2023 elections: Peace accord and  matters arising

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Last week Thursday, precisely September 29, 2022 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, the 18 presidential candidates contesting to take over from President Muhammadu Buhari during next year election as well as their party chairmen signed a peace pact mandating them to stick to the rule of engagements.

The former Head of State and  Chairman of National Peace Committee, Gen Abdusalami Abubakar (rtd) led other eminent Nigerians which included the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar the II; Nigerian Business Moguls, Femi Otedola, Aliko Dangote, and Sam Amuka, John Cardinal Onayekan, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) His Eminence, Most Reverend Daniel Okoh among others to the occasion.

Some of the candidates that signed the accord were Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of All Progressives Congress APC represented by his Vice, Sen Kashim Shettima as well as Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

Others were Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress, Hamzat Al-Mustapha of Action Alliance, Sunday Adenuga of Boot Party and the only female candidate in the race, Chichi Ojei of Allied People’s Movement (APM).

The remaining presidential candidates were Christoper Imumolen of the Accord Party; Yabagi Sani of Action Democratic Party, Dumebi Kachikwu of African Democratic Congress (ADC), and Dan Nwanyanwu of the Zenith Labour Party also signed the pact.

Speaking during the event, Abdulsalami Abubakar called for a decent campaign that is devoid of personal attacks, hate speech, violence and fake news as the 2023 general elections draw closer

He said, “I call on politicians to address issues that are fundamental to Nigerians. We want to promote respect and tolerance of difference. We want to ensure that there is civility and decency in public discourse.

“Therefore, on behalf of Nigerians, I am appealing to all political parties, party chairmen, candidates and their spokespersons, please, a campaign based on issues that are of significant concern to Nigerians. Please, avoid the spread of fake news and personal attacks. You must comply with the spirit of electoral laws.”

Pledging their commitment to the peace deal, Yabagi Sanni on behalf of the political parties as the Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and also the presidential candidate of ADP, said the candidates are committed to peaceful, free, fair and credible elections

Many are however of the strong opinion that signing of this peace deal whenever election is around the corner may not pass more than a ritual given its inability year in, year out to halt electoral violence.

For instance, just last week Tuesday at Ibadan, few days after signing this peace accord, some hoodlums allegedly believed to be working for PDP reportedly attacked the APC members holding solidarity walk for their presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The APC members were said to have been led by the party’s  gubernatorial candidate, Senator Teslim Kolawole Folarin with many other bigwigs in attendance. At least 10 people were allegedly injured during the needless attack.

It is also observed that despite the peace açcord signed in the build up to the recently conducted Osun State governorship election, there had been reported skirmishes between the two leading political parties, APC and PDP leading to loss of lives and destruction of properties.

While the effort of the Abdulsalam-led peace committee has been widely commended over the years for what it has achieved, there are suggestions by political watchers that the commitment to peaceful and issue-based campaigns should resonate beyond parties’ chairmen and presidential candidates.

The call followed experiences and incidents in the past where people simply signed the Peace Accord but failed to abide by its letter and spirit. The argument is that in spite of the efforts put together since 2015, only little has been achieved to curb electoral violence.

For example, the National Human Rights Commission reported that in 2015 a total of 61 incidences of election violence in 22 states in which at least 58 people were killed in different parts of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. Perhaps because the situation did not improve, the peace committee became more specific four years later.

Recently elections conducted in the country have shown an upsurge in the number of electoral violence and killings since 2015 as a result of non adherence and lack of genuine commitment on the side of political actors and critical stakeholders, including the judiciary which have also been indicted through several conflicting rulings.

Similarly, an estimated 626 persons were killed across Nigeria in the six months between the start of the election campaign and the commencement of the general and supplementary elections, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room has said.

The report which was contained in its final report on the 2019 general election, the group said the number increased compared to the 106 killed in the 2015 general elections.

The organisation in its report on the elections listed the numbers of deaths per the six geopolitical zones in the country.

“Situation Room is deeply worried about the spike in politically motivated killings in the period leading up to the elections. At least, 626 people were said to have been killed between the start of the campaign in October 2018 and the final election in March 2019,” the coalition observer group said.

A report also quoted the former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority, Dr Tony Iredia, as one of those who believe that the politicians have refused to adhere to the agreement they signed, citing cases in some states elections.

His words: “A good example that Nigerian political parties perceive the peace accords as mere rituals which they would never follow is the case of Kogi state where some unknown persons in 2019 barred the SDP candidate from entering into the hall in Lokoja where the peace accord was to be signed. Is it politicians who can bar an opponent from the venue of the signing of a peace accord that would in all sincerity respect the so-called accord?

“Whether or not the peace accords have continued to be observed in the breach or whether the situation has improved can best be understood from events of the last few months in which governorship elections were held in Ekiti and Osun states respectively.  In Ekiti state as many as five of the 16 parties shunned the peace accord signing ceremony,” he said.

He further suggested the need for INEC and its key officials to be part of the process to make all relevant stakeholders accountable.

Here, it is hard to forget the revelation by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Stanley Shenko Alagoa, that “some judges collect bribe from politicians and traditional rulers to pervert the course of justice.

“Considering that using the judiciary to win elections subsists in Nigeria, it is time to invite the relevant heads of courts to sign our famous peace accords committing themselves and their teams to ensuring peace through proper dispensation of justice.

“It is good to have peace accord  so as to invite relevant INEC bosses to commit themselves and their colleagues to end insider abuses in the electoral body which always provoke violence. If we are not prepared to go the whole hog, our peace accords would remain mere rituals notwithstanding that those who conceived the noble idea are transparently people of honour.”

The 2023 general elections will no doubt be keenly contested as three political parties, including the ruling APC, the PDP and Labour Party struggle to be the next Aso Rock occupant.

If INEC can put its acts right like it has promised, the country may record little or no violence, even if it is difficult to have an election without a trace of violence.

It is also people’s strong opinion that the signing of this peace accord would no longer be considered as mere ritual when perpetrators of electoral violence are made to suffer the consequences of their dastardly acts.

A situation where someone who kills or perpetrates violence in the name of a political party or any politician no matter how highly placed, is allowed to continue walking the street without accounting for his or her deed would continually put question mark on the lid of this peace pact.

It is our belief that for the peace pact to begin to have meaningful impact on our elections, our law enforcement agencies and judiciary should be more strengthened to take decisive action and bring to justice those who always want to hide under elections or political parties to disturb the peace of the nation.

As the 2023 general elections is about four months away, people are seriously hoping that politicians and political parties will strictly adhere to the rule of the game, focus on campaign-based issues, steer clear of personal attacks or inciting comments that could further damage the fragile peace of the nation or else the peace deal would have again lived up to its usual description as “mere ritual.”