By Josephine Agbonkhese
Religious and traditional rulers across the country have been advised to refrain from making statements or taking actions which can be misconstrued as campaigning for or against a particular candidate or party ahead of the upcoming elections.
This call from frontline Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, is coming on the heels of controversies presently trailing the statements of some religious and traditional rulers regarding the elections.
The joint statement by Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director, Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre, WARDC;
Saudatu Mahdi, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, WRAPA; Idayat Hassan, Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD; Hauwa Shekarau, FIDA Nigeria and Emmanuella Azu of Gender and Constitution Reform Network, GECORN, amongst others, was entitled ‘The Role of Religious Leaders and Traditional Rulers in the Peaceful Conduct of Elections’. It cited notable utterances like that of Rev Fr Mbaka in which he criticised the government of President Goodluck Jonathan for corruption and insecurity before a congregation of about 30,000 people and called for a change in the government.
“Also, a statement credited to Tunde Bakare states that “regardless of who wins the elections…it is certain the country will erupt in crisis.” Similarly, a statement by Venerable Felix Okonkwo urged Nigerians to treat the All Progressive Congress with caution as it is an Islamic party. In October 2014, a Kaduna-based renowned Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmed Gumi in a letter to General Buhari, the APC Presidential Candidate, called on him not to run for elections as “it would further polarize the country and worsen the security challenges the country is grappling with.” In another report in Vanguard Newspapers in 2014, Sheik Ahmed Gumi reiterated his advice to General Buhari and extended same to President Jonathan, saying “Buhari and Jonathan are polarizing figures,” the statement reeled out.
Arguing that the reverence placed on religious and traditional leaders by their subjects places on them a responsibility of neutrality and non-partisanship, the group reiterated that any reckless statements from them can incite and further heat up the polity, translating into electoral violence especially in instances where ‘faithfuls’ go all out to ensure prophecies of their leaders come to pass, underscoring and encouraging rigging, violence, etc.
It, therefore, called on religious and traditional leaders to serve as counter forces towards reducing the threats of electoral violence and ensuring the conduct of a free and fair election.
“Using their moral authority to promote electoral participation and non-violence is their expected responsibility. They must demand non-violence and accountability especially when candidates pay them homage.