Will 2023 Election Candidates Adhere to Letters of  Peace Accord?

Udora Orizu writes that reports of violent attacks on candidates of various political parties by perceived political enemies are worrisome, and calls for order, unity and respect for the peace accord recently signed by presidential candidates

with less than 40 days to the 2023 presidential poll in Nigeria, the presidential flag-bearers of the 18 recognized political parties, on January 20, 2023 for the second time in months signed a Peace Accord committing themselves to a peaceful campaign towards the 2023 general election.

The signing of the peace accord is coming four months after the first one was signed. The first signing was done in September 2022. The event, which was organised by the National Peace Committee (NPC) chaired by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, took place at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja.

While the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu was absent, Peter Obi, candidate of the Labour Party; Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Rabiu Kwankwaso, flagbearer of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); and Omoyele Sowore, flag-bearer of the African Action Congress (AAC), were present during the first ceremony.

The Initiative

Nigerian elections is known to be very violent and post-election violence is even worse. In 2003, 2007, and 2011, the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, believed elections were rigged against him to allow Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan to coast to victory. In the election cycles aforementioned, violence erupted in some Northern cities, leading to the loss of lives and valuable properties.

Ahead of the 2015 general elections, the  Goodluck Jonathan-led administration initiated a series of conversations with political stakeholders on peace-building.

The goal was to ensure political actors embraced a more civil approach during campaigns for office.

Eventually, a National Sensitisation Workshop on Non-Violence was held on January 14th 2015, where presidential candidates, including Muhammadu Buhari, and their political parties signed a peace accord to behave themselves on the campaign trail. The main promises in the pact were to run issue-based campaigns and not engage in ethno-religious provocations that could lead to violence.

In 2019, the National Peace Committee, chaired by General Abdulsalami Abubakar used the opportunity of the accord to hold the candidates and their political parties accountable to their pledges of accepting the election outcome provided it is adjudged to be free, fair, and credible.

While the initiators and the organisers of the Peace Accord deserve commendation, as they meant well for Nigeria and Nigerians, over the years there is no evidence that the Peace Accord has been subscribed to by politicians, except maybe Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat in 2015, which can be likened to who he is as a person.

Concerns over Disregard to Letters of the Accord

 On September 29, 2022, during a live interview at Arise News Television, the presidential candidate of African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore, while responding to a question on if he would be attending the National Peace Accord signing ceremony, slated for later that day said: “Yes, even though, I have my reservation about it as to what necessitates such, when the country is not at war. But you and I know that electoral contests in Nigeria, at any level, are much fiercer than being at war.”

Despite the subscription to the Peace Accord by the 18 political parties ahead of the 2023 general election, there are clear indications that politicians are not ready to abide by the letters of the accord.

Since the flag off of the campaigns on September 28, 2022, parties’ candidates and supporters have scaled up their use of abusive words against opponents. There had been reports in different parts of the country of how party supporters were attacked, candidates harassed and rallies invaded by hoodlums.

The preparation for the forthcoming general election have continued to witness assassinations of political opponents, attacks at campaign rallies, destruction of billboards of opposition candidates, denial of political parties venues for their rallies and other acts of violence.

This shameful attitude of some of the political actors in the last few weeks, has been a great source of concern and worry to many Nigerians.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in his goodwill message at the first signing event, expressed worry at the politicians’ recourse to personal attacks, insults and incitement by politicians in the build-up to their campaigns.

On his part, the INEC Chairman, Prof Yakubu Mahmoud, was so concerned with tenor of campaign by political parties that he urged the political parties to adhere to the letter of peace agreement they signed.

The National Peace Committee also last year, raised concerns over infractions being committed by candidates of political parties and their spokesmen in the ongoing electioneering activities.

In a statement jointly signed by Co-conveners of the  National Peace Committee, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, the committee said it had become evident that some of the political actors had not learnt any lessons from the past

It urged all the candidates to rein in their spokespersons and those, who claimed to represent them and their parties in the public media.

Going forward, the peace committee urged the law enforcement agencies to enforce the law with the understanding that everyone would be held accountable for their actions, no matter their status.

Speaking in the same vein, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, last week, in his welcome address at the resumption of plenary, called for unity to ensure the dangerous trend and marked increase in incidents of insecurity and vicious attacks on political actors in parts of the country does not lead to circumstances that threaten the forthcoming elections. 

Some Reported Attacks on Candidates, Supporters

Since the commencement of campaigns social media has been awashed with news of attacks on candidates and their supporters in various part of the country.

In Imo state for instance, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are engaged in a war of attrition, of sorts.

While the PDP accused the state government of trying to make the environment toxic for any peaceful election, the APC on the other hand alleged that the PDP is stoking violence.

The candidate of the Labour party, Peter Obi, has also had to raise questions about attacks on his supporters in various states.

In Imo, the LP candidate for Onuimo Local Government Area in the state House of Assembly, Christopher Elewu, was shot dead in his home in December 2022 by suspected assassins.

On January 14, 2023, also in Imo state motorcades conveying gunmen, arsonists stormed the residence of Ikenga Ugochinyere, the Spokesman of Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, and PDP candidate for House of Representatives Ideato federal constituency at his hometown in Akokwa, where four persons including his Uncle were killed.

In Anambra state, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah representing Anambra South in the National Assembly was last year ambushed and attacked at Enugwu-Ukwu in Njikoka LGA of Anambra State. He is seeking a second term in office.

In Kaduna State, the women leader of the Labour Party in Kaura LGA of the state, Mrs. Victoria Chintex, was gruesomely murdered in November 2022 by gunmen, who invaded her residence in Kaura.

In Enugu State, gunmen had in September 2022 attacked members of the Labour Party who were holding a meeting in Awgu community, Awgu Local Government Area of the state.

The Second Signing

With about a month to the 2023 presidential poll, the presidential flag-bearers of the 18 recognized political parties, on Friday, January 20, 2023, for the second time signed a Peace Accord again committing themselves to a peaceful campaign.

The presidential candidate of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who did not attend the first peace signing, attended the signing alongside his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima.

Other candidates that attended the signing include Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress (AAC), Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) among others.

However, the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and that of Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, did not attend the event. Atiku was represented by his running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.

The Chairman of the Committee and former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, in his speech, admonished the candidates to moderate their speeches to ensure a peaceful election.

He urged politicians and stakeholders to ensure that Nigerians are encouraged to elect leaders of their choice at the forthcoming general election.

Abubakar while praising the INEC for the improvement in the electoral process, added that the meeting with the candidates is not about accusations and counter accusations.

“I appeal to you all to be moderate in your language, show respect to the views and concerns of one another and listen to the concerns expressed. We are not here to find out who is wrong, but what is wrong and to see how to correct it,” he said

Will Candidates Stick To Peace Accord?

Politics shouldn’t be a do or die affair. Candidates in the forthcoming elections should call themselves and their supporters to order. With the recent signing of peace accord, it’s hoped that the increasing reports of violent attacks against one another will be brought to an end, because if not it’s a threat to the election proper.

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