nigeria?”
In a New Year message on January 3, the national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said his party would congratulate Jonathan if he is re-elected in a fair poll. “However, as a party, we wish to reiterate that we will not hesitate to consider forming a parallel government if the 2015 elections are rigged either by use of security agencies (police and military) to harass, intimidate and cajole voters or through the use of a compromised Independent National Electoral Commission,” Odigie-Oyegun warned.
Such comments are not only uncalled for, they also put a great deal of pressure on people to elect violent measures. Ahead of the general election, politicians in the country must consciously decide to create the atmosphere for peaceful and free contestation of ideas. They must eschew attempts to whip up violent sentiments.