The signing last week of the Abuja Accord 2018 by the major candidates in next year’s presidential elections is an important step in our country’s desire to build on the success of 2015 and hold transparent, peaceful and credible elections. The accord was prepared by the National Peace Committee led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe is his deputy in the committee.
Prominent persons who witnessed the signing ceremony included UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in West Africa and the Sahel Mohammed Ibn Chambas; Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar; Ooni of Ife Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] Professor Mahmood Yakubu; former Chief Justice of Nigeria Mohammed Lawal Uwais; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Hassan Kukah; Head of the European Union Delegation to Nigeria Ketil Karlsen and prominent businessman Aliko Dangote.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is APC’s presidential candidate, signed the accord in Abuja on Tuesday last week, as did many other presidential candidates. Even though the committee said it invited 91 political parties and 73 presidential candidates to the event, there was an initial snag when Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the main opposition PDP, failed to turn up, saying he did not receive an invitation. He however turned up the next day, Wednesday and signed it, as did Dr. Oby Ezekwesili of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN.
Abdulsalam’s peace committee had organized a similar event in the run up to the 2015 elections. Their effort was widely believed to have resulted in the most spectacular event of that year, when President Goodluck Jonathan conceded even before the counting of votes was over. The idea for the peace accord was said to have originated from former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, now late, who promoted it in order to prevent the disastrous post-election events experienced in Kenya in 2007 and to a lesser extent in Nigeria in 2011.
Abuja Accord 2018 commit candidates “to run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels” and to “refrain from campaigns that involve religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and by all agents acting in our names.” Candidates will also “refrain from making or causing to make in our names or that of our party, any public statements, pronouncements, declarations or speeches that have the capacity to incite any form of violence before, during and after the elections.”
In addition, candidates “commit themselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence to the accord by a National Peace Committee.” They pledged “to support all the institutions of government including INEC and security agencies to act and be seen to act with impartiality.” They also agreed “to forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence, whether perpetrated by supporters and/or opponents.”
As usual, it is easier to sign an accord than to live up to it. This year’s campaign is noticeably less tension-soaked than the run-up to 2015, partly because the regional and religious element is absent between the two top candidates. But there is still plenty of room for things to go wrong. The weakest link in the chain is not so much the candidates as their supporters. However, if the candidates live up to the letter and spirit of this accord by refraining from incitement and sticking to the issues and if other agencies such as INEC and security agents also live up to their billing, then we are on course to consolidate our success as a shining example of democratic polls in Africa.