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Dangerous vibes from politicians: Whither the peace accord?

Elections: OPS set for dialogue with political parties on economic policies, Tuesday

Despite the subscription to the Peace Accord by the 18 political parties ahead of the 2023 general election, there are 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 uncharitable words against their opponents.

There have been allegations of states not allowing opposition parties to conduct their rallies; sponsorship of thugs to attack and disrupt opposition gatherings, refusal to allow opponents advertise their candidates on billboards and employment inclement language against their opponents.

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 accuses the state government of trying to make the environment toxic for any peaceful election, the APC on the other hand alleges that the PDP is stoking violence. Ray Emeagha, secretary, PDP Imo State and Chris-Lance Osondu-Onyemechora, a founding member of the APC in the state, were on the Channels Television Sunrise Daily programme on Wednesday, October 19, 2022. They both pointed fingers at each other’s party as the major impediment to peaceful conduct of the 2023 general election in the state.

Earlier before their appearance on the television programme, there had been some allegations that the state government sponsored someone to institute a legal proceeding to have Mahmood Yakubu, chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), sacked, and also to rule against the use of the Bimodal Vote Accreditation System (BVAS) in the coming election.

The social media is awash with divisive utterances and outright statements that aimed at attacking opponents.

It does not appear that political parties are doing anything to prevail on their candidates, members and supporters to moderate their utterances.

The INEC chairman was so concerned Monday with tenor of campaign by political parties that he urged the political parties to adhere to the letter of peace agreement they signed.

Describing what is going on as unfortunate, a Psychology lecturer with a private university who craved anonymity, said the political parties and their candidates are doing everything possible to stoke violence in order to win the election by foul means.

“I hear people say that the Electoral Act would prevent manipulation of the election and its outcome, but I put it to you that will not be the case in the 2023 election. Yes, the Electoral Act has everything to check all manner of electoral fraud but the question to ask is, when have Nigerians learnt to obey the laws of the land? I wished the Electoral Act should be made to play its role in the conduct and outcome of the election, but that will not be the case,” he said.

He pointed out that the level of desperation being exhibited by some of the presidential candidates is a sign that the 2023 general election may not be different from the ones conducted in the past.

“If you look at the tone of the campaigns; rather than dwell on issues, the candidates are attacking characters of other people (opponents) and some are pandering to clannishness. You can take this to the bank; the desperation of the presidential candidates would not allow the exercise to go peacefully. At least, you have been listening and reading what they say at rallies. They want to win by all means and this is dangerous for the 2023 general election,” he said.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday alleged that it was attacked by some thugs, but went ahead to hold its rally in Kaduna State.

The party also said that the state government refused to grant them access to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna.

It alleged that the state government, working through the federal Ministry of Youths and Sports, denied the party the right to use of the stadium on the ground that the stadium was under renovation.

The State Chairman of the PDP, Hassan Hyat, disclosed that the party received the correspondence with holding approval only on October 15, 2022, citing “renovation work on the facility as an excuse.”

“However, a physical tour of the stadium has revealed that there’s no renovation work ongoing either on the main bowl of the stadium or its adjoining structures. This is even as the same facility was used for the 2022 Eid-el-Maulud prayers just last Monday.”

In his tweet on Monday following the alleged attack, Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the party, said: “I have just received emergency reports of attacks on @OfficialPDPNig supporters by thugs sponsored to scuttle the ongoing PDP campaign rally in Kaduna State. This is undemocratic and against the Peace Accord all parties signed up for just a few weeks ago.

“I urge President Muhammadu Buhari to call on all parties to call their supporters and members to order and to ensure that campaigns, just as with the elections themselves, are kept free, fair and safe –AA.”

Supporters of the PDP in Zamfara State had also, last Saturday, alleged that they were attacked by thugs recruited by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. But the allegation was refuted by the APC, which claimed that it was the opposition party that attacked its members.

The Zamfara police command said one person was killed, while 18 others sustained injuries following a clash by two youth groups in the state.

According to the police, the groups involved in the clash are suspected to be supporters of the two dominant parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP in the state.

The state government claimed that it had placed a ban on political campaign activities in the state, through an Executive Order on the basis of insecurity. It said the ban was to forestall attack by bandits hiding under political campaign to cause mayhem.

The PDP claimed that no Executive Order can override the Constitution of the country where the INEC derived its powers to lift ban on electioneering.

Mouktar Lugga, deputy chairman of PDP in the state, who spoke on Channels Television Sunrise Daily programme on Monday, alleged that the ruling party in the state had no right whatsoever to suspend the political calendar released by the INEC. It also said that if the state government felt that Zamfara was not safe, it could have officially approached INEC and formally requested an adjustment not just to unilaterally ban political activities in the state.

Lugga also said that the PDP was not aware of any letter from the state government banning political activities, adding that it was just hiding under insecurity to muscle opposition.

Read also: How National Orientation Agency could prevent election violence

“We do not believe that there is threat to lives and property as a result of political activities. They trampled on the rights of parties and individuals, which caused the problem. We are a law-abiding party. No amount of intimidation can stop us from carrying out our lawful activities. They only hide behind insecurity when they want to attack opponents. We will not allow that,” Lugga said.

But Yusuf Idris, publicity secretary of APC, said that the PDP supporters did not abide by the state government’s order.

Femi Falana, while reacting to the violence in Zamfara, said: “Violence is part of the game as far as members of the political class are concerned. You are talking about Zamfara. There are states where these things are worse.”

