By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE

FOR speakers and participants who converged on the Women Development Centre, Awka, the Anambra State Capital on Wednesday for a sensitisation workshop for political parties and stakeholders for the November 16 governorship election, the polls must be free, fair, credible and violence-free.

Reason: That is the only way Anambra will shed the toga of a state notorious for election rigging, unending electoral litigation and do-or-die politics.

A peaceful and credible election in the state, christened the Light of the Nation, they said, will rub off positively on other elections ahead of the 2015 general polls.

Among those, who shared these views are candidates and leaders of the 23 political parties taking part in the election, Major General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), Professor George Obiozor, Monsignor Obiora Ike, Governor Peter Obi (represented by Deputy Governor Emeka Sibeudu),  Dr Udenta O Udenta, Ohanaeze President-General, Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey, Dr Yunusa Tanko, Princess Stella Oduah (represented by Ambassador Jerry Ugokwe), Professor Attahiru Jega (INEC Chairman, represented by Hajia Amina Zakari), Aremo Taiwo Alimi, Engr Wole Adesina, who represented Chief Olu Falae and Chief Victor Umeh among others.

Organised by the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party, Senator Ben Obi, the parley drew the best out of the participants, who passionately  canvassed ideas they believed would lead to rancour-free elections in the state, if implemented.

It must not be a do-or-die affair – Ben Obi

Convener of the workshop, Senator Ben obi, said the event was a follow-up to those organised in Benin in June 2012 and Akure in September 2012 for the Edo and Ondo states governorship elections, which were generally free and fair. He said it was the aim of making the November 16 Anambra governorship elections free, fair and violence-free that he organised the sensitisation parley. He enjoined all stakeholders particularly party executives, candidates and their supporters to abide by the resolutions of the workshop.

*A cross section of participants at the workshop
*A cross section of participants at the workshop

Noting that 23 of the 25 registered political parties in the country are participating in the election, he said it was a welcome development as voters are provided a much wider choice. “There is no doubt that the political environment in the state is presently passionate and emotional. However, only one candidate can become the governor at a point in time. Election should not be a do-or-die affair, hence, there is need to eschew the policy of ‘I and me’, and ‘if I do not win, then nobody else should.’”

For an election to be fair, Senator Obi said honest balloting and counting must be administered without fraud, and there must be prompt and just resolution of election related disputes and grievances, before and after Election Day. Fairness therefore, also requires a ‘level playing field.’ It is now common knowledge that President Goodluck Jonathan, had at different fora dissuaded people from electoral malpractices while advocating for one-man-one-vote to ensure the actualisation of peoples’ mandate. We also recall Mr. President’s unprecedented request that no one should rig election for him, nor spill any blood for his sake in the name of electoral victory.”

Commending Governor Peter Obi for the stability, tranquility and civility that he had brought into governance in the state, he urged Anambra people to make the election a huge success. “Anambra State is known for great feats and expectations; we must not fail this time.”

Anambra must turn a new page – Nwachukwu

Chairman of the workshop, Major General  Nwachukwu (rtd), in his opening remarks, said the workshop was another opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss what could make or mar the elections and collectively agree on modalities of prevention and abide strictly by the agreement reached.

Urging the stakeholders to make Anambra people proud and shed the cloak of election manipulators, he said: “In this small hall today, are men and women who will make Anambra people proud. Make them proud because your collective will to put behind us all the cliché that this state encourages electioneering thuggery and malpractices; does not accept the outcome of elections, even where it is glaring that  a loser truly and squarely lost; and, support attitudes uncomplimentary to representational democracy.

“I believe we can turn a new page in the history of Anambra politics and set the standard for the rest of the country to emulate.”

We can’t afford to fail – Gov Obi

On his part, Governor Peter Obi, who was represented by his deputy, Chief  Sibeudu, enjoined all contestants to abide by electoral regulations, eschew politics of bitterness and not to overheat the polity. He assured all contestants and stakeholders that his government would ensure and provide a level playing ground before, during and after the election.

Specifically, the governor urged all Anambrarians and stakeholders to ensure the success of the polls because “this state and the entire country belong to all of us. If we make any mistake, history will hold it against us and our children.”

It’s a dress rehearsal for 2015 – Oduah

The Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, who was the guest of honour and was represented by Ambassador Jerry Ugokwe, said the Anambra election would be a test case for the 2014 and 2015 elections and begged all contestants to make it a success by shunning politics of violence.

Commending Governor Obi for governing the state well, the minister said: “What happens in the Anambra governorship election will set a standard  and tone for other sates (Osun and Ekiti) elections and the 2015 election. Anambra is significant for 2015.  We have no choice but to get it right. If we get it right, others will fall in place. Let’s compete in the absence of thuggery and violence. Let those who lose join the winner, who must be magnanimous in victory.”

Political competition is not war – Jega

The electoral umpire, Professional Attahiru Jega, in a speech, which was read by Hajia Amina Zakari (Federal commissioner on Political Matters), said the INEC has issued the template and timetable for the election and is ready to conduct a credible exercise.

