From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, has advised Nigerians to place the country first above regional and sectional claims as the nation prepares for the 2023 general election.
Buhari made the call during the First Signing of the Peace Accord for the 2023 General Election organised by the National Peace Committee in Abuja.
In attendance were the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; Vice Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Kashim Shettima; Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi; Vice Presidential Candidate of Labour Party, Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed; New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) Presidential Candidate, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; among others.
Also in attendance were members of the National Peace Committee led by the Chairman, General Abdulsalami Abubakar; the Convener, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah; Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan; the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar 111, Eminent businessmen, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola respectively; former Chief of Defence Staff, General Martin Luther Agwai, former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed; and Chairman, Channels Television, Mr John Momoh.
The event also had in attendance, party chieftains, civil society organisations, the diplomatic corps, amongst others.
Buhari, in his address, thanked the members of the National Peace Committee for their commitment and dedication to supporting peaceful elections in Nigeria and for facilitating peace generally across the country.
Buhari said as the president, he had always reiterated his commitment to a peaceful, credible and transparent elections, and what the Peace Committee has been doing over the years, aligned with his 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.
“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,” Buhari said.
Buhari further 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.
“Once again, everything must be done to support the National Peace Committee in their work to ensuring peaceful and everything elections in Nigeria,” Buhari stated.
In his welcome remarks, General Abubakar said 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.
Abubakar also said one of such issues is the spread of fake news, adding that 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.
“Furthermore, 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.
“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,” Abubakar said.
Abubakar also said it was time for Nigerians 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, | am appealing to the political parties, party chairmen, candidates, and their spokespersons, 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,” Abubakar also said.
Also speaking, former President Goodluck Jonathan, said Nigerians are at a critical stage in the national life where they 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.
“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,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan also said 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.
“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.
“Once again, I urge our candidates to lead the charge and strive to make our electioneering issue-based, clean and violence-free,” Jonathan also said.
On his part, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, 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.
Yakubu also said every constituency is important, adding that every election is also important.
“Therefore, the commitment to peaceful and issue-based electioneering campaign should resonate beyond the 18 Party Chairmen and Presidential candidates present here today. It is not enough to simply sign the Peace Accord. What is more important is to abide by its letter and spirit. You should similarly pass the message to all your candidates, members and supporters across the country for compliance. This will be your own way of showing appreciation for the work of the NPC and an affirmation of your contribution to electoral peace in Nigeria,” Yakubu said.