Peace treaty versus electoral traitors
It was an exercise meant to douse palpable tension in the land, but it ended up stoking controversy.
There was no embrace or any gesture of amity among the gladiators.
The recent signing of peace pact by presidential candidates of political parties aimed at averting any chance occurrence in next year’s poll was an event built on precedent, but lacking in process.
There were many contradictions in the 2018 edition of the Peace Committee’s event in contrast to what obtained at the buildup to the 2015 exasperating election.
Consequently, going by those observed infractions, the 2019 poll might not end on a similar peaceful note as that of three years ago.
Conveners of the National Peace Committee, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retired) and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, belong to polar professions – the military and the clergy.
It is the similar incongruity in the nation’s political process – military and civilians – that provided the impetus to fall back on the success of the pre-2015 experiment for an unrelated encore.
Three significant aspects of the 2018 Peace Accord give cause for concern that all may not go well in the forthcoming general election.
The decision by the organisers to carry on with the signing ceremony without getting the major actors to be physically present at the event at the same time as happened in 2015 did not provide the needed opportunity for the contestants to exchange friendly gestures.
Remotely connected to that is the perceived paternalism of the incumbent, which elicited protests from about 30 other political parties that questioned not only their exclusion, but also why only President Muhammadu Buhari should be granted the opportunity to speak during the event. They described the affront as the height of injustice.
Then there is the citizens’ aspect. The fact that Nigeria’s elections have come to be a shadow war gives the impression of the militant element of the democratic exercise.
Perhaps, it was in recognition of that missing link that the United States called for a level playing field in the election.
The central issue about Nigeria’s democracy is the level to which the rule of law is subjected to the whims and caprices of those holding the mandate of the people in trust.
Presidential candidates of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former World Bank Vice President Oby Ezekwesili, who were stylishly shielded from having close contact with Buhari by the organisers, alluded to this missing link in their remarks when they turned up for the exercise.
Atiku and Ezekwesili, in their separate remarks, urged President Buhari to put pen on the Electoral Act amendment bill, stressing that endorsing that basic document was more important than the perfunctory signature on the Peace Accord, convince the citizens of “his willingness to ensure free and fair election” next year.
Just as the Peace Accord covenants its signatories to ensure peaceful and rancor-free campaigns before, during and after the 2019 general election as well as eschew hate speech, fake news or any act capable of causing socio-political unrest in the country, the Electoral Act amendment bill stipulates easy to follow rules that would engineer citizen’s participation and clarity of the process.
The salient innovations in the amended Electoral Act include mandatory use of card readers, real time on-the-spot live transmission of voting results, mandatory access to all party agents to inspect election materials before voting commences, mandatory access to party agents to be present during voting, collation and announcement of results and imprisonment for any staff of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who contravenes the Act.
As he did while signing the Not-so-young-to-run bill, President Buhari, in the letter conveying his decision to withhold assent, informed the lawmakers that the Act should have been programmed to take effect after the 2019 poll. This clearly shows that the president has contrived to benefit from a rigged process.
It should be noted that Buhari, like his former military counterpart, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has through his body language and utterances, been providing the extenuating circumstances for electoral violence.
Yesterday as backcloth
The contrast between yesterday and tomorrow regarding the electoral environment is rich.
The 2015 election, which was the precursor to the recent peace framework, had as its major contenders a civilian incumbent from the minority group of South-South geopolitical zone and a former military despot challenger from majority ethnic group in the North.
For the 2019 poll, Nigerians are aghast mainly because unlike in the 2015 edition, the threat to peace was coming from outside the crest of political power.
As such the general concern was whether the incumbent would relinquish power according to the mood of the people so that peace could reign.
In the present circumstances, the country is faced with the scary prospect of a former military head of state, who is determined to clutch onto political power against the mood of the people.
It is in this cryptic political cul-de-sac that the nation finds itself leading to the harrowing tension that elicited the peace treaty.
