Determined to ensure that the pockets of violence preceding the general election neither continue nor escalate, the presidential candidates of all political parties participating in the election, including President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Wednesday signed an accord to ensure non-violent polls.
In the undertaking signed in the presence of eminent personalities such as the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Kofi Annan, and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, all the presidential candidates of the parties pledged to refrain from campaigns that could involve religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling and to get their agents to toe similar line.
All the candidates of the various parties also agreed “to refrain from making, or causing to make 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”.
Other presidential candidates present at the ceremony included Tunde Anifowose Kelani of Action Alliance (AA), Dr. Rafiu Salau of Alliance for Democracy (AD), Ganiyu Galadima of Alliance Congress (AC), Alhaji Mani Ibrahim Ahmad of ADC, Chief Sam Eke of Citizens Popular Party (CPP), Ambrose Albert Oworu of Hope Party, Prof. Oluremi Sonaiya of KOWA Party and Chief Chekwas Okorie of Unity Progressive Party (UPP).
In his speech, President Jonathan said contrary to the belief that past violence were as a result of electoral malpractices, a closer study of the situation had shown that the issue could be related to other human factors.
According to him, politicians more often than not, utter provocative statements and whip up unnecessary sentiments and instigate violence as soon they notice that they have lost an election.
He said another factor is that of the religious leaders who preach the hate message, instigating their followers to be confrontational and sometimes by labelling some candidates as the enemies of their fate.
“If religious leaders do that kind of preaching, what do you expect? We always follow what our religious leaders say and if our religious leaders keep preaching such hate messages what do you expect in that instance? Your followers are not going into the election based on internationally known election principles, they will think they are going for war.
“There is also the pronouncement of our traditional rulers who make provocative statements as if they want to divide the country. This has never helped because as leaders, you have your subjects and followers. When you make these provocative statements, you are indirectly instigating them to become extremely violent,” he said.
As a way forward, the president cautioned that political party leaders, religious or traditional rulers must stop making provocative statements.
He further assured Nigerians that the federal government would strengthen security, especially due to the challenging situation in some parts of the north.
The president also spoke on the future of Nigeria’s elections and proffered ways to ensure the issues that lead to violence are addressed through the constitution.
He said: “We need to rejig our laws in a way that they will not encourage violence. If you look at the presidential system, we borrowed it. We lack the technology. I believe that the key thing is not just about violence in 2015 election, but how do we make sure that from 2019, violence is basically reduced in this country.
“If we must end electoral violence and we continue with this method, we will just be talking and talking and nothing can be done.
“The idea in Nigeria that in parliamentary election, the winner takes all is a problem.
“If you take a state, made up of three senators, the first senate result, one party has 51% while the other has 49%, the party with 51% takes the Senate. In the second Senatorial poll one party has 52% and the other party 48% the party with 52% takes the seat, the third Senate seat, the first scores 55% and the second 45% and the one with 55% takes the seat. But if you aggregate the total votes, you will see that one has about 51% of total votes while the other 49%. Based on the winner takes all policy, the party that came first takes the three seats but the other party that is almost at par takes nothing.
“So, there must be tension in that kind of situation. That is why in other kinds of democracy they vote first and share the seat based of the performance of the parties. So the party that is also popular can get something. But based on the winner takes all the party that scored 49% will have nothing in that state. They will not go and sleep but continue to create problems in that state. So the National Assembly will need to revisit the issues of winner takes all in terms of parliamentary election.
“At the executive level, we should come up with a system that will ensure that when a party wins the governorship or the president at the national level, in forming cabinet, the parties that did very well will also, by right, by law and not by privilege or discretion of Mr Governor or Mr. President, be meant to have a share of appointments in that government.
“If this is done, they will be mindful of their conducts and utterances. Some country say 50+1 votes. In Nigeria, they say you must get majority of the votes in 25% of the 2/3 of the states, but in some it is 51+1 and the other party with 49% is completely out of the government. They cannot just go and sleep. So I believe that there must be a way out of these violence even if we made them unique to Nigeria.
“We can also have a panel instituted by the chief justices of the federation or chief judge of the states, so that if any candidate is disqualified, they can know why the person is disqualified. If they are not convinced, then that person can go and contest.
On the distribution of permanent voters card (PVC), President Jonathan called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that every voter receives his or her card and to educate Nigerians properly regarding the deployment of any technological innovation intended to improve voting system.
“There are certain things happening now that if not properly handled could lead to violence. First, a number of Nigerians are complaining that they don’t have PVC. If some people don’t have, the assumption is that from the beginning, INEC is going to rig the election and there is the tendency for those people to go violent.
” I have mentioned it to the INEC Chairman to make sure that every eligible Nigerian votes. If they are not able to make sure that every Nigerian votes, that is a recipe for violence,” he said.
While reacting to the critics of the recent disbursement of monies for the settlement of victims of post 2011 election violence, President Jonathan said the reason Kaduna got the lion’s share of N3 billion was because the level of destruction in the state surpassed others.
Buhari in his presentation, said much of the crisis associated with the conduct of elections and its outcome had to do with a flawed process and inability to secure justice by the affected persons.
