As Nigerians Vote, Concerns For Peace Pervades The Land
IF there is anything that bothers the electorate as the 2015 general election starts today with the Presidential and National Assembly elections, it is the fear of a possible breakdown of law and order across the country. This is because the electioneering process has been anything but violence-free despite the peace pact signed by the leaders of Nigeria’s major political parties and their presidential candidates on January 14 this year.
The peace pact-signing event was attended by former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan, and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, seven presidential candidates including frontrunners, President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, where they openly signed an agreement to avoid actions that could promote violence during and after the polls. Other political parties that signed the non-violence pact included the Action Alliance (AA), Alliance for Democracy (AD), United Democratic Party (UDP), United Progressive Party (UPP), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Hope Democratic Party (HDP).
However, from every indication, the undertaking appears not to have completely restricted supporters of the contestants, especially that of the PDP and APC, from engaging in acts of violence in the build up to the elections.
Consequently, this has left the country’s political atmosphere edgy going into the elections. There is really widespread fear across the country and this could result in low voter turnout, as not many people would be ready to risk their lives just to exercise their franchise. Already, a lot of people have relocated from their places of businesses to their villages, at least until the elections are over, out of the fear that the exercise would be fraught with violence. But the apprehensions that triggered their relocation are not entirely misplaced given the following reported incidents.
In Rivers State, two secretariats of the APC, one in Okrika local council and another in Ngo community in Andoni local council, have been burnt during the campaign process. Also, at least one policeman was killed and scores of people injured on February 18 when three explosions and sporadic gunfire abruptly ended a rally of the APC in Okrika. According to Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi in a recent report, a minimum of one APC member was killed daily in the state, noting that “over 30 APC members have been killed so far.”
In Zamfara State, it was recently reported that thugs set ablaze the campaign office of the Zamfara Central Senatorial candidate of PDP, Ibrahim Shehu. The PDP Secretariat in Obi local council of Nasarawa State was also reportedly burnt down by hoodlums barely 48 hours after the party held its campaign in the area.
President Jonathan campaign’s train was also attacked in Katsina and Bauchi states. Recently, suspected political thugs in Ilorin, Kwara State, attacked the convoy of Aishat Buhari, wife of the presidential candidate of the APC. Aishat and some APC women were returning from a visit to the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Zulu-Gambari, when the attack took place. They were in the city for a two-day voter education summit for women in the state.
Also recently, members of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), one of the ethnic militia groups allegedly bought over by the PDP, led other protesters to storm the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, demanding the sacking of the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, before today’s elections.
The OPC members allegedly carried guns, cutlasses and pocket knifes, among other weapons, and harassed some motorists and passers-by plying the road while also destroying campaign materials of the opposition APC. The above cases are just few of the various recorded acts of violence by party supporters across the country ahead of today’s election, a clear indication that the peace pact was merely on paper.
But still in a bid to ensure that the elections are devoid of violence, the two leading candidates in the presidential election, President Jonathan and Gen. Buhari (rtd), on Thursday signed another peace accord in Abuja, promising to accept the outcome of “free, fair and credible elections.”
The fresh accord was initiated by the National Peace Committee led by a former Military Head of State, Abdusalami Abubakar. In a joint statement released after the agreement signing ceremony, Jonathan and Buhari called on the “Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all security agencies to ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles.”
The statement added: “You may recall that on January 14, 2015, both of us, along with nine other party leaders, signed what has now come to be known as the Abuja Accord. The substance of that Accord was our commitment to free, fair and credible elections in our dear country. “In the Accord, we agreed to, among other things, run an issue-based campaign and pledged that our electoral campaigns will not involve any religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and all agents acting in our names.
“Now that the campaigns have come to an end, we meet today to renew our pledge for peaceful elections. We therefore call on all fellow citizens of our dear country, and our supporters, to refrain from violence or any acts that may in any way jeopardise our collective vision of a free, fair and credible election.
“In addition, we call on INEC and all security agencies to ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles. We also pledge to respect the outcome of free, fair and credible elections. “Today, we again renew our commitment to a united, democratic and prosperous Nigeria. We want all Nigerians to stand together at this critical phase of our nation’s history.”
Apart from local concerns that violence might mar the elections, the international has also shown an uncommon interest in this election and has been drawing the attention of the political leaders to reasons they must allow for a peaceful and credible election. The Chairman of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama had last Monday during a visit of the ECOWAS team noted that “Nigeria’s safety and security is the safety and security of our region.”
Mahama, who held talks with President Jonathan and Buhari, underscored the need for a peaceful electoral process in Nigeria, saying, “Nigeria is not only an important member of ECOWAS, but also the biggest economy and the most populous nation in Africa.”
United States President, Barack Obama, had also called for peaceful, free and fair elections in Nigeria today and on April 11. “I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections — and that they will not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence—before, during, or after the votes are counted. I call on all Nigerians to peacefully express your views and to reject the voices of those who call for violence.
And when elections are free and fair, it is the responsibility of all citizens to help keep the peace, no matter who wins,” Obama said in a message to Nigerians as released by the public affairs section of U.S. diplomatic mission in Nigeria last Monday. Despite these concerns. Nigeria’s security agencies have assured that peace and order would reign supreme during and after the elections.
The Nigerian military has said it would not undermine Nigeria’s democracy or encourage any act that would threaten democratic process in Nigeria. Referring to the controversy over the military’s role in the recent postponement of the 2015 general election, Defence Spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, said neither the military nor any of its service chiefs would engage in any act that could pose a threat to Nigeria’s democracy.
Olukolade, in a recent statement, said Nigerians should be “reassured that the Nigerian Armed Forces believes strongly in the prospects of the country under a democratic rule and will continue to discharge its responsibility to support our democracy as constitutionally guaranteed.”
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Suleiman Abba, also assured that adequate security logistics and manpower had been strategically deployed to achieve a most conducive electioneering atmosphere. The IG pledged that the police, in collaboration with other security agencies, would provide security for all polling units and 9, 000 collation centres across the country.
“In order to also make INEC officials and their materials secure, we have identified almost 900 INEC offices nationwide, mindful of the fact that security of the materials is important,” he said. If the security agencies keep to their pledge and truly “ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles” of securing the citizenry as the two leading candidates have advocated, today’s election might just be violence free, fair and credible.
And given assurances by INEC that it has put measures in place to checkmate electoral fraud, there might be no post-election violence in any part of the country as both Jonathan and Buhari have pledged “to respect the outcome of free, fair and credible elections.” Should these happen, Nigeria would have quashed the apprehensions surrounding this year’s general elections, and by so doing proved bookmakers wrong.
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