Abja — President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday demonstrated his strong commitment to the conduct of violence-free general elections as he joined other presidential candidates and chairmen of political parties to sign a peace accord initiated by the National Peace Committee chaired by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.
The president, who signed the pact in the presence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, charged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all the security agencies to put Nigeria first in their conduct because "the world is watching us."
Buhari's arch-rival and presidential candidate of the People's Democratic Party(PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was conspicuously absent at the event even though Abdulsalami said that invitations were sent by the committee to 73 presidential candidates from the 91 registered political parties in the country.
In a swift reaction to the development, Atiku said that he was not invited to the ceremony while the national leadership of the PDP said that it would investigate what caused the communication gap.
Abdulsalami Abubakar promptly assured Atiku and other presidential candidates, who were not at the event, that the committee's doors were still opened to them to sign the pact.
Among the candidates who were absent at the meeting were former governor of Cross River State and presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Donald Duke, his Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) counterpart, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Omoyele Sowore of the Action Alliance (AA), among others.
The accord is an undertaking by all the presidential candidates to ensure peaceful and rancour-free campaigns before, during and after the 2019 general elections.
A similar peace accord was signed between former President Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari, prior to the conduct of the 2015 presidential elections.
In his speech, Buhari stressed the relevance of trust and his unwavering commitment towards a free, fair and credible election in 2019.
He said that for any society to function well, a culture of rules and compliance must be adhered to by all stakeholders.
On the absence of other presidential candidates, Abubakar affirmed that invitations were sent to all 73 presidential candidates of the 91 political parties in the country.
Abdulsalami, in his welcome address, emphasized the need for all the stakeholders to maintain a peaceful atmosphere before, during and after the elections.
He admonished the political actors to realise that there can be no credible election in an atmosphere characterised by violence.
According to him, all the stakeholders must commit to making the best out of the very worst situation in line with what obtained in 2015.
Abdulsalami said: "Politicians must learn to lead by example and temper their utterances and actions with responsibility and patriotism. I strongly appeal to all participants to endeavour to stick to the contents of the peace pact they signed, and to INEC to carry out its mandate as expected of it.
"Candidates have the capacity to make or mar the process, so they must watch their utterances and conduct themselves well ahead of the 2019 elections and beyond; it is pertinent to state that mere signing of the document will not achieve anything except all concerns accept to work by the rules," he stated.
Responding to the allegations that the invitation was not extended to both the PDP and its candidate, he said, "You have seen the number of parties that have been invited. He will answer for himself but speaking for the National Peace Committee, everybody was invited. What reasons do we have not to invite somebody? This accord was for all political parties to sign to be of goodwill and good behaviour during the elections.
"If there is a breakdown of communications somewhere I don't know," he said.
Asked if Atiku's absence would take a toll on the accord, Abdulsalami replied: "How would it? One candidate! I don't think it will weaken the accord."
When State House correspondents probed further by asking if he was not bothered that Ezekwesili, Duke were not also in attendance, Abdulsalami said: "Are you accusing the peace committee of working for the president? To this, the correspondent relied: No sir, we are not accusing you."
Then the conversation continued: "So, if you are not accusing us as far as we are concerned every party was invited and you can see the number of people that came," he said.
On whether there was still room for the absentee candidates to sign the pact at a later date, he said: "Of course, they are free to come and sign the peace accord. What surprises me is that when we had the conference with the political parties he (apparently referring to Atiku) came out and agreed on this agenda, the parties agreed and it was the recommendation that the peace committee has taken."
Gowon Tasks Candidates On Peace, Prudent Resource Management
In his key note address, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, charged politicians to embrace peace because it is a necessary tool for the development of the country.
Commenting on the proliferation of political parties in the country, he said that the more the platforms, "the more people of all generations find opportunity to participate in the democratic process."
Gowon, who spoke on the theme: "Trust and Democracy", urged the political elite not to betray their role in properly managing the resources of the country.
He said: "The beauty of democracy is that it avails the citizens the right to have a say in how they are governed; this right is abridged by the most brutal dictators in the word.
"Military incursion into our politics has led to misery and underdevelopment of our richly-endowed nation and contributed to defective democracy. All hope is not lost for the enthronement of true democracy in the country, which is why we must commend the NPC in sensitising everyone that elections are not a do-or-die contest.
"We should encourage them to consolidate on the successes of 2015, so that we can have even better polls in 2019. There are better issues of development than pursuing agenda of violence and hate speech. Promotion of ethnic and religious or mutual suspicion will not make us see the best in us, and will defeat the essence of democracy.
"There will be no benefit to allow the negatives override the positives in us. All those who aspire to lead the people should be acceptable and be seen to be acceptable to the people. That has worked and continues to work in good societies.
"I commend the political parties and the candidates here for showing commitment and putting the nation above political differences. Nigeria must win, and the nation will lose if we set aside the gains of this conference."
Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mohammed Uwais, who is a member of the committee, called for concerted efforts by all stakeholders towards ensuring peaceful elections in 2019.
The head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Ketil Karlsen, recalled that Nigeria set an example for Africa and the world in 2015 when the election was peaceful and the loser in the presidential race, accepting defeat.
He, however, expressed concerns on the growing phenomenon of "vote buying," saying the development if allowed to continue, would cast credibility questions on Nigeria's electoral process.
