President Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic party (PDP) in next month’s general elections and his main challenger for the Presidency, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) on Jan. 14 in Abuja signed a pact to keep the peace during and after the polls, starting on Feb. 14. The two were joined by the presidential candidates of 9 other parties.
The document reads in part:”We the undersigned presidential candidates of the underlisted political parties contesting in the general elections of 2015; desirous of taking proactive measures to prevent electoral violence before, during and after the elections; anxious about the maintenance of a peaceful environment for the 2015 general elections;…”Hereby commit ourselves and our party to the following: To run issue based campaigns at national, state and local governments 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 agreement was signed in the presence of notably former United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Anan, Nigeria’s Chief Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki and INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. On paper, the non-violence commitment of the contestants in the upcoming elections is the best thing to happen in the history Nigerian elections. Anything that will prevent a repeat of the widespread post 2011 election violence, particularly in the North, is welcome. Already, some citizens from other states residing in the North are voting with their feet, fearful that next month’s elections will not be peaceful.
It is not only important that we respect the sanctity of the ballot but also that we don’t give doomsday prophets cause for celebration. Mr. Anan said on the occasion of the signing of the pact that Nigeria could not afford to get it wrong.”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 its hands, make Africa proud”.
As we said earlier, it is easier for the political gladiators to put their good intention on paper but harder to apply it on the ‘field of play’. Already the electioneering campaigns are getting more violent by the day. In Port Harcourt, Rivers state, where APC’s Buhari launched his campaign, his supporters were attacked by irate crowds on their way to the rally. And in Jos, Plateau state, the buses of President Jonathan’s campaign organization were attacked and burnt. These incidents do not, at all, signpost truly peaceful polls. The language of the contestants isn’t healthy either.
It will take more than a pious commitment on paper to non-violence to achieve a peaceful vote. As Jega said, “politics is at the heart of electoral violence and it behooves on all to seek solution to electoral violence within the same politics itself.” He listed “ten tenets of peaceful party politics” to include “internal party democracy, effective intra-party conflict resolution, accountability, supremacy of rules and uncertainty of electoral outcomes, trust in institutional redress, promotion of inclusiveness.” According to him, “a willingness on the part of politicians to accept election outcomes is at the centre of peaceful elections.”
We hope and pray the gentlemen, obviously, who on Wednesday, Jan. 14, put pen to paper, committing themselves and their parties to peaceful elections next month will be able to also walk their talk.