He cited several examples of frustrations he had gone through in an effort to protest what was believed to be flawed electoral processes and results, including his experiences at the courts.
“In 2011, I said, I as a presidential candidate will not go to court, but I made sure that my party went to the court. We went there, I think for about nine months or so and again it is the same story. There is no way the ruling party will lose judgment. This is nasty experience, if one looks at how the Supreme Court was split and how relatively other international observer teams made their own ruling that the election was messy.
“Again, it was said that before every election, there must be an Electoral Act. There was one in 2002 for the 2003 elections, there was one in 2006 for the 2007 elections, there was one in 2010 for the 2011 elections, Whereas 30 days to the elections we are still waiting for the amended Electoral Act for this year’s elections. I am yet to see one. So on paper, you can’t catch Nigeria.
“So, on paper, you can’t cage Nigerians. You can only cage Nigerians on the field. In terms of practical documentation, go to any ministry or parastatal, you will get instruction on how the place should be managed from the cleaner to the permanent secretary and even the minister when he comes.
“You will also get financial instruction on how to spend the money. I am afraid because of my personal experiences having gone through the system. All these credible, tested intellectual instruction may have been thrown into the waste basket, ” he said.
The former United Nations Secretary General, Annan, who was the special guest of honour while presenting the keynote address, urged the aspirants to avoid inflammatory statements as the elections present an opportunity for the country to prove itself before the international community.
He admonished the politicians to ensure a peaceful election, stating that with the strategic position of Nigeria on the African continent, it cannot afford to get it wrong come February. He urged all political parties to take the agreement seriously.
“Aside from being the eigth largest importer of oil, Nigeria has become a player in telecoms, agriculture and in banking. She is a major contributor to UN peace keeping and is now at the UN Security Council,” he said.
While declaring the event open, the Chairman of the workshop, Chief Anyaoku, said the objective of the workshop was to get all the contestants taking part in the 2015 national elections to renounce violence during elections.
“Regrettably, we cannot deny that in our country, we have history of violence occurring before, during and after elections. Already, explosion, burning of buses have been reported in some states, and we are also witnessing increasingly acrimonious pronouncements by candidates and spokespersons of political parties, ” he said.
Speaking more on similar vein, the Special Adviser to the president on Inter- Party Affairs, Senator Ben Ndi Obi, said the workshop “is a product of extensive and inclusive consultations between his office, the ruling party on the one side; and all opposition parties.
“The workshop will also emphasise the role of political parties and contesting candidates in creating the enabling environment for a peaceful election in 2015 through their conduct and behaviour, and highlight the negative consequences of electoral violence in our national security.”
“It had led to a wanton destruction of lives and property in the past, cast a dark cloud of uncertainty over our nation and threatened national security and our collective existence even in elections that were adjudged to have been efficiently and credibly conducted,” he said.
Addressing the gathering, INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, identified some of the reasons why the country’s elections always result in violence.
He said apart from INEC and security agencies constitutionally required to do their jobs without bias, political stakeholders and all Nigerian as well have much to do.
He blamed lack of internal democracy within political parties, accountability, lack of conflict resolution mechanism, supremacy of rules, uncertainty of electoral outcome, unwillingness to accept outcome, need for moderation by the party leaders and their spokespersons, having trust in institutional redress, promotion of inclusiveness and training of staff on some of the ingredients of violence.
However, despite the various reasons advanced by the candidates as provocations for electoral violence, the United States (US) State Department believes that the hightening terrorist attacks are because of the 2015 elections.
In a statement on Tuesday the US State Department said it believes the February 14 elections in Nigeria is a factor behind the sharp increase in attacks by Boko Haram, a group which has killed thousands since launching an uprising five years ago.
Red Cross official, Umar Ahmed, who was on the scene of the blast, said the bomber and two other people were killed. An official at the hospital where the casualties were brought, Ibrahim Garba, said the emergency ward was treating 14 people for blast wounds. Some were in critical condition, he said.
The US State Department yesterday said Nigeria’s election in February could be a factor behind the sharp increase in attacks by Boko Haram Islamist militants in the north of the country.
Spokeswoman Marie Harf said, however, that the February 14 presidential election should go ahead in spite of the violence, which has forced about 20,000 Nigerians to flee to neighbouring countries in recent weeks.
“There has been a sharp escalation in the number of reported casualties. We do believe the election is a factor,’’ Harf told a daily briefing.
Harf said Boko Haram previously used events such as elections to stir up tensions.
However, the election is expected to be a close contest between President Goodluck Jonathan and his leading challenger, Buhari.
“Boko Haram has tended to, particularly around something like an election, use political issues or sensitivities to try to enflame tensions.
“We have seen that as one of their tactics and that is why it is so important to move forward with the election, because we believe it is important,’’ she noted.
Boko Haram’s insurgency began in 2009, but the number and scale of the attacks has risen sharply since 2015 after the government imposed emergency rule in three worst-hit states in northern Nigeria.
Amnesty International has said Boko Haram may have killed some 2,000 people around January 3 in Baga in northern Nigeria.
However, Harf said it was hard to independently verify that figure.—-This Day