Former head of state and chairman, National Peace Committee (NPC), General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), yesterday warned that political actors who violate the Edo State governorship election peace accord will put their integrity on line.
The former Nigerian leader, who charged all stakeholders to use the Edo election as a test for future polls, underscored the need for every Nigerian to be given an opportunity to cast his or her vote without intimidation or coercion.
Abdulsalami spoke during the signing of a peace accord by the candidates in Benin City, the Edo State capital, ahead of the governorship election holding this Saturday.
The peace meeting convened by Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah, was attended by chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Muhammed Adamu.
The two leading contenders in the election Governor Godwin Obaseki of PDP and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of APC, other candidates who signed the peace accord and party leaders were also present at the event.
The peace accord, the first of its kind by the NPC for a state election, is coming sequel to series of violent outbursts that trailed the campaigns in the state.
The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, had summoned Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu and party leaders from PDP and APC over the skirmishes arising from the campaigns, warning the political actors to stop their supporters from causing unrest in the state.
Speaking at the event yesterday, General Abdulsalami warned that any political actor who reneges on the peace agreement would rubbish his or her integrity.
He added that with the INEC chairman’s assurances to be neutral and the Police IG’s vow to ensure adequate security, the people of Edo should come out and vote on the Election Day.
The former head of state also lauded the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, for his efforts at bringing the warring parties together when the tension was at its peak.
He said, “The gubernatorial election in Edo State is just a few days away and giving peace during and after the election is a priority that must be done. We as a people should aspire to see Nigeria where people feel safe to come out of their homes to cast their votes without any fear.
“As you are all aware the election cannot hold in the absence of a peaceful atmosphere. All contesting parties need to adopt a code of conduct that will remove confrontation among them.
“By agreeing to sign this covenant of peace all of you are committing yourselves to ensure an enduring peace in Nigeria and Edo State before, during and after the election and agreeing to look beyond short term political gains, sectoral interests or narrow party advantage and accepting nothing but for the development of Edo State.
“As we go into the elections, we have been given all assurances by the INEC chairman and he has repeated it here this morning; he told us that they are ready with all the necessary materials and they will conduct a free and fair election haven got this, the rest is left for you the voters to what is right by desisting from selling your votes thereby selling your rights, freedom and conscience.
“Similarly the Inspector General of Police who was here yesterday and who is ably represented by the DIG has assured that the police are here to ensure that there is peace and tranquility and citizens who want to vote will do so freely.
“I urge all of us to use the process of election in Edo as a test of future elections as reiterated by President Muhammadu Buhari let every Nigerian be respected and be given an opportunity cast his or her vote without intimidation or coercion and once that vote is casted let us applaud that vote.
“I ask all the stakeholders and key people here present to commit to the spirit of this accord while also remembering that the violators of this accord are putting their integrity on line because you are signing this as ladies and gentlemen who are to be taken for your words.
“We therefore call on everyone to work to ensuring a peaceful election process to ensure that peace reign in Edo state during and after the election”.
On his part, Bishop Kukah who admitted that the peace meeting was a rare occasion as the committee usually works during presidential elections, said, “This is one of the very rare occasions where the peace committee has to roll out its drum to accompany gubernatorial candidates. Usually we do our work at the level of presidential election.”
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who reiterated the readiness of the commission to conduct a credible election, said NPC has demonstrated that so much can be achieved in nation-building by the force of moral authority rather than statutory authority.
He said, “INEC working with civil society organisations and other stakeholders will continue to support the work of the peace committee. We welcome this initiative. Our preparation for deployment of personnel and materials, new innovations in result management, the safety of personnel, security of materials and above all the credibility of the election have all been negatively impacted by violence and malpractices.
Also, the IGP who was represented by Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Research and Planning, Adeleye Oyebade, said the “police would work with sister security agencies to ensure a peaceful exercise.”
In his remarks, the Oba of Benin who was represented by the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebiri, applauded the initiators of the peace accord, saying elections in Edo have never been this tense.
He stated: “I want to tell you that elections in Edo State have never produced such a bloody outcome. The first election I participated in was in Benin in 1952. Since then I have participated in every national, sub-national, local government election that took place in Nigeria.
“The Omo N’Oba is very happy that the committee is here to help to bring peace to this kingdom of Benin and the rest of Edo”.
Reacting to the peace arrangement, Governor Obaseki urged the committee to also look out for non-state actors whom he said have influence over voters.
The governor however added that as a candidate and chief security officer of the state, he will abide by the peace pact.
He said, “I want to say that on behalf of myself, as a candidate of the party and my party, and the PDP, we are fully committed to ensuring that we have a peaceful election.
“I have no choice because in addition to being a candidate, I am also the governor and the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of the state. I want to commit publicly, once again, that I will live by the letter and spirit of the accord that has just been signed”.
Obaseki Assures Of Victory
Meanwhile, Governor Obaseki declared yesterday that with the support of Edo people and endorsements by over 100 groups in the state, he was certain of victory in Saturday’s gubernatorial election.
