Abuja — At the prompting of former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, frontline presidential candidates in the Saturday election, President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday shook hands.
This took place amid cheers by other election observers who attended the final signing of the peace accord by the duo and 70 other contenders in Abuja.
Johnson-Sirleaf is leading the ECOWAS observer mission to Nigeria. The event, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, was also attended by other foreign and local monitors. The first accord was signed on December 11, 2018.
Buhari is the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) while Atiku is of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Buhari, in his address after the signing ceremony, urged fellow contestants to commit to the final outcome of the polls.
"We, the presidential candidates are here to sign and commit ourselves to do all that is possible to ensure the success of the elections but most importantly to accept the final outcome. I appeal to my fellow contestants to commit to these ideals so as to keep our country and people safe. INEC, our electoral umpire, has already assured us that they have done everything possible to ensure free and fair elections."
The president, who noted the anxiety in the air, especially coming after one of the most peaceful elections in the history of the country, in which he emerged the winner, expressed optimism that the players are mature in their disposition towards electoral outcomes.
"Another election is upon us, and not unexpectedly, there is anxiety in the air. This is typical of any form of competition and contest, no matter how well prepared all contestants and regulators are. The forthcoming elections are very special and significant for the growth of our democracy.
"First, they come immediately after one of the most peaceful elections in the history of our country. I am not saying this because I was blessed to emerge as the winner. I am saying there have been a lot of fears and anxieties from within and outside Nigeria about the future of the country. We are hopeful that this is evidence that we are all maturing in our disposition towards electoral outcomes. We see this as an opportunity to grow our sense of political culture in Nigeria."
"I call on all Nigerians to contribute to the building of a viable polity by more active participation well beyond the mere casting of votes. Elections by themselves do not constitute democracy. It is the spirit of citizenship engagement that utilizes the energy of citizens towards the attainment of good governance."
He said the electoral umpire had received all the resources it needed to perform its assignment.
"Our security agencies have been fully briefed and they know that their visible neutrality is key to the conduct, credibility and success of the elections."
In his speech, Atiku appealed to every official and the leadership of INEC and the Nigeria Police to be fair arbiters while letting neutrality prevail.
"As we prepare to sign off on this peace accord, as representatives of our party and people, may I freely quote the words of former President Goodluck Jonathan, which remains a benchmark, for me, taking into account the deep feelings that prevail as February 16th, 2019, approaches: 'My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.'
"For emphasis and in the spirit of fair play, I also urge our security agencies, not to embark on indiscriminate arrests of members of the opposition, 24 to 48 hours before elections, as had been the case in previous elections.
"Hopefully, our democracy should emerge stronger from this process with the 2019 elections proving better managed than the 2015 process, which was adjudged free and fair with the then opposition's victory unobstructed
"Consequently, I also appeal to President Buhari to use his good offices to ensure that every eligible person who casts vote is confident in the process and in the belief that the vote will count.
"Additionally, every candidate must remember that this election is about the future of Nigeria, therefore, we must abide by the will of the people as freely expressed through elections, under the terms of our constitution.
"Despite concerns expressed by my party leaders concerning likely electoral malpractices and the intimidation of voters and observers, I trust that our election officials and security services will do their duty in accordance with their oath and obligations," Atiku said.
The Chairman of the National Peace Committee and former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, said the panel organised the event to ensure a peaceful conduct of all elections in the country.
According to him, elections will not hold in the absence of peaceful atmosphere, even governance after election will not be peaceful without a peaceful environment. "Don't make anything to make a bad situation worse," he said, noting that disharmony among political parties retards Nigeria's development.
According to him, mere signing of the peace accord will not achieve the required objective "unless all other actors are forced to work with the same rules."
Abdulsalami alleged spreading of misinformation in the nation's mosques and churches. "This must be contained," he said.
Another former head of state, Gen Yakubu Gowon, urged the candidates to prevail on their supporters to conduct themselves with decorum during the elections so that in the future, there may be no need for foreign observers because the right disposition would have been assured.
"May the winner be as dictated from above," he said.
The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, said millions of people across the world were praying for Nigeria and its people hoping that the elections would hold peacefully.
She noted that the Saturday's elections would be the sixth since 1999 when the country returned to democracy after military rule. She said all concerned should not fail by ensuring a credible and transparent election.
The Convener of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, said it should be an opportunity for the country to get it right. He also urged security agencies to be neutral, noting that elections are not the responsibility of state institutions like the army, police and other security agencies.
Others in attendance included a former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, who heads the Commonwealth observer mission; Festus Moghai, a former president of Botswana who is heading the Democratic National Institute and Republic National Institute, chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu; and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Kukah.