From left: National Chairman, All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; President Muhammadu Buhari; Chairman National Peace Committee, Abdulsalam Abubakar; and Vice Chairman National Peace Committee Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, during the signing of a peace accord by President Buhari and other political parties' presidential candidates for the 2019 General Election, in Abuja yesterday
I was not invited - Atiku
Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, was absent yesterday during the signing of a peace accord for the next year's general election.
The event was convened by the National Peace Committee under the chairmanship of the former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar President Muhammadu Buhari and other candidates signed the peace pact, tagged "Abuja Accord 2018."
Buhari signed the pact alongside the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole at 4.27pm. The national chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus was also absent.
Other presidential candidates absent at the event are Donald Duke of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressives Party (YPP), Oby Ezekwesili of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), and Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress (AAC).
In the build-up to the 2015 election, the committee facilitated the signing of the peace accord between former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Buhari and 12 other candidates for the presidential election.
Prominent personalities at the event were United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative in West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas; Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakub.
Others are Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar; Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; former Chief Justice of the Federation, Mohammed Lawal Uwais; Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah; Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen; and chairman Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
Why PDP, Atiku did not attend
The PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar last night explained why they did not take part in signing the peace accord.
The party in a statement last night by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the PDP would visit the office of the NPC to look into the details of the document and fulfill its obligation in order to guarantee a peaceful election.
"The party regrets that it was not represented at the signing of the peace accord in Abuja on Tuesday, due to communication lapse between the National Peace Committee (NPC) and 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.
"Our presidential candidate is known worldwide as a global ambassador of peace, who will always support processes that will engender peace in our country and the world over.
"In the same vein, our party is also known for peaceful conduct in all activities, electoral processes and all elections conducted at all levels in our country, since its inception in 1998," the party said.
Similarly, Paul Ibe, media adviser to Atiku, said his principal did not receive an invitation.
"I can confirm to you that His Excellency Atiku Abubakar, Presidential candidate of the PDP and former Vice President of Nigeria did not receive any formal invitation to the signing of the peace pact," he said.
Speaking on the matter, a source in the Atiku campaign organization, said as a peace-loving citizen, the former vice president did not violate any law by not signing the accord.
"The PDP presidential candidate will do everything humanly possible to ensure a hitch-free election in 2019; this is despite the fact that he is fully aware that the APC led government is not willing to conduct a free and fair election.
"So, the world is watching; it is one thing to sign the peace accord and it is another thing for the ruling government under the APC which is desperate to win to do the right thing," he said.
Atiku's absence won't weaken accord - Abdulsalami
In his remarks, General Abubakar said 91 political parties and 73 presidential candidates were invited.
He described the signing of the pact as a crowning moment for the consolidation of all peace efforts so far made towards the forthcoming general elections.
"There is nothing bigger than keeping the peace before, during and after elections," he said, calling for code of conducts by all political parties to promote consultations, inclusiveness, and transparency of the electoral process.
He said during their interactions with the chairman of INEC and commissioners, they assured them of their commitment to conduct free, fair and credible elections, come 2019.
On the absence of Atiku, the former head of state told journalists that, "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 good will and good behavior during elections. If there is a breakdown of communications somewhere, I don't know."
On whether Atiku's absence will weaken the accord, he said "How will it? One candidate? I don't think it will weaken the accord."
He, however, said there was room for Atiku and all other candidates to sign the pact.
"Of course, they are open to come and sign the peace accord. What surprises me is that when we had the conference with the political parties, he came out and agreed on this agenda, the parties agreed and it was the recommendation that the peace committee has taken," he said.
The world is watching, Buhari says
In his address, President Buhari said the signing of the pact was very important for a peaceful political process, saying "the world is watching."
"The conduct of our elections has been consistently marred by violence caused by the behaviours of most sections of the political class and their supporters, but there are encouraging signs that we are learning to embrace the responsibilities expected of us.
"We are here to commit ourselves, as key actors in the political process; party leaders and presidential candidates, to peaceful and credible conduct of the process. We, the candidates pledge to uphold the highest standard of conducts and encourage our teeming supporters to do same.
"I wish to call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all arms of security agencies to put the nation first in their conduct. The world is watching us and the task of building or institutionalising trust in our political system and institution is fundamental to the growth and development of our country," he said.
What the peace accord says
The five points accord commit the candidates, "to run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels; in this, we pledge to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious incitement ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and by all agents acting in our names."
It urged the candidates: "to 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."
It further asked the candidates "to commit themselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence to the accord by a National Peace Committee made up of respected statesmen and women, traditional and religious leaders."
The pact also tasked the candidates "to support all the institutions of government including INEC and security agencies to act and be seen to act with impartiality."
Finally, it commits them "to forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence, whether perpetrated by supporters and/or opponents."
EU welcomes steps taken on 2019 polls
Also speaking at the occasion, Head of EU delegation to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, said that Nigeria set an example for Africa and the world in 2015 with a peaceful transition.
He said the steps so far taken on the forthcoming general election would enable the country to consolidate on the gains recorded in the last general elections.
Appealing to INEC to maintain its independence, he tasked the country's security agencies to be neutral.
"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 for institutions responsible for carrying out the appropriate mandate," he said.