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EDITORIAL

Towards Peaceful Elections

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With barely a month to the 2019 general election, we have deemed it necessary to reiterate the call for peaceful polls. Nigeria cannot continue to allow the shedding of the blood of its citizens just to elect a new set of leaders.

Last year, thousands of lives have been wasted through man-made causes such as insurgency, farmers/herders clashes, communal clashes, road accidents, armed robbery and ritual killings, among others, which stretched our security agencies.

Sadly, one cannot help  but point out that the present political atmosphere is one that, if not checked, can lead to further violence and bloodshed. The campaign rhetoric is brimming with propaganda, rumours, half-truths, outright lies and attacks on the personal integrity of opponents. There is also heightened suspicion that some persons are bent on manipulating the process in their favour.

Election-related violence is not a new experience for Nigeria and Nigerians. The country’s peace has been breached during nearly every election cycle, starting from pre-independence times. Notably, the complications arising from post-independence election violence  unsettled the country’s  nascent democracy in no small measure and was credited with laying the foundation for the fall of the first republic. Since then, the breach of the peace during elections has continued to cost the nation dearly in human and material terms.

In 2011, the Human Rights Watch reported that deadly election-related and communal violence in northern Nigeria following the April 2011 presidential vote left more than 800 persons dead and  over 65,000 people displaced.

The 2015 election was one also where tension remained high as rumours of planned election violence seeped through the political space and left many Nigerians tense and in tear of their lives, with  many people relocating to their hometowns days to the elections to avoid being caught up in any possible violence. Luckily, action of the then president, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in congratulating his rival, Muhammadu Buhari, while the votes were still being counted, saved the day and put a lie to the doomsday prediction of former U.S. ambassador  to Nigeria, John Campbell, that Nigeria would disintegrate as a result of crises that would erupt after that election.

However, as Nigerians prepare to cast their votes from February 16, there is the need to remind political parties and their candidates about the need to sound the drums of peace throughout the electioneering process, the election days and subsequently.

Candidates running for various political offices should take it as their  responsibility not only to speak out, but also show by their actions and body language that they will not brook or accept any form of violence or other untoward behaviour from any of their supporters.

It is heart-warming that the leading presidential candidates, including the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, have publicly signed a peace accord to respect the process and accept the will of Nigerians expressed through their ballot. This peace move should cascade to all the states and local councils where elections are going to take place.

It is of paramount importance that candidates running for various positions should take the time to counsel their supporters to practice decorum and place value on the life and property of Nigerians, which is the whole essence of governance in the first place.

As a newspaper, we are convinced that we can have peaceful elections this year if political parties and their candidates make it their responsibility to conduct effective voter education across the nation prior to the election. Also, the security agencies should join in this exercise by educating the general public about the electoral laws and the punishments and other consequences that await anyone caught breaching any of  them.

We deem it necessary to point out that a vital element in having  peaceful polls is the perception of fairness or otherwise in the conduct of the elections. In this wise, we are constrained to enjoin both the Independent National Electoral Commission  (INEC) and the security agencies not just to maintain, but also demonstrate their neutrality in the exercise of their constitutional mandates of administering the election and securing the process respectively. Anything to the contrary could cause incalculable harm to our country in general and our democracy in particular.

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