The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhamadu Buhari and those of some other political parties, last Tuesday signed a peace accord pledging to eschew violence either by acts or utterances both by themselves and their supporters before, during and after the 2019 general elections.
Similarly, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was conspicuously absent at the Tuesday event, on Wednesday went to the Abuja office of the National Peace Committee to sign the document, thereby laying to rest speculations that he never wanted such commitment. The candidate of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Obiageli Ezekwesili, who also did not attend the ceremony on Tuesday also signed the peace accord on Wednesday.
That was a laudable effort by the Peace Committee. If there is anything the nation needs in abundance before, during and after the next general elections, it is peace. The tension being created all over the country because of the elections is uncalled for. The bad blood being generated, the enmity being created among fellow Nigerians, particularly on the social media is very alarming. Sometimes one wonders if those involved in all these hateful acts remember that there is life after 2019 elections. We have seen people call one another all kinds of unprintable names all in defence or in support of their preferred candidates. Such altercations sometimes lead to fighting, destruction and killing.
So, it is good that the presidential candidates have committed “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 by ourselves and by all agents acting in our names”; “to refrain from making or causing to make in 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 forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence, whether perpetrated by supporters and/or opponents.”
It is hoped that this will curtail the rancor and bitterness in the political space and make the political campaigns fun as they used to be in the past. It is also the hope of many Nigerians that the candidates and their parties, especially the ruling party, will adhere strictly to part of the agreement which states, “to support all the institutions of government, including INEC and security agencies, to act and be seen to act with impartiality”
This has become necessary because of the activities of the electoral body and the security agencies in the past elections where many believed they were merely doing the biddings of the political party in power. If possible, as many have suggested, INEC and the security agencies should also be made to sign an agreement, pledging to be impartial in the discharge of their duties during the next elections.
There should be no intimidation of voters and aiding of members of certain political parties to rig and commit other impunities on election days.
The fear in many quarters, however, is that despite the beautiful accord, some of the candidates and their supporters and even the security operatives will not be deterred from their unpleasant acts and utterances as there is hardly any punishment for such wrong doings. So the National Peace Committee should not stop at making the candidates sign the peace accord but should ensure that whoever acts contrary to the agreement does not go unpunished. Most importantly, the committee, in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency and other relevant agencies and organizations should sensitize the masses on the dangers of election violence.
Again, as Atiku, Ezekwesili and many other people have advised, in addition to signing the peace accord, the President should rescind his decision on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and ensure that he assents to it as that is the only way Nigerians will be convinced that he is ready for free and fair elections next year.
Sincerely, having listened to the opinions of many Nigerians, including legal practitioners, law makers, journalists and others on the contentious issue of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, one is convinced if signed into law, it will improve our electoral system. It will eliminate the cases of underage voting that had always characterised voting in Nigeria; ensure the use of card readers thereby making our elections more credible and acceptable. We should move forward like other developed and developing nations instead of continuing in our primitive way and expect things to change for the better.
So, if President Buhari has the interest of the nation at heart and if he is not afraid of a credible process in 2019 general polls as he always claims, he should sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, forgetting all the unsalable reasons he gave for not assenting to it. Acting on the contrary will mean endangering the nation’s hard-earned democracy.
By: Calista Ezeaku.