The governor who gave the assurance at the final reelection campaign of PDP in Benin City urged eligible voters in the state to come out en-masse to vote for PDP to enable him consolidate on the achievements recorded in his first term and put an end to godfatherism in the state.
Present at the rally were former vice presidential candidate of PDP in the 2019 general elections, Mr Peter Obi; chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal; chairman, South South Governors’ Forum and Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa; Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Seyi Makinde (Oyo); Ben Ayade (Cross River); Duoye Diri (Bayelsa); Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) among other dignitaries.
Speaking at the event Obaseki said, “I don’t have anything to say to you my Edo people but to thank you; you have been wonderful especially as we went through the 192 wards to seek your support for reelection.
“We will win this election because so far over 100 groups have endorsed me for the race. With groups like the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Trade Union Congress (TUC) Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), National Union of Pensioners (NUP) and other groups in the state behind me, tell me how we will lose the election.
“Democracy is not a government of godfathers but a government of the people, by the people and for the people. In Edo we have been fighting godfatherism and by Saturday we will put an end to it and after that go to Lagos and put an end to godfatherism in Nigeria.
“The godfather disturbing Nigeria came up this morning; he is afraid because he knows when we finish that of Edo, we will come for him in Lagos and finally end godfatherism in Nigeria”.
We’ll conduct ourselves peacefully – Ize-Iyamu
On his part, the APC candidate, Ize-Iyamu, reaffirmed his commitment and that of APC to what had been signed, assuring Nigerians and the people of Edo State that APC supporters will conduct themselves peacefully.
He said, “We will do our best to ensure that the election is peaceful. We support free, fair and credible elections. We believe that is the only way that we can sustain our democracy.
“We want to assure all our dignitaries that by the grace of God, the election is going to be very peaceful. We thank you and we are grateful”.
Speaking also, Tambuwal urged INEC and security agencies to ensure the conduct of a free, fair and credible poll in the state.
He said: “I learnt they are coming to Edo with a bullion van. Don’t sell your votes; vote and protect your votes.
“I am appealing to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a free, fair and credible election. I also want to appeal to all the security agencies not to intimidate anybody on election day. Even when you are being intimidated, don’t run home, stay back and protect your votes,” he said.
On his part, Governor Okowa said, “This is the first time a governor went round from ward-to-ward to campaign. As you vote, remain vigilant and shine your eyes. No one can cheat the majority. Edo will not be left out; all South-south states are PDP, so we don’t want anybody to cheat on us.”
Also speaking, Governor Wike said, “If we must fight and put an end to godfatherism in Nigeria, it must start on Saturday in Edo State. The IGP has assured us of a secure election in Edo and the INEC chairman has also assured Edo people of a free, fair and credible election but don’t let us go and sleep with all these promises but stay awake and be vigilant and ensure that Obaseki wins.
“Obaseki must be voted for, to bring an end to godfatherism in Nigeria. The Edo election is important as it will show the way out to eliminate godfatherism in Nigeria,” the governor stated.
INEC To Prosecute 3 Varsity Dons For Election Malpractice
Meanwhile, three University lecturers alleged to have been found culpable in electoral malpractices during the 2019 general elections are to be arraigned in court by INEC in Akwa Ibom State.
This was revealed yesterday by the state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr Mike Igini, while addressing journalists at the commission’s headquarters in Uyo.
Similarly, three staffers of the commission from the ICT unit have been sacked over their involvement in electoral malpractices.
According to Igini, this action became necessary because of the unsustainable belief by some members of the public that the commission does not sanction persons involved in electoral malpractices during elections.
He said the importance of the action cannot be overemphasised as the country must have an institution that has integrity to protect.
“This will serve as a lesson and a clear message to any INEC staff who would want to engaged in such grievous act.“
He regretted that despite the training given to the electoral officers and staff of the commission, they went a different way in involving themselves in unethical conduct by manipulating and falsifying election result thereby producing outcomes that were contrary to the will of the people.
Igini noted: “The lecturers who were engaged as Collation and Returning Officers during the 2019 general elections were reported to have manipulated and falsified election results aimed at producing outcomes contrary to the will of the people as expressed through the ballot.
“Following a formal request by the Commission the authorities of the affected institutions released the lecturers to appear before an investigative panel set up by INEC headquarters on the 12th and 26th August 2020.
“The panel subsequently established a prima facie documentary evidence of deliberate criminal manipulation of election results against the Collation/Returning Officers. They will be arraigned in court accordingly.
“In any electoral environment, and to earn the confidence of voters, anybody who faults the process must be punished. And so in the days ahead the commission is going to arraign in court a number of academic lecturers from the rank of Doctors and Professors in court for grievous deliberate act of election malpractices.
“As I speak to you, not less than three of the staff of the commission from the ICT unit, those in the rank of executive and administrative officers, were also involved in the action that completely undermined the electoral process and integrity of the commission”.