Eighteen political parties vying for elective positions in the forthcoming general election Thursday signed an agreement for a peaceful conduct before, during and after the 2023 elections.
The peace accord was put together under the auspices of the National Peace Committee (NPC) co-led by former Head of State, General Abudulsami Abubakar; Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar II; Cardinal John Onayeikan; Bishop Hassan Kukah and other eminent statesmen with the objective of supporting efforts at ensuring free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
All chairmen and presidential candidates of the registered 18 political parties signed the peace accord under the guidance of officials of the NPC at a ceremony witnessed by a large audience at the International Conference Centre in Abuja.
However, while presidential candidates of 17 other political parties personally signed the agreement along with the national chairmen of their parties, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was represented by APC vice presidential candidate, Alhaji Kashim Shettima.
In his goodwill message at the event, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed worry at recourse to personal attacks, insults and incitement by politicians in the build up to their campaigns.
He enjoined all Nigerians, political parties, politicians, security agencies, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and all stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria was placed first above regional and sectional claims.
Buhari cautioned against shifting of focus from issue-based campaigns to engagement in personal attacks, insults, and incitement by politicians.
He said : “As the President, I have always reiterated my commitment to a peaceful, credible and transparent elections, and what the Peace Committee has been doing over the years, aligns with my belief that Nigeria needs peace in order to achieve credible elections.
“However, the rise of fake news and misinformation continue to pose a significant threat to the pattern of democracy in Nigeria. It has shifted focus away from issue-based campaigns to amplifying the potential for personal attacks, insults, and incitement. It has also significantly diminished the civility and decency in public discourse and debate.
According to Buhari, the initiatives undertaken by the National Peace Committee to commit all political actors to issue-based campaign devoid of incitement, personal insults and attacks is a welcome development.
“The 2023 general election is more than an election, it is an opportunity to serve Nigeria, to defend Nigeria and to uphold her unity and progress.
“Therefore, I call on all Nigerians, political parties, politicians, security agencies, the election management body (Independent National Electoral Commission – INEC), and all stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria is placed first above regional and sectional claims,” he said.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan spoke of his experiences in monitoring elections held in some African countries where he said significant improvement in their electoral process were recorded.
He therefore expressed the hope that Nigerians will use the 2023 general election to try and ensure a free, fair and transparent election to prove that indeed the country is on the part of sustainable progress and development.
On his part, Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu assured that the commission will do everything in its powers to conduct a free, fair and credible general election next year.
Yakubu said that political campaigns that officially commenced on Wednesday will last for 148 days until 24 hours before polling day, February, 23 2023 for national elections.
He said the 2023 General Election will be conducted for 1,491 constituencies nationwide, made up of one Presidential constituency, 28 Governorship elections, 109 Senatorial Districts, 360 Federal constituencies and 993 State Assembly constituencies.
Mahmood said in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, “the Commission will vigorously monitor compliance to ensure that parties shun abusive, intemperate or slanderous language as well as insinuations or innuendoes likely to provoke a breach of the peace during the electioneering”. Similarly, he said the Commission will also closely monitor compliance with the limits on campaign spending under the Electoral Act.
INEC boss who said that the efforts of the peace committee had been very impactful, explained that there wwre sanctions provided by law for violators of the Electoral Act, adding that political parties and candidates should study and familiarise themselves with the electoral legal framework to avoid any infraction of the law and the unhappy consequences that will follow any act of misdemeanour.
Head of European Union Delegation Samuels Isopi said that Nigeria should be seen as taking a decisive step towards delivering a transparent and credible elections in 2023.
She said that INEC must be allowed to operate independently as provided by the constitution in respect to the organisation of the election.
While addressing the political stakeholders, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba urged leadership of politicall parties and their presidential candidates to abide by the provisions and dictates of the Electoral Act as amended 2022.
He listed all the prohibitive acts which politicians and their supporters were to avoid in order not to run foul of the electoral law.
He said that two major provisions of the Electoral Act that were very critical to the election had to do with complying with the aspect that prohibits raising of campaign funds from outside the country and that donations and spending limits for parties.
Baba also spoke of section 225 of the Electoral Act which highlighted issues relating to the falsification of documents submitted for elections.
The Police IG warned against raising of thugs or armed security by politicians and non state actirs to execute partisan objectives, adding that the Police will not tolerate any such acts ahead of the elections.
Among the political parties presidential candidates present at the peace accord signing ceremony were the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Peter Umeadi, Labour Party, (LP), Peter Obi, All Progressives Congress (APC), represented by Vice Presidential candidate, Alhaji Kashim Shettima.
National Chairman of the African Democratic Party (ADP) Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) Alhaji Sani Yagbagi assured Nigerians and the international community on behalf of other parties that they will work to see that the 2023 general election was free, fair and credible.