Hope as Ondo political gladiators sign peace deal
The drumbeats of violence and fears that Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State may turn bloody are abating as a result of the Peace Accord candidates and their parties have committed themselves to. However, the unfolding events at the political strongholds of the three major contenders still show that the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) and security agencies should not rest on their oars until the poll is over.
Supporters of the three major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) have been attacking one another across the state.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who decried the ugly trend, reiterated the need for the National Peace Committee (NPC), headed by former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd), to make all the candidates sign a Peace Accord.
Meanwhile, the United States (US) has warned INEC, security agencies and all political parties participating in the poll to ensure credible, free, fair and violence-free election in the state. On Tuesday, the US Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria, through a statement, tasked critical stakeholders to “take concrete steps to ensure a peaceful election that reflects the will of the people of Ondo.”
The US Government has since placed visa ban on any politician culpable of stoking violence in the forthcoming election. The UK equally threatened asset seizure of masterminds of political violence in Nigeria’s elections.
“The United States remains committed to the U.S.-Nigeria partnership as we work together to achieve our mutual goals of peace and prosperity for the citizens of both our countries,” the statement read.
While dismissing misgivings against INEC, Prof. Yakubu assured the people that their votes would count in the election, saying; “Our commitment is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next Governor of Ondo State is entirely in the hands of the voters.
“I wish to assure all eligible voters that every vote will count and only the choice made by the people of Ondo State will determine the outcome of the election. I want to assure political parties and candidates that we will remain focused on our processes and procedures. The commission will not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate.”
The INEC boss read a riot act against impunity, vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of result, amongst others. Yakubu, at every stakeholders meeting, expressed dismay at the pockets of violence experienced among the parties, and stressed the importance of the Peace Accord reached among the political actors, holding up the success of the committee in Edo State as the deal to sustain.
At the Peace Accord signing on Tuesday, Yakubu recounted that; “Only three weeks ago in Benin City, political parties and candidates for the Edo State governorship election signed the Peace Accord. The intervention of the NPC, no doubt, contributed in no small way to the peaceful conduct of the election, whose outcome has been adjudged as credible.”
He reaffirmed that; “The votes will count. I call on all political parties and candidates to abide by the letter and spirit of the Peace Accord by appealing to your supporters to maintain the peace before, during and after the elections. This will be your own way of showing commitment to the Peace Accord and appreciation for the work of the Peace Committee.”
The NPC Chairman, Abubakar, implored all the gladiators to commit themselves to the spirit of the accord, explaining that; “The tension and anxiety associated with election necessitated the setup of the committee, which is to support peaceful election process and enthrone a culture of peace.
“The governorship election in Ondo State is only a few days away and we want peace during and after the election. We want to see Nigeria, as a place where people come out peacefully and vote during the election without deprivation and Ondo State deserves this.
“As you are aware, the election without a peaceful atmosphere, and most importantly, disharmony among political parties, will hinder developmental efforts. As we go into the election, we have been given assurance by INEC that they will conduct a free, fair and credible election. The rest is left for the voters to do what is right.”
Other dignitaries present at the event were the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, Bishop Hassan Matthew Kuka, Bishop John Onaiyekan, representative of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), amongst others.
Sultan Abubakar also appealed to all the governorship candidates and their supporters to shun violence and embrace peace, admonishing the people against a “do or die” election, noting; “I like to call on you to see the signing of accord this morning not just a mere ceremony or formality, but a commitment by all of you. In fact, a covenant that you all will be responsible for the outcome at the end of the day.
“Let all of us obey the rules of the game, I call it game, because election is a game where there must be only one winner and others who have not won; I won’t call them losers.
“There is only be one winner and that winner has already been ordained by Almighty God before the vote is even cast. We don’t know who that person is. So, as a contestant, tell the citizens of Ondo State what you can’t do and what you will do for them and their vote must count as INEC has assured us that every vote must count.”
He charged them to appeal to their “supporters to remain peaceful, do not allow thuggery to take place anywhere, not only near the polling booth, even in entire state throughout the duration of election on Saturday.”
However, the religious leader warned them not to “sign this accord, if you know you are not going to keep peace in the election of Ondo State on Saturday.”
As expected, the candidates of the major political parties, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (APC), who is seeking re-election; his deputy, Agboola Ajayi (ZLP) and Eyitayo Jegede (PDP) all agreed to cooperate with INEC and other stakeholders for a violence-free poll. They urged their numerous supporters across the three senatorial districts and 3,009 polling units of the state to shun violence and desist from provocative statements.
HOWEVER, there was a mild drama at the Peace Accord signing event as Governor Akeredolu embraced Jegede, but snubbed his deputy by reluctantly waving to him.
The Media Adviser of the deputy governor and ZLP candidate, Allen Sowore, also recounted that APC supporters booed and harassed him while driving out of the venue of the Peace Accord meeting.
But the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, who was also in the state, stated that no fewer than 33,783 police personnel would be deployed on election security duty, affirming that there was no cause for alarm.
Adamu explained that the deployment would comprise 30,933 conventional police personnel and 2,850 special police units, saying; “The police deployment will be complemented by an additional 3,500 manpower that will be drawn from other security agencies.
“The military will be engaged for the purpose of securing the inter-state borders while the Nigeria Police Airwing will provide air surveillance. The personnel shall be deployed to adequately secure the 3,009 polling Units in the 203 wards spread over the 18 local government areas of the state.
“They are to protect the personnel and assets of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the electorate, and residents of Ondo State in general before, during and after the election.”
The IGP said that the deployment was equally to deny misguided political actors bent on threatening the election through acts that were inimical to the dictates of electoral act.
“I hereby warn violence mongers to immediately desist from their uncharitable deviant activities or be prepared to face the consequences,” Adamu warned. “I call on all the political parties to embrace the virtues of democracy by seeing elections as a call to service of the people and not ‘a do-or-die affair.”
At least, the electorate may now heave a sigh of relief with the turn of affairs although there are still signs of trouble, as there is noticeable presence of strange faces, which many see as the presence of imported thugs from neighbouring states by the major political parties.
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