Ahead of next year’s general elections, the National Peace Committee has expressed concerns over some flashpoints in the country, saying they pose serious threat to the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), before and during the exercise.
Chairman of the committee and former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd), disclosed this on Thursday, at a meeting with INEC officials, led by its Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu.
He, however, assured that the committee had noted the flashpoints as identified by INEC, with a view to making necessary intervention.
The former Nigerian leader also reiterated the committee’s determination to ensure that the political arena is sanitised, urging the media to play their role in educating the politicians and the g citizens on the need for issue-based campaign.
He said: “We have invited the chairman of INEC and he has come here with his high-powered delegation. For the last one hour or so, he has briefed us on the preparation for the election, his challenges and what he is going to do in order to make sure that there is a successful free and fair election.
“We have taken note of such flashpoints in the states where he wants the peace committee to intervene in order to bring peace so that elections would be conducted.
“On our part, we will do the best we can in order to help sanitise the political arena; you members of the press also have a role and a duty to educate our people and the politicians so that when they go on campaigning, they campaign on issues and there should be politics without bitterness, there shouldn’t be any rancour.
“You also help us educate our citizens so that they avoid being used as thugs during campaign and during elections. You also help us educate Nigerians on their citizens’ rights so that they check whether they have received their PVCs and ensure that their names are properly registered to avoid ballot box snatching and all types of hooliganism during the elections.
“Our people should realise that peace is very paramount in any society; there must be peace before we conduct elections, there must be peace before we have a country. So I will implore all of you here, you know what people see, what people read, they have a tendency to believe into to.
“So, make sure you educate our people and help in voter education and all the necessary things to be done, so that there will be peaceful elections. Like I told you earlier on, the purpose of this meeting is to get a briefing from the INEC, and I want to thank the chairman and his team for coming this morning.”
He further said, “the next stage is that we are going to meet with the chairman and secretaries of political parties tomorrow in order to discuss and also listen to them, and to see how we can make progress.
“After the meeting with political parties, we are going to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding for peace and tranquility, and this we hope, will be signed by all the presidential candidates and the chairmen of the registered parties.”
Asked to name the flashpoints, the former head of state, stated that his committee was specifically worried about Rivers state as well as the North-east geo political zone, currently being ravaged by insurgency.
He said: “I believe you are Nigerians; you are the people who tell us where there is crisis. You should know all these things. Rather than you asking me, I think you should also help telling us where the crises are. Well, since you have asked me a question, I will answer.
“In particular, we have problems in Rivers state and some other areas where problems are emerging. So, we try to see how we nip the problems in the bud, and you help us in giving us the information where you think we should intervene; it is not only the INEC that has the responsibility, all of us as Nigerians have a role to play.
“I will just say that all of us are worried about the security situation in the North-east and it is necessary that we try to contain the violence there in order for INEC to go there and conduct election.
“You should know that INEC will not send people to endanger their lives in order to conduct elections and in actual fact, no agent or no political party will endanger the lives of its people in any conflict area. So, we hope we’ll be able to contain that violence in order to allow elections.”
He also spoke about the excesses of the politicians as a major challenge to the 2019 general elections.
“Well, mainly on the extremities of the political parties. We have seen during their primaries either direct or indirect or whatever it is, we have seen report from you, the media people where there are imposition of candidates. So, these are part of the challenges,” the committee said.
On the ongoing campaigns, Abdulsalami said, “we are all Nigerians; we see what is happening. All I can say is that we will try to sanitise the polity to make sure there are no hate speeches, to make sure there is decent campaign during election, where there will be no name calling and all sorts of undesired utterances.
“Like all Nigerians, we pray and hope and we get assurances that INEC will do the right thing that the political parties will help them in exercising their right to free and fair election. Each Nigerian has a role to play and I hope they will play their part.”
While speaking about the readiness of the electoral body for next year’s elections, General Abubakar called on the political parties to send the name of their candidates and agents on time to INEC to avoid the inconveniences they such may generate.
“As far as INEC is concerned, they are 100 per cent ready but the political parties also have to assist them in ensuring that they send the names of their agents so that there is no wahala in the ups and downs of the candidates so that they can now finalise the printing of the ballot paper and other issues. As far as INEC is concerned from the briefing we received, they are ready.”
Present at the meeting were the Archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Hassan Kuka, former second in command to former Head of State, Ebitu Ukiwe, the Primate of the Anglican Communion, Nicholas Okoh, Catholic Arch Bishop of the Abuja Diocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, and former National Chairman, Inter Party Advisory Council, Dr Yunusa Tanko among others.