By Tonnie Iredia
Last week, the presidential candidates of Nigeria’s political parties signed a peace accord in Abuja, the nation’s capital. At the occasion, two of the candidates, Obiageli Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) made the fundamental point that peace cannot be attained without justice. Abdulsalam Abubakar – a former Nigerian military leader and Bishop Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto who are the arrow heads of the peace accord initiated the scheme for the 2015 general elections as a necessary condition for ensuring that the nation survived the debilitating consequences of election violence. But many Nigerians did question and are still questioning the efficacy of a peace accord in a nation whose electoral history confirms unending vicious election battles with whatever weapons.
Revisiting the peace accord strategy in 2018 suggests that the last peace accord played a significant role in how the nation survived 2015. That is simplistic because it takes for granted the overriding posture of Goodluck Jonathan, a man of peace who kept to his words that his ambition was not worth the blood of fellow citizens. Put differently, accord or no accord, Jonathan would have acted to type. Whether others would have done same or are willing to so behave this time around remains a matter of conjecture. What is obviously not in dispute is that the Nigerian political system is premised on injustice which is a strange bed-fellow of peace. Unfortunately, the real issue in contention which is systemic is beyond the Abdulsalams and the Kukahs. How do we depart from ‘a-winner-takes-all’ political system that makes our elections a do or die affair without first evolving a framework for the attainment of political equality?
‘Can Abuja Peace Accord Stop Political Violence?’ This question was the title of an article published in this column immediately after the 2015 accord. This writer had argued then that our presidential candidates are incapable of stopping their warring members from violence – a position that is as valid today as it was in 2015. It is not that the signing of a peace accord is wrong, or that those who initiated it do not mean well, it is just that our politicians would as usual make the scheme pursue shadows instead of substance. In 2015, President Jonathan ‘pleaded’ in vain with his Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria not to break the law which prohibits political campaigns less than 90 days before elections. President Buhari has not only been on the same page with his predecessor, he has had more visible and numerous defaulting supporters. How can anyone stop such groups from whatever they choose to do including violence?
Painfully, we are not even sure that signatories to the accord intended to stand by it in a nation where political office holders hardly keep to what they promised during campaigns. In addition, our political class is replete with hooligans who break each other’s heads at rallies and even in the hallowed chambers of our legislature. This appears to explain why intra-party violence and acrimony are now more than inter-party disagreements. The recent party primaries organized to select flag bearers especially those of the ruling All Progressive Congress APC have left exceedingly deep wounds that may never heal. Interestingly, reconciliation committees set-up to calm frayed nerves, are perceived by some as a premeditated strategy to make those aggrieved feel good. That Ibikunle Amosun, the Ogun state governor known for his overt temperance is one of those aggrieved seems to heighten the general atmosphere of distrust and bitterness. Can the signing of a peace accord by the party’s presidentially candidate stop such bitterness from degenerating into a post-election violence?
Again, this year’s peace accord; like that of 2015, is not comprehensive enough as it is premised on the subsisting erroneous impression that election violence in our clime is essentially due to the desperation of politicians. While not playing down on that because there is ample evidence that our politicians are the principal culprits of political violence, it is perceptibly incorrect to see them as the only problem. Abundant damage is also attributable to the dubious roles of operatives of some societal agencies. For example, what the officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can do and have always done to facilitate violence cannot be wished away. Therefore, those who truly have faith in peace accords, may need to organize another one to be signed by the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu requiring him to stop his officials from colluding with any political party against its opponents which may instigate political violence.
Leaders of our security services particularly the Inspector General of Police that usually sends a large contingent to election venues should also sign the peace accord. Perhaps that may inspire him to find a way of getting his operatives not to look the other way when hoodlums snatch ballot boxes. Our position is influenced by the December 10, 2016 rerun election in Rivers State about which an INEC panel chaired by Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, a National Electoral Commissioner found “cases of hostage taking, hijacking of materials and physical attacks on INEC officials by security operatives.” Can peace be the logical end of an election process in which security operatives are so compromised to work against a free and fair exercise?
Other societal institutions involved in the election process should also be brought into the peace accord to ensure that threat to peace would not originate from their sectors. Media heads for instance, should be asked to sign the peace accord and assure the nation that their staff would neither give certain candidates political leverage nor help to publicize hate campaigns that can instigate violence. The same is true of our Judiciary. Following the revelation by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Stanley Shenko Alagoa, that “some judges collect bribe from politicians and traditional rulers to pervert the course of justice”, it is certain that peace will elude us if some courts and election tribunals can be lured to stop some politicians from getting justice.
To suggest that leaders of our institutions cannot in reality cage all their members to embrace best practices in their fields exposes the futility of presidential candidates signing a peace accord that would presumably bind their party members. We submit that whereas the attempt to stimulate a peace accord among our politicians is noble, it cannot stand without justice which is a more basic framework for peace. Incumbents who deny opposition politicians access to public fora such as stadium and the broadcast media must change and embrace the politics of equality. A level-playing field is more likely to inspire peace.