Buhari’s place in Nigeria’s democratic process, particularly his latter day admonitions, help to compound the state of general apprehension in the polity.
First, he was instrumental and prominent in the truncating of Nigeria’s first attempt at Presidential system of governance in 1983.
On his incursion into party politics, Buhari began the practice of waging befitting legal combats on the electoral process, which though a welcome aside, provided another source of tension in the country, especially as he battled another ex-military in power. That was in 2003.
In 2007 and 2011 election cycles, Buhari was also fighting for political space, and on each occasion, he protested the imperfect electoral system of the country, with the attendant bitter feeling of having been robbed and denied opportunity to climb back to power.
The violence of 2011 election and Buhari’s infamous declaration that should the 2015 election be subjected to rigging the dog and baboon will soak themselves in blood became the backcloth for a peace accord as a possible safeguard against truncating democracy.
WHILE signing the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill into law, President Buhari joked that young people should wait till 2023 before taking advantage of the historic legislation.
That Buhari actually spoke his mind could be deduced from some worrisome decisions of his administration, including the retention of service chiefs, breach of the federal character principle in appointments and non-signing of the Electoral Act amendment bill after several back and forth motions, among other anti-democratic comportments. And these constitute some kind of ambush on the democratic space.
Next is the near deification of Buhari, as exemplified by the exclusivity granted him during the signing of the Peace Accord.
The fact that the citizens are meant to stand in awe of elected representatives to the extent that the people live at their mercy is part of the dangerous signals that the forthcoming election might not produce wholesome outcome.
This tendency could have warranted the outburst of the leader of political parties that protested during the Peace Accord ceremony.
Usman Ikeleji, who is also chairman of Change Nigeria Party (CNP), decried the ‘partiality’ of the NPC for failing to allow the chairman of Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), Peter Ameh, to make his remarks at the event.
All these give the idea that something is being hidden from the people, a development that prompted Ikeleji to ask: “Why was only the presidential candidate of APC allowed to speak at this occasion? Is Buhari the only presidential candidate here? Nigeria belongs to all of us. Why should Oshiomhole be singled out at the event when we have equal status as chairmen of political parties? We came here and can’t be allowed to speak? Who owns Nigeria? It is our county.”
Although the United States commended Buhari, Atiku and others for committing to the Peace Accord, it noted that there must be a level-playing ground for the 2019 poll.
In the statement released by the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria, Public Affairs Section, the US declared: “Your peace accord is a great step towards the goal shared by all Nigerians of national elections that are free, fair, transparent, credible, and peaceful. Achieving your goal is critical to the credibility and effectiveness of the next government, and it is essential to advance Nigeria’s unity, prosperity, justice, and security.”
While expressing its belief that all parties and leaders would honour the terms of the new accord just as faithfully as the 2015 pact, the US urged “all candidates, party members, civil society groups and citizens to speak out for policies that advance the good of all Nigerians and speak out against violence, misinformation, and hate speech.”
At this point, one of such policies that advance the good of all Nigerians is the Electoral Act amendment bill.
The fact that President Buhari has not deemed it necessary to speak to Nigerians and share his ideas about the evolution of a democratic culture advances the opacity that defined his stint as military head of state.
Citizens have been left to second-guess the President’s intentions, while aides churn out second hand information.
All these are part of the ominous signals for the 2019 poll. And it could be this lack of openness that motivated some groups to search for feasible Plan ‘B’ to ensure that the will of one man does not define next year’s election.
In their Freedom Park Proclamation, some ethnic nationalities, including the Lower Niger Congress (LNC), called for the deferment of the 2019 poll pending a reconfiguration of the damaged constitutional foundations of Nigeria.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Buhari’s decision to decline assent to the improved Electoral Act is part of the enabling circumstances for this alternative viewpoint towards next year’s election.
Buhari must be prevailed upon to hearken to public outcry and sign the document. What is clear is that in 2019 he will not be allowed to truncate democracy and get away with it as he did in 1983.