*As Atiku,Obi,others sign peace pact

*Decry fake news, misinformation

By Joseph Erunke

POLITICAL parties and their presidential candidates have signed a first peace accord for the 2023 general elections, following the commencement of campaigns ahead of the polls.

The peace deal was sealed with the General Abdusalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, Thursday.

Although candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress,APC,Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu,was conspicuously absent at the event,his running mate,Sen. Kassim Shetima participated in the peace agreement.

Among the presidential candidates who were at the event were Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP,Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party,LP,Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party,NNPP and Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress.

Speaking variously at the event, President Buhari, Abdusalami Abubakar and Goodluck Jonathan,tasked political actors to shurn actions that could threaten the peace of the nation as they head to the field for campaigns ahead of the forthcoming elections.

President Buhari, while speaking through a recorded video, thanked members of the National Peace Committee, led by its Chairman, General Abdulsalami. Abubakar, for their commitment and dedication to supporting peaceful elections in Nigeria and for facilitating peace generally across the country.

He, however, expressed concern over the rising level of fake news and misinformation in the country, noting that the development portended grave danger to the nation’s democracy.

“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,”he said.

According to the president, democracy in the country 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,”he added.

He said,”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.

The president called on “the contestants, especially their publicity agents and media advisers to shun personal attacks, avoid insults and incitement, reject the spread of fake news, and commit to issue-based campaigns and political rallies. “

He said “everything must be done to support the National Peace Committee in their work to ensuring peaceful and everything elections in Nigeria. “

Chairman of the National Peace Committee, General Abdusalami Abubakar,retd, in his welcome remarks, regretted that campaigns have shifted focus from issue- based campaigns to other unwholesome acts.

“It has shifted focus away from issue-based campaigns and created the platform for political parties to resort to name calling, personal insults and character assassination,”he said..

Hear him:”In 2015, the National Peace Committee signed only one peace accord, committing the then candidates to accepting the outcome of the votes as long as they are adjudged to be free, fair and credible. In 2019, the same peace accord was signed twice, both close to the elections, to commit the candidates to a peaceful electoral process. This fit was repeated during the off-season elections in different states.

“The members of the Peace Committee would like to thank the political parties. party chairmen, candidates and indeed all-party members for turning up in both 2015 and 2019. Despite all the challenges, our efforts contributed significantly to mitigating the violent conflict in these elections.

“Now that the 2023 general election is around the corner, issues of major concern that have the potential to negatively impact on the integrity are emerging. One of such issues is the spread of fake news. Thus, fake news and misinformation continue to pose a significant threat to the 2023 elections.

“It has shifted focus away from issue-based campaigns and created the platform for political parties to resort to name calling, personal insults and character assassination.”

Speaking further,the former Head of State regretted also that,” it has taken away our civility and decency in public discourse and conversations and created a toxic atmosphere that has the potential to incite citizens against the state, against other political parties and candidates.”

He explained that,”It is for this reason that the National Peace Committee has organised the signing of two Peace Accords for the 2023 general elections. “

“The first Peace Accord. which holds today, is to commit all political parties, presidential candidates and their spokespersons to peaceful political campaigns and rallies, devoid of violence, incitement, and personal insults, but defined by issues at the very heart of national development and progress. The second Peace Accord will come up shortly before the elections, and it is intended to commit candidates to accepting the outcome of the votes as long as it is adjudged to be free, fair and credible,”he said

According to him,”It is time for us to promote issue-based campaigns. We are calling on politicians to address issues that are fundamental to the Nigerian citizens. We also want to promote respect and tolerance for differences in opinions. We want to ensure that there is civility and decency in public discourse.”

“Therefore, on behalf of all the members of the National Peace Committee and all Nigerians, I am appealing to the political parties, party chairmen, candidates, and their to please campaign on the basis of issues that are of significant concern to Nigerians. Avoid the spread of fake news, personal attacks, and insults, and comply with the spirit and letter of the Accord,”he added.

He thanked all the members of the Peace Committee for their commitment and dedication to the peace and unity of this country just as he thanked the European Union and the Swiss for their partnership and support.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan,who also spoke via recorded video played at the event,commended the resilience and commitment of members of the National Peace Committee to peace in Nigeria and their efforts towards ensuring peaceful elections in the country.

While extending his greetings to all the presidential candidates, other candidates contesting other levels of elections and “other compatriots for their patriotism and interest in the peace of our country”,he urged everyone” to continue to share in the prayers and enthusiasm of the Peace Committee for a peaceful, free and fair elections in our nation.”

” The task of ensuring peaceful elections in 2023 is our collective responsibility,”he said.

According to him,”Although we are all key stakeholders, I must say that it behoves on the candidates and the leaders of the various parties to lead the process for peaceful elections in our country.”

“We are at a critical stage in our national life where we have no choice but to promote national cohesion, love and hope, in order to make the desired progress.

“We cannot afford to continue to play politics of bitterness and division along ethnic and religious lines. This is because such kind of politics portends great danger to our unity, growth and the sustenance of our democracy,”he said.

He advised that,”We have to be mindful of the destructive impact of hate speech, fake news and mindless propaganda, especially in a clime where the fabric of unity and stability still needs to be strengthened.”

” I charge the candidates, their promoters and supporters to exercise restraint and seek to run their campaigns based on issues that affect our people. They should, by all means, avoid needless attacks on personalities and use of abusive language for those are the elements that cause chaos and crisis during elections.

“Political stability and growth of democracy in any country are usually measured by the quality of elections. In this regard, we expect our democracy to be consolidated in such a way that our electoral processes will be seen to record incremental progress at the end of every election cycle.

” Unfortunately, this has not been the case, as there are signs of inconsistencies with the progress we make in our elections. As citizens of this great country, we all have the responsibility to redirect our steps, strive to work harder and do the right thing to avoid the stagnation of our democracy,”he further said.

He spoke further:” Since I left office in 2015, I have been involved in the process of promoting democracy across Africa. My experience as an election observer, having led observation missions to many countries, is that many African countries are working hard to improve their elections and deepen the roots of democracy in their land.

” Many of us will recall that elections held recently in Kenya, Ghana and The Gambia and I am pleased that peaceful outcomes were recorded in those countries.

” In 2023, I expect our country to raise the bar for credible and transparent elections by ensuring that our electoral processes are peaceful, free and fair.

“I urge our candidates to lead the charge and strive to make our electioneering issue-based, clean and violence-free.”

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