The presidential candidates of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his counterparts from the Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prince Adewole Adebayo and Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) were among the 18 presidential candidates that signed the National Peace Accord Thursday at the International Conference Centre (ICC) Abuja.
However, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was conspicuously absent but represented by his running mate, Senator Kassim Shettima.
Also in attendance were the APC national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, as well as his counterparts from other political parties, while the PDP national chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, was represented by a party official and former sports minister, Solomon Dalung representing the SDP chairman at the occasion.
The Abdulsalmi Abubakar-led National Peace Committee had invited both the presidential candidates and national chairmen to sign the peace accord.
Speaking at the occasion attended by Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the Inspector General of Police, Baba Alkali, as well as many national chairmen and secretaries of political parties, chairman of the committee, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.) said “fake news has shifted focus away from issue-based campaigns and created the platform for political parties to resort to name calling, personal insults and character assassination.
“Furthermore, it has taken away our civility and decency in public discourse and conversations and created a toxic atmosphere that has the potential to incite citizens against the state, against the political parties and candidates.
“It is for this reason that the National Peace Committee has organised the signing of the two peace accords for the 2023 general elections. The first peace accord which holds today, is to commit all political parties, presidential candidates and their spokespersons to peaceful political campaigns and rallies devoid of violence, incitement and personal insults, but defined by issues at the very heart of national development and progress.
“The second peace accord will come up shortly before the elections and it is intended to commit candidates to accepting the outcome of the votes as long as it is adjudged to be free, fair and credible.”
Abubakar enjoined the stakeholders “to promote issue based campaigns. We are calling on the politicians to address issues that are fundamental to the Nigerian citizens, to promote respect and tolerance for the differences in opinions. We want to ensure that there is civility and decency in public discourse.”
He, therefore, appealed to the party chairmen, presidential candidates and their spokespersons “to campaign on the basis of issues that are of significant concern to Nigerians.
“Avoid the spread of fake news, personal attacks and insults and comply with the spirit and letter of the accord.”
In a recorded goodwill message, President Muhammadu Buhari reiterated his commitment to peaceful, free, fair, credible and transparent elections.
He said: “What the National Peace Committee has done over the years aligns with his belief that Nigeria needed peace in order to achieve credible elections.”
Buhari however observed that the rise in the spread of fake news continues to pose a significant threat to democracy in Nigeria.
According to the president, it shifts focus away from issue-based campaigns to amplifying personal attacks.
He said “the 2023 general elections is the mother of elections. It is an opportunity to serve Nigeria, to defend Nigeria and to uphold her unity and progress.
“Therefore, I call on all Nigerians, political parties, politicians, security agencies, the Independent National Electoral Commission and all stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria is placed first above regional and sectional claims.
“I appeal to the contestants, especially their publicity agents and media advisers, to shun personal attacks, avoid incense and incitement, reject the spread of fake news and be commuted to issue-based campaigns and political rallies.”
Also in a message, former President Goodluck Jonathan urged politicians to run their campaigns based on issues that affect Nigerians and avoid needless attacks on personalities and use of abusive language.
He said political stability in any country was usually measured by the quality of elections, adding that “the expectation is for Nigeria’s democracy to be consolidated in such a way that our electoral process will be seen to record incremental progress at the end of every election cycle.
“Unfortunately, this has not been the case as there are signs of inconsistencies with the progress we make in our elections.
“As citizens of this great country, we have the responsibility to redirect our steps, strive to work hard and do the right thing to avoid the stagnation of our democracy,” Jonathan said.
As an election observer in many countries, the former president said many African countries were working hard to improve their elections and deepen the roots of democracy in their land.
He expressed delight that peaceful elections were recently recorded in Kenya and many other African countries, saying he expected “our country to raise the bar for credible and transparent elections by ensuring that our electoral processes are peaceful, free and fair in 2023.”
Speaking at the event, INEC chairman, Professor Yakubu warned political parties against violent campaigns.
He said the commission would vigorously monitor compliance to ensure that parties shun abusive, intemperate, or slanderous language as well as insinuations likely to provoke a breach of peace during the campaigns.
The INEC helmsman also urged political parties and their candidates to study and familiarise themselves with the electoral legal framework to avoid any infraction of the law.
Yakubu said: “In line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and in our determination to play our role as a regulator, the commission will vigorously monitor compliance to ensure that parties shun abusive, intemperate or slanderous language as well as insinuations or innuendoes likely to provoke a breach of the peace during the electioneering campaigns.
“Similarly, the commission will also closely monitor compliance with the limits on campaign spending under the Electoral Act. There are sanctions provided by law. Political parties and candidates should study and familiarise themselves with the electoral legal framework to avoid any infraction of the law and the unhappy consequences that will follow any act of misdemeanour.
“The 2023 general election will be conducted for 1,491 constituencies nationwide made up of one Presidential constituency, 28 Governorship elections, 109 Senatorial Districts, 360 Federal constituencies, and 993 State Assembly constituencies.
“Every constituency is important. Every election is important. Therefore, the commitment to peaceful and issue-based electioneering campaign should resonate beyond the 18 party chairmen and presidential candidates present here today. It is not enough to simply sign the Peace Accord.
“What is more important is to abide by its letter and spirit. You should similarly pass the message to all your candidates, members and supporters across the country for compliance. This will be your own way of showing appreciation for the work of the NPC and an affirmation of your contribution to electoral peace in Nigeria.”