He went on to outline the relevant provisions of the law guiding the electoral process but warned that the environment for the processes to succeed would be determined by the collective attitude of all stakeholders.

His words: “It is in this context that the relevance of this workshop becomes apparent. Accordingly, I urge participants to use this platform to renew their respective commitments to maintain a culture of tolerance, respect for rule of law, eschew violence, admonish supporters to conduct themselves peacefully, and to remember that political competition is not a war, but an avenue for people to peacefully express their choices in globally recognised democratic channels as enshrined in our laws.

These, I believe, are the indispensable minimum conduct we require for the conduct and success of the Anambra State governorship election on 16th November, 2013. It is our collective duty and obligation, as voters, contestants, party agents, security officials as well as the commission staff to ensure that the process goes on smoothly without rancour and violence.”

Parties must comply with code of conduct –Tanko

Also, the National Chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP) and Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Dr Yunusa Tanko, stressed the need for internal party democracy and supremacy because “the political parties are the anchor of the process of democracy and so must be protected.”

To ensure violence-free and credible polls, he urged the parties to comply with the code of conduct midwifed by INEC and IPAC and embark on issues-based campaigns instead of back-stabbing, blackmail and name-calling.

Why our elections are flawed –Obiozor

Ambassador George Obiozor, one of the guest speakers, decried the prevalence of flawed elections in Nigeria and urged concerted efforts to redress the malaise in the interest of the country.

He said: “Never  before have we had more elections decided by the courts than by the ballot boxes as we have today. Actually, some judgments came when the supposed winner has nearly completed his/her term  of office. Hence, today we have forced staggered elections and off season elections all over the country including Anambra State.

In  Nigeria, the electoral process has become a judicial exercise at its best and worst… The question is, have the courts taken over the role of the electoral commission? In fact, sometimes, it seems disturbing as judges also take over the role of the electorates, or the voters and announce the winners. Some of these take place under very suspicious environments.

“All these rigmarole and electoral manoeuvrings occur because elections in Nigeria have not been based on strong institutionalised structures. Consequently, elections become vulnerable to manipulations and other machinations or suspicious mechanisms. We must strengthen the national electoral institutions in order to ensure and guarantee a successful electoral process…

“We must be aware of the serious harm, failed or controversial elections can do to the national spirit, to the concept of democracy, and to national integrity, honour or international prestige or image. But above all, the greatest damage remains that bad elections produce leadership whose legitimacy and authority are questionable and whose power is often looked upon with suspicion and anger.

“We must therefore improve the legitimacy of the leadership through free and fair elections or risk leadership with power without authority or authority without legitimacy.”

Udenta, Igariwey, Umeh, Ike marshal the way forward

Sharing his thoughts, Udenta urged Anambra people to recognise the special importance and sensitivity of the state to the Igbo nation. “It is not just a frontier to the West but also a frontier to the North,” he said, arguing that external forces that do not want Anambra and Ndigbo to survive were behind the instability in Anambra State.

“They are those, who do not believe that the civil war has ended. The challenge is for Anambra people to rise and prevent the external aggressors from destroying their homestead.”

In like manner, Igariwey, who enjoined the INEC and the security agencies to do the needful, challenged Anambra people, whom he described as the flagship of the Igbo nation to make Igbo people proud by having a flawless election.

Also speaking, Professor Ike stressed the need for a new beginning and enthronement of violence-free electoral process so that more credible and decent people would join politics and deliver dividends of democracy to the citizenry.

APGA Chairman, Chief Umeh, on his part, said irrespective of the capacity of some politicians  for mischief during election, the polls will be free and fair if INEC and the security agencies do their jobs efficiently.

He promised that APGA will mobilise its supporters in line with the code of conduct, adding that “our people are determined to prove that Anambra people are wise.”

After Umeh, leaders of the various parties and candidates pledged to abide by the code of conduct and ensure a credible and peaceful election on November 16.

Based on these agreements, the stakeholders came up with a 12-point resolution, which they signed and promised to uphold. Whether or not they will keep their words is to be seen.

The 12-point resolution

•    The will of the electorate as expressed in the November 16, 2013 gubernatorial election of Anambra State must be respected by all political parties and stakeholders

•The electoral umpire, INEC must provide a level playing field for all contestants

•All gubernatorial candidates and their political parties should play a leading role in providing a rancour and violence-free, smooth, fair and credible election

•The police and all other security agencies involved in the election should be neutral and non-partisan

•The presidency should avoid manipulating and generally interfering with the electoral process

•The use of inciting and violent language before, during and after the election must be eschewed

•The Judiciary should play its expected role as an unbiased arbiter and ensure timely delivery of judgment should the need arise

•The media must play its role as watchdog by accurately and fairly covering and reporting the gubernatorial election, eschewing use of provocative language

•The victor should be magnanimous in victory and losers gallant in defeat, realising that one and only one can be a winner in the election

•No acts of intimidation of the electorate by political parties, candidates and/or supporters should be tolerated

•Peace and tranquility in Anambra State will be maintained before, during and after the November 16, 2013 election

•To abide the revised code of conduct signed by all political parties and INEC

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