On why the INEC, which is empowered to prosecute electoral offenders by the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) appears helpless in the face of lawlessness by political parties and their supporters, Falana said that the INEC had made it clear that it does not want to add that to its duty of conducting elections, but rather leaving it for the security agencies to handle.

The PDP deputy chairman in Zamfara also said that policemen were at the venue when the attack took place.

Attempting explanation on why the presence of policemen at the Zamfara rally could not deter the thugs from allegedly attacking PDP members, Falana said that the poor funding of the police has made it possible for them to pay allegiance to state governors that provide them almost all the logistics that enable them to carry out their job.

“So, policemen in the states cannot do anything where governors have some interest,” he said.

The state government had last Saturday, shut down some broadcast houses over the allegation that they aired the activities of the PDP in the state.

The violence against opponents has also been visited on supporters of other parties’ candidates.

For instance, two young men recently reportedly escaped death in Lagos by a whisker because of their support for Peter Obi of Labour Party. The party is also said to be suffering from other forms of negative treatments in some states where open campaign for the candidate is being hostilely resisted.

Rabiu Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), was reportedly attacked in Lokoja, Kogi’s capital city, in September, when he was he pelted with stones and sachet water.

He was also attacked when he visited the country home of the late Abubakar Audu, a former governor of Kogi State.

Sharply reacting to the development in Zamfara, the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) faulted the Zamfara State government’s shutting down of broadcast houses.

The Zamfara government had on Saturday shut down the stations for covering the political event of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP governorship candidate Dauda Lawal.

In separate reactions, the bodies said the move was uncalled for and inciting.

Balarabe Illela, director-general of the NBC, said: “The National Broadcasting Commission has noted with serious concern the illegal action of Zamfara State Government by directing the shutdown of operations of licensees of the Commission in the state, on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

“The NBC has clearly notified the State Government of the gravity of the illegality and requested it to expeditiously reverse the directive and apologize to the people of the state.

“We also urge the Security Agencies to ignore the call to restrict staff of the affected stations from conducting their legitimate duties.

“The Commission wishes to further emphasise that it will resist ANY attempt to cause a breach of law and order anywhere through the misuse of the broadcast media in Nigeria, before, during, and after the 2023 national elections.

“We call on ALL industry stakeholders to resist ANY attempt to truncate the hard-earned democratic gains in Nigeria.”

Illela also advised that “Any aggrieved person or institution with genuine complaints arising from unprofessional conduct or action by any licensed broadcaster in Nigeria is hereby requested to follow the laid down processes enshrined in the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

“The Commission will not relent to discharge its mandate according to the NBC Act, CAP. NII, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. All broadcast license holders are urged to ensure strict compliance and avoid any action inimical to democratic governance and peaceful coexistence in Nigeria.”

Other associations such as the Independent Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (IBAN), the International Press Centre (IPC), International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria, and the Northern Broadcast Media Owners Association (NBMOA) have, in their separate statements, also condemned the ban.

Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, also expressed worry over the reported Monday’s attacks on the PDP, during a rally in Kaduna State.

Yakubu said the development, and the rising mudslinging that was almost becoming the order of the day since campaigns kicked off on September 28, had diminished the essence of the peace accord recently signed by the political parties. He spoke in Abuja during the Training of Master Trainers on Election Technology for the 2023 general election.

Yakubu said that the reported denial of access to campaign facilities by some governors did not speak well of the campaigns, which ought to be issue-based.

“Even as the commission is working hard to ensure a credible process in the forthcoming elections, reports of clashes among parties and their supporters in some states of the country during the on-going electioneering are worrisome.

“So, too, is the reported denial of access to public facilities for parties and candidates in some states of the federation. Let me caution parties and their supporters to focus on issues and steer clear of attacks on each other.

“These are not only violations of the Electoral Act 2022, but also negate the voluntary commitment by all political parties and candidates to the letter and spirit of the Peace Accord signed about three weeks ago under the auspices of the National Peace Committee (NPC).

“Parties, candidates and their supporters should not, by acts of commission or omission, further complicate the prevailing security situation in the country. A peaceful electioneering campaign is critical to the conduct of peaceful and credible elections.

“The commission will continue to monitor the situation closely and will convene a meeting with leaders of political parties next week to discuss, among other issues, the imperative of peaceful campaigns and equal access to public facilities. In the same vein, the commission will also meet with the security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) next week.”

By the same token, the Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives condemned the attack, calling for probe.

The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room also expressed concern over the incident and urged political parties and actors to call their supporters to order.

Following the flagrant disobedience of the Electoral Act and disregard for the letters of the Peace Accord, Yakubu has summoned political parties for a meeting with security agencies.

But observers have asked the INEC to stop the condemnation and endless meetings with the parties, and begin to wield the big stick as the Electoral Act has empowered him to do so.

“The INEC should stop crying like a baby. If they are not complicit, they must show their innocence by going hard against these politicians. By the time the Commission strikes out one or two candidates on account of violence or violent utterances, sanity will quickly return to the process and system. It is because the INEC chairman goes about crying like a baby that the hardened politicians are taking him for a ride and heating up the polity. If INEC fails to arrest this ugly issue with the long period to election, it would be a shame. There are now signs that these politicians want to perpetrate violence; nobody should tell us tomorrow that it took them unawares. Everything that needs to be done should be done now,” Clement Azu, who simply described himself as an aggrieved Nigerian, said.