Abuja — Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has cast doubt over the possibility of having free, fair and credible elections in 2019 in the wake of President Muhammadu Buhari's refusal to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law.
The former Vice President made the remark yesterday at the Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah Centre, Abuja, where he signed the peace accord to commit himself to peaceful elections in 2019.
Atiku failed to turn up at the International Conference Centre on Tuesday where President Muhammadu Buhari and scores of other Presidential candidates honoured the invitation by the National Peace Committee chaired by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) to commit to a peace agreement.
Speaking a few minutes after signing the agreement, Atiku flanked by his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi and the PDP Presidential Campaign Deputy Director General, Tanimu Turaki, said as a democrat from day one, he would continue to champion the cause of justice for the good of Nigeria and Nigerians.
He said: "I am delighted that Mr President has agreed to sign this peace accord. I will want to appeal to him to also sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. Mr. President needs to understand that as long as he refuses to sign the bill, we will have doubts that this government is truly committed to free, fair and credible elections.
"I am a democrat ab initio. I was never converted. I have always been a democrat. And I fought the military to return this country to democracy. However, the best way to guarantee peace in any election is to ensure manifest justice to all concerned."
Shortly after signing the peace accord, Atiku had an interactive session with Nigerian women, promising to get them involved in the governance of the nation if elected into office.
While enjoining the mammoth crowd of women gathered at the Chida Hotel, Abuja, Atiku asked them not to forget that while he served as Vice President of the country (1999-2007), he did his best by attracting some of the brightest women to government.
"PDP has never from day one not try to advance or protect the interest of women. That is why our first interactive session is with women. This is the first interaction session we are having with any group and this is to underline the importance of women as far as our party is concerned.
"Since you are about 50% of our population, our representatives at all levels must reflect this population. Some will argue that gender equality is a deal that cannot be achieved overnight, I disagree.
"We can achieve it. The PDP almost achieve it until the government of the All Progressives Congress, APC came and took you back again.
"I stand before you here today and I want you to hold me accountable. I will commit to a strong representation of women in our PDP government and also recall that when I was the Vice President, I demonstrated this belief.
"I brought some of the brightest women into our government. Therefore, gender should not be a barrier. In terms of quantity and quality, women will play a lead role in our administration," he added.
Amidst thunderous applause from the obviously elated women, Atiku promised to put in place a financial programme with the sole aim of lifting women out of poverty.
He continued, "I will also build a sustainable financial inclusion system that positively try to address discrimination against women. For those of you who might have come from the same state with me, some years ago, I decided to set up a microfinance bank.
"I brought management experts from Bangladesh because Bangladesh is the best country in the management of micro finance and I gave them instructions to make sure that 80% of the loans go to women and today that bank is one of the best micro finance banks in the country.
"We have moved out more than 45, 000 people out of poverty in my area. If you want to fight poverty, empower women. I am not talking politics, I am sentimentally and emotionally attached to womanhood," he stated.
The peace agreement commits the signatories to among others :
"Run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels;
"Commit ourselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence to this Accord by a National Peace Committee made up of respected statesmen and women, traditional and religious leaders;
"Support all institutions of government including the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the security agencies to act and be seen to act with impartiality; and
"Forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all acts of electoral violence whether perpetuated by our supporters and/or opponents."