From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Religious leaders have amplified the need for peace and tolerance among Nigerians of different political parties and ethnic groups ahead 2023 general elections, insisting that without peace, there might not be elections as expected.
Some of the religious leaders that spoke at the inclusive security dialogue jointly organised by Global Peace Foundation, ADF International, Vision Africa, and other partners, challenged themselves to champion a campaign at different places of worship and local communities against electoral violence and other actions that could affect the credibility of the electoral process.
They appealed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders to be fair, just, transparent and credible, in their dealings in order to secure the trust and support of the people, and discourage violence.
President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Archbishop Daniel Okoh, in his submission at the meeting, admitted that curbing pre-and post-electoral violence in Nigeria is a herculean task because the practice has been entrenched as the shortest way to electoral victory by political parties.
He said: “This assertion, however, does not intend to discourage genuine efforts by well-meaning Nigerians and other development partners who want Nigeria to depart from the era of electoral violence and its attendant consequences.”
He, thus, highlighted the consequences of electoral violence, particularly its ability to truncate the democratic process and all the gains made over the years in Nigerian democratic journey.
“The impact of electoral violence on Nigeria’s elections is very severe. The necessity of free and fair elections can never be overemphasised bearing in mind that the opposite is better imagined than experienced. Electoral violence could lead to electing the ‘wrong’ persons into political positions that they are not sufficiently prepared for, and this will lead to further economic crises and underdevelopment.
“Electoral violence lead to deaths, particularly among the youths. The pain of the loss of many future leaders and breadwinners of families in previous elections is still being felt. Unarguably, violent elections scare away many people who would have loved to participate in politics and offer their expertise in rebuilding Nigeria, hence the rise in electoral apathy which is considered high in Nigeria as a product of electoral violence.
“When people are not sure that they would return home without losing their limbs after casting their votes or participating in the electoral process, they would opt to stay off the process. The implication is that a lot of people are disenfranchised paving the way for few misguided politicians to vote or declare their unpopular candidate winner where the opposite should have been the case, and as a result, the cycle of lamentation continues.”
The CAN President reminded the religious leaders that heaven and earth are watching the roles they would play or are playing regarding the activities that would culminate in 2023 general elections. “As a religious leader, I am hopeful that this ugly history of pre or post-electoral violence will not be repeated, but that will be if we decide to adopt strategic conversation that appeals to the conscience of the political class.”
In his remarks, the President of Vision Africa, Bishop Sunday Onuoha, reminded the religious leaders of their key roles in the forthcoming elections, and the fact that they are panaceas to violence/crisis-free election if they play their roles well.
He said: “Religious leaders are people who command massive loyalty and respect among the people, and are influencers of the polity. They are not bashful to acknowledge and understand the deep frustrations of other communities, but rather willing to put in the tent-pegs and lay out the milestones in the collective process toward security and peace in Nigeria.”
Bishop Onuoha stressed the importance of youth participation in the electoral process, stating that every responsive, inclusive, and representative decision-making process that excluded the young people lacks sustainability.
“As the 2023 Nigerian elections approach, youth participation in conflict prevention and peace-building should be on the front burner, because extremist and dissident groups often look to raise fresh recruits among young people living in desperate conditions or within fractured societies. If we are to sell inclusiveness and social solidarity to the people, it will produce fast and tangible results in cohesion and nation building,” he said.
He confirmed that the religious leaders would soon meet with a cross-section of youth organisations in Nigeria in recognition of the fact that they are major drivers of change at all levels of conflict prevention and peace-building.