Presidential candidates of some political parties last week appended their signatures to the 2019 Presidential Election Peace Accord brokered by the Abdulsalami Abubakar led National Peace Committee, committing to upholding decency and focus ahead of and during the election.
Whereas the signing of the peace accord should ordinarily give reason to cheer, given the volatile nature of elections in Nigeria and the tendency of supporters of candidates to resort to violence, not many Nigerians are cheering.
The pessimism stems from perceived insincerity of the major actors in the presidential election to the terms of the peace accord.
Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), signed the peace accord on Tuesday, alongside some other candidates. Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was conspicuously absent, as well as Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressives Party (YPP) and Oby Ezekwesili of. Atiku and Ezekwesili later signed on Wednesday.
But before the ink would dry on the paper, the two major political parties in the election, APC and PDP, were at each other’s jugular, throwing mud and casting aspersions.
The APC said Atiku’s eventual decision to sign the peace deal was a face-saving move following widespread condemnation that greeted his initial refusal to agree to the peace deal, adding that Nigerians had taken note of the “dangerous and ominous signs the PDP and Atiku have inadvertently shown” in the lead-up to the elections.
On its part, the PDP said the APC was hallucinating over its imminent loss in the 2019 election and clinging to a straw, adding that Buhari “cannot campaign since he has nothing to tell or show Nigerians as achievements”.
Beyond the ceremonial act of signing a document, therefore, many analysts say they would want to see real commitment on the part of the candidates in terms of checking their utterances. They say they would especially want to see the candidates calling their supporters to order, failure of which may lead to violence.
Again, many say while incumbent President Buhari has done well in signing the peace pact, he should extend the same gesture towards the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which would go a long way in ensuring a peaceful electoral process.
Femi Careena, a chieftain of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), described the signing of the peace accord by the presidential candidates as an indication of their readiness to have a peaceful election and maintain peace. He added, however, that the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended Electoral Bill into law had made a mockery of the exercise.
“The signing of the peace accord is a welcome development. It tells you that the presidential candidates intend to have a peaceful election. However, there is a caveat. The refusal by President Buhari to sign the amended Electoral Bill into law makes mockery of the process,” Careena said.
“But I don’t want to lose hope yet; I believe they are still discussing except the people close to the President don’t want it. The signing of the bill would have sealed the process and made us look forward to credible general elections; even the international community would have been happy with us,” he said.
Lekan Lawal, an analyst, applauded the initiative, but doubted President Buhari’s sincerity to restore sanity in the electoral process and conduct free and fair elections in the country because of his refusal to sign the amended Electoral Bill into law.
Lawal warned that the decision of the President not to sign the Electoral Bill could have an adverse effect on the conduct of next year’s election, while urging the National Assembly to veto the President and pass the bill into law.
“Well, with the current state of affairs in the country, I think we need to ask at what level this peace accord will be effective. The amended Electoral Bill would have helped in the smooth conduct of the general elections, but the President refused to sign it,” Lawal said.
“He is already inviting chaos to the polity. But I want to believe the political parties are for peace, and I still want the National Assembly to do the needful and veto that bill into law to give credibility to our election. The action of Buhari shows he is not sincere and ready to conduct credible elections,” he said.
Tunde Daramola, Lagos State chairman of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), said the peace accord signed by the presidential candidates was necessary, but stressed that signing the Electoral Bill into law by the President would have given next year’s election more credibility.
Daramola urged the nation’s leaders to take necessary steps to conduct credible elections, warning that only a free and fair process would guarantee peace in the country.
“I believe there is need for a peace accord, but also there is the need for democracy to prevail. The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill would have restored transparency in our elections.
“The problem we have is that Nigerians don’t have confidence that their votes do count, which the bill would have helped to solve. Why are you saying people should not fight when the fundamental issues have not been taken care of?
“It is like window dressing. Let us deal with the fundamental issues, then we can have peace. It is like beating a child and telling that child not to cry. The problem we have is that we are not always serious in this country to face the issues,” Daramola said.
Raising concerns over the coming elections, Ayodele Kusamotu, chairman and principal counsel at Kusamotu & Kusamotu law firm (The Greenfish Chambers), said, “I personally don’t think there will be any election or anything like handover in May next year. I think we may end up with an interim government. That is my reading of the signs. Electoral Bill is not signed; many things are happening – people are moving from one party to the other; so much crisis in the land.
“In this kind of atmosphere, I am afraid. Even if elections happen, there might be so much crises that at the end of the day, everybody will just be screaming, ‘stop all this mess’, ‘let everybody bring their own representatives to make up a government’. So, I foresee serious crisis.”
Kusamotu also expressed fears that the polls, if held at all, would witness massive rigging because of too much desperation to stay in power.
Shortly after the signing of the peace accord, the United States had advised that there must be a level-playing ground in next year’s poll if the accord would achieve its desired purpose.
This was contained in a statement by the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria, Public Affairs Section.
Part of the statement read: “The United States warmly congratulates the presidential candidates and parties who have signed the Peace Accord for the 2019 Presidential elections.
“We also congratulate all those advocates for peace and democracy who have worked together to achieve this important result. 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.”
The US added that it anticipated that all parties and leaders would honour the terms of the new accord just as faithfully as the 2015 pact, as it looks forward to a positive effect on the 2019 election.
“We note that, for elections to be free and fair in 2019, the campaign period already underway must itself go forward on a level playing field and be a fair and transparent process.
“Campaigns enriched by positive ideas and actions will unite Nigerians in a common democratic debate, even as they differ by advocating for competing candidates.
“We urge all Nigerian 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.
“Finally, we reiterate our strong support for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and for all those Nigerian citizens, public servants, and civil society organisations who will together facilitate peaceful, credible, and transparent elections,” the statement added.