"We welcome steps taken so far towards 2019 and we continue to support free and fair polls. We urge all to avoid hate speech, violence and vote buying and say yes to peace, inclusiveness, gender equality and access for disabled persons. We again stress our impartiality as we do not support any particular party or candidate, but support institutions responsible for carrying out the appropriate mandate, "he said.
Among the notable personalities at the event were the vice chairman of the National Peace Committee and former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative in West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas; INEC chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu; Interior minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau; the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah; and chairman, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
I Was Not Invited To Peace Accord Signing - Atiku
Meanwhile, Atiku has maintained that he was not invited to the peace pact signing ceremony.
His media aide, Paul Ibe, in a tweet said that the former vice president was not present at the meeting because he did not receive any invitation to it.
Ibe said: "Following media enquiries as to the absence of HE @atiku from the signing of the peace pact, I wish to state that the PDP presidential candidate did not receive invitation to the event."
PDP Investigates Communication Lapse
The PDP yesterday stated that it was investigating the communication lapse which was responsible for the absence of Atiku at the peace accord signing ceremony.
Its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, while assuring Nigerians that the party is committed to peaceful election in 2019, said that it would "visit the office of the National Peace Committee, look into the peace document and fulfil all necessary obligations towards the peace accord ahead of the 2019 general elections."
Ologbondiyan, in a statement he issued yesterday, regretted that PDP was not represented at the ceremony due to communication lapse between the National Peace Committeeand the party's national secretariat.
"Already, the party is conducting investigations into the circumstances that could have resulted to this unfortunate communication lapse. Nevertheless, it is instructive to state that our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and the party are fully committed to a peaceful electoral process and elections in 2019," he said.
Atiku Unveils Plans To CAN
Also yesterday, Atiku in a statement from his media office, said he had honoured the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN's) invitation for an interactive session on his plans for governance if he wins the presidential election.
He was at the Ecumenical Centre in Abuja on Monday night for a two-hour interactive session with members of CAN who wanted to know how he would govern Nigeria if he wins the 2019 Presidential election.
Issues discussed during the session included how an Atiku government will improve power supply, increase the number of women and youth in governance, whether he was under any influence by foreign concerns to do their bidding, how the challenge of high maternal mortality rate will be addressed, how to grow the economy, put a check on insecurity and how he would stop nepotism in governance.
On power supply, Atiku said, he would adopt the "captive power strategy" where specific power stations would provide power supply for specific areas adding that the strategy would ensure availability of power supply across the country within his first two years in office. He said that a study has revealed that the adoption of captive power stations will yield greater results than reliance on gas to generate power. He also said that there were companies willing to provide power at affordable rate using the captive power strategy.
On growing insecurity in the country, he said that the incident would be stemmed by providing jobs for the teeming youths who were idle and willing to be used as instruments of destruction.
Speaking on nepotism, Atiku said "by my nature I am not like that" assuring that he would run an all-inclusive government devoid of any kind of cabal.
Responding to a question on how challenged persons would be accommodated in his government, he said that they would be accorded opportunities to manifest their full potentials and that he had granted scholarship to some of them to study up to their doctoral degrees.
Speaking on how to reduce Nigeria's high maternal mortality rate, Atiku said that his administration would promote healthcare delivery system that is comprehensive, efficient and can deliver effective and qualitative services to women. He added that his policy document which was launched in November 2018 details in full what was in store for women.
The Methodist Bishop of Ikeja Diocese and CAN Director of Mobilization and National Issues, Bishop Stephen Adegbite, told Atiku that "You have made history today by being the first presidential candidate to honor our invitation and we do not take it for granted",
Adegbite also observed that Atiku who spoke for the two hours duration the program lasted and convincingly addressed all the fears, issues and concerns raised by members of CAN, has demonstrated his physical fitness.
The event which attracted Christians from various denominations had panelists which included, Head, Anglican Communion in Nigeria, Primate Nicholas Okoh; Head, Legal of CAN, Barr. Samuel Kwankur.
Others are Bishop Anthony Anyiador, National Treasurer for CAN; Director of Youths, Engr. Abiodun Sanyaolu; Chaplain, National Christian Centre, Bishop Peter Ogunmuyiwa; Acting General Secretary of CAN, Barr. Joseph Daramola; National Coordinator for 2019 elections for CAN, Dr William Okoye and Chief Kenny Martins, among others.
Olawepo-Hashim Leads In Facebook Rating
Meanwhile, the weekly Facebook rating of presidential candidates in Nigeria has delivered a major upset as Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim of the People's Trust has overtaken.
In the data released on Monday in Abuja, Olawepo-Hashim recorded Facebook engagements of 28,000+ while Atiku had 24,000+.
Buhari had 16,000+ engagements while Moghalu, Fela Durotoye and the other presidential candidates trailed far behind with single digit ratings.
Last week data saw Olawepo-Hashim overtaking President Buhari.
Abubakar trailed Buhari two weeks ago but displaced the president in last week's data with Olawepo-Hashim in hot pursuit.
In the last three weeks, the PT's candidate has moved from third position to second and now to first based on engagement figures generated from the direct campaign handles of the three candidates.
Data analysts involved in the polling project said that the data on each of the candidates were realistic because "Facebook represents the broad spectrum of voters who will vote in the February poll."
The analysts said in their report that Olawepo-Hashim's growing engagement rating was a measure of voters' confidence on his candidacy.
"This is a game-changer from data perspective," according to Segun Seriki, the lead analyst for the project. He said: "The latest data point to a major upset within the struggle for Nigeria's presidency. We are making the report available to all the major candidates."