Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, His Grace Rev. Father Hassan Kukah, has challenged the security agencies in the country to be professional and neutral in the discharge of their duties during elections, saying it was their responsibility to prove critics wrong over allegations of bias.
Speaking ahead of the 2019 general election, Kukah said many Nigerians had expressed legitimate concern over the need for the nation’s security agencies to eschew bias in their enforcement of law and order especially going by the way they allegedly had handled some of the recent elections.
In an exclusive chat with THISDAY, the vocal cleric also admonished politicians and other political actors to play according to the rules and avoid fueling violence.
While addressing some of the complaints by the opposition parties over alleged biases by security agencies as allegedly exhibited during recent elections in the country, Kukah said the various security forces owed Nigerians a sacred duty to prove critics wrong by conducting their affairs in a most neutral and professional manner.
“It is important that security agencies understand comprehensively that their responsibility is to maintain the territorial integrity of this country and the citizens that live there. Whether we like it or not, everybody is entitled to equal protection. It is like refereeing in a World Cup; the rules that applied to Germany or Argentina also apply to Gambia or any other country for that matter.
“One hopes that the security agencies in the country have taken note of the concerns by Nigerians, because perceptions are not easy to do away with and it is the responsibility of the security agencies to prove Nigerians wrong on the allegations,” he said.
Kukah, a key member of the National Peace Committee headed by former military Head of State, Abdulsalam Abubakar, said part of the efforts of the team was to douse tension and anxiety among the populace.
“All we are trying to do is to ensure that the process is free and fair but in the final analysis, people have expressed and continued to express deep anxiety and their concerns are legitimate about the security agencies’ conduct themselves. This has been the tragedy in many developing countries, where security agencies think that the welfare of the Head of State is their responsibility and ultimate duty.
“The Head of State or president is a citizen like every other citizen. For a temporal period you might have power, but if there is no country, you cannot be president,” he said.
The Bishop further admonished politicians to ensure that they studied and understood the provisions of the Electoral Act and to also try as much as possible to adhere to the rules of the game.
He explained that the reason for engaging political parties and politicians was to let them understand the need for a peaceful, credible and transparent electoral process.
“We are hoping that politicians as major actors in the elections will understand the rules of the game and that was why we called them to a meeting and for them to sign a code of conduct. It is because of their actions and inactions that we are losing hundreds of our people for a process, which in other places are taken for granted.
“We segment who we talk to and we have a sequence of activities. This is just one out of the engagements planned by the peace committee ahead of the 2019 general election.
Kukah said what the National Peace committee was offering was merely a moral voice and that they did not arrogate to themselves the power to solve all the problems associated with elections in the country.
“Last month, we had separate meetings with political parties and security agencies. We also had meetings with INEC. We have a broad range of interlocutors and we are doing our best to speak to as many segments of the Nigerian populace as possible.
“Politics is about engagement. The peace committee is not going to go out there to cast your vote. If you have not collected your voter card, there is nothing the peace committee can do about that,” he added.