Abuja — Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) yesterday challenged President Goodluck Jonathan, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders to ensure free, fair and credible elections in the April polls.
Speaking on behalf of the Bishops at the opening ceremony of the conference held at Our Lady, Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral Abuja attended by President Jonathan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Bishop John Onaiyekan said that the only way Nigeria could have free and fair elections was when all stakeholders do their jobs very well.
In his sermon, he urged the apparati responsible for conducting free and fair elections to "do their work and be seen to be doing it in the spirit of truth and justice. INEC at all levels should be fair and just umpires of electoral process. The security agents should promote law and order and not turn themselves into forces of violence and disorder. The judiciary should, indeed, be the last hope of those seeking for justice and carry out their work without ear or favour".
The cleric said, "the Lord abhors the perversion of justice by those who ought to uphold it. God has very harsh words for those who pass judgement for a fee. We pray that the Lord will make this next election an opportunity for our nation to switch unto new gear that will lead us closer to where we ought to be as the frontline black nation in the world."
While thanking President Jonathan for finding time to attend the conference, Onaiyekan said "We pray especially that his (president) often proclaimed conviction and desire for a free and fair election in Nigeria, carried out in an atmosphere of tranquility and devoid of all rancour will indeed be achieved. This is the desire of the vast majority of Nigerians; it is also certainly the will of God for us."
On his part, President Jonathan reassured Nigerians and the international community that his government would guarantee free and fair elections next month despite his participation as a candidate in the April polls.
The president, however, expressed confidence that he would win the presidential election and be sworn-in as the nation's President come May 29, 2011.
Speaking at the opening of the plenary session of the conference, the President said that his direct involvement in the April polls notwithstanding, he would guarantee a free, credible and internationally accepted elections where the votes of the electorates would count.
He said, "The issue is not whether a person is contesting or not but whether that person is committed. I assure you of my commitment to a free and fair election."
Lamenting that the country has not been able to occupy its pride of place in the international community because of the country's inability to conduct credible elections in the past, the president said that he was confident that he would be in power in the next four years, to oversee the affairs of the nation.