Before it becomes too late
I AM honoured, as Chairman, to welcome to this 2015 elections sensitisation workshop, Your Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; Your Excellency the Vice President; Your Excellency the Senate President; Your Excellency, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.); the Executive Governors here present; distinguished members of the National Assembly and all the other candidates at the forthcoming national elections.
As we all know, election is at the heart of any genuine democracy because it is through free, fair and credible elections that the citizens are enabled to choose the people to govern them, and also to change the government if they judge that the government has not kept the promises on the basis of which it was elected.
The objective of this workshop is to provide all the major contestants in our 2015 national elections with an opportunity for a constructive exchange of views on how to ensure peaceful and violence-free elections.
Regrettably, we cannot deny that we have in our country a history of violence occurring before, during, and after elections.
Already, shootings, explosions and burning of campaign buses have been reported in Rivers and Plateau States. And we are also witnessing increasingly acrimonious pronouncements by candidates and spokespersons of political parties.
The nature and intensity of the contestation manifested to-date leads to the inescapable conclusion that unless proactive measures are agreed and implemented by all the contending parties, the level of violence, especially in the aftermath of the elections, will this time set a new record.
This sensitisation workshop is, therefore, a commendable initiative taken before it becomes too late. Accordingly, I salute its organisers.
Nigeria and its 2015 national elections are deservedly in the eye of the international community. I would, therefore, like to specially recognise and thank His Excellency, Mr. Kofi Annan, a great symbol of the international community, for accepting the invitation to be a special guest at this workshop.
I would also want to appreciate the presence here of so many accredited diplomatic representatives to Nigeria.
The elections will be taking place against the background of the repeated assurances by the nation’s President, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, of his administration’s determination that the country will have free, fair and credible elections.
I believe that a truly objective observer will concede that the post-2011 elections in Anambra, Edo, Ekiti and Osun States have been noticeably freer, fairer and more credible than the previous national elections of 2003 and 2007.
My hope is that this workshop will not only enable the participants to discuss the factors necessary for making the 2015 national elections free, fair and credible, but also and more importantly, to achieve the commitment of all the contestants to getting their respective political parties to observe and indeed promote measures for achieving peaceful and violence-free elections.
Like every other country, Nigeria has abiding national interests, which must be protected at all times by all the candidates even in the heat of electoral campaigns.
For example, the country’s unity in diversity must not be undermined by campaigns that seek to exploit either of our two major national “fault lines” — ethnicity and religion.
Any injudicious introduction of these two factors into the contestation for votes in any part of the country would be bound to stoke up the flames of violence.
As Commonwealth Secretary-General, I sent, during my term in office, official Commonwealth Groups of Observers to the national elections of more than 10 member countries, some of which witnessed varying degrees of violence.
From that experience, and from observing events in our country, I make bold to recommend to all the candidates and political parties involved in Nigeria’s 2015 national elections the adoption of a concordat incorporating the following six provisions:
(1) That political campaigns should be free of violence and be based on manifestos or policies and programmes being promised to the electorate.
(2) That all candidates should commit themselves to actively discourage their supporters and representatives from engaging in violence at the crucial points in the voting and counting of votes processes.
(3) That all candidates should not only be speaking against such election malpractices as ballot box stuffing and snatching, but also be seen to be actively discouraging their supporters from indulging in the malpractices.
(4) That all candidates should, as much as possible, eschew derogatory personal rhetoric against their opponents, as well as pronouncements that are capable of inciting or destabilising the polity.
(5) That all candidates should cooperate with, and support the law and order maintenance agencies, whose actions must be and be seen to be impartial.
(6) And finally, that all candidates should actively admonish and be seen to admonish their supporters not to engage in any form of violence following the announcement of official results.
In conclusion, the forthcoming 2015 national elections will be a watershed with potentially far-reaching consequences in the evolution of our country.
I hope, therefore, that this workshop will lead to an agreed code of conduct incorporating the suggestions that I have just listed.
Finally, genuine love for country requires all the candidates, indeed, all our citizens, to rally round in support of peace both during and after the elections.
It behoves on the one hand, INEC and all the agencies concerned with the maintenance of law and order, to ensure a level-playing field for all the candidates; and on the other hand, all the contestants and their political parties and supporters, to commit themselves against violence both in their campaigns and in their reactions to the announced results of the elections.
• Chief Anyaoku CFR, CON, GCVO, made these remarks as Chairman at the 2015 Elections Sensitisation Workshop on January 14, 2015, in Abuja.