On Dec. 11 2018, the presidential candidates of the motley bunch of political parties in the February general elections signed up to a “peace accord”, committing themselves to keep violence out of the electoral process. A communique of that Tuesday’s meeting in Abuja read: “We the undersigned Presidential candidates of the under-listed political parties for the forthcoming elections in February 2019 have attended a one day conference in Abuja under the auspices of National Peace Committee (NPC).
“In the course of the conference, we listened and discussed extensively on the need to ensure that we politicians create a favourable and conducive environment for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in 2019. Furthermore, we discussed the theme of trust as a key ingredient in the conduct of our affairs. In the end we have resolved to adopt the same principles that guided the very successful 2015 elections and therefore commit ourselves to the following: *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”.
They also pledged 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; commit ourselves 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”. The accord again commits the presidential candidates to “support all the institutions of government including INEC and security agencies to act and be seen to act with impartiality; forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence, whether perpetrated by supporters and/or opponents.”
Our editorial on the subject said “We, at Peoples Daily, welcome this bold initiative by our politicians. This was what we proposed in our editorial on the start of campaigning on Nov. 18 2018 for the 2019 elections. We said that the success of the 2015 elections that saw Nigeria successfully transiting from one government to another was the result of a peace accord signed by stakeholders and their honouring its letter and spirit. However, an agreement is useless if the signatories do not intend to honour it. This is why we urge them to walk their talk”.
Our fears were confirmed early in the New Year by a whirlwind of pre-election violence in Lagos, Kano and Kwara states. On Jan. 8 in Lagos, 3 persons were reportedly killed and several others, including journalists injured in a clash involving rival factions National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). It happened during a campaign flag-off by All Progressives Congress (APC) at Skypower Ground, Ikeja. The rally ended abruptly because of the violence that broke out mid-way.
It is no good omen that this is happening just a month of the signing of the peace agreement. The credibility of next month’s polls depends greatly on the professionalism the election umpire, INEC, brings into the process. However, a lot also depends on political parties and their candidates being able to reign in their madding crowds of supporters. Needless to say the security forces, the police in particular, must not only be alive to their responsibility of ensuring violence-free elections. They must be non-partisan also.