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Presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party(PDP) and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, former Governor of Cross River state and Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Donald Duke, including the candidate of Allied Congress Party, Obiageli Ezekwesili were conspicuously absent as stakeholders gathered to append their signatures to a national peace accord.
While the signing ceremony was on with other candidates on the ground, our correspondent observed that neither the PDP nor its presidential candidate was at the event.
When a call was put through to Atiku’s media aide, Paul Ibe, he disclosed that his principal was not invited for the peace accord officially.
However, the National Peace Committee chaired by former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar confirmed that invitation was sent to all 73 presidential candidates out of the 91 registered political parties.
Others absent at the occasion were Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressives Party (YPP), Omoyele Sowore of Action Alliance, among others.
Gen. Abubakar (rtd) while giving a welcome address emphasized the need for all stakeholders to maintain a peaceful atmosphere before and after the elections.
He said all the political actors should realize that there can be no credible election in an atmosphere characterized by violence.
According to Abubakar, all the stakeholders must commit to making the best out of the very worst situation, just as what transpired in 2015.
“Politicians must learn to lead by example and temper their utterances and action with responsibility and patriotism. I strongly appeal to all participants to endeavor to stick to the contents of the peace pact they signed, and to INEC to carry out its mandate as expected of it.
“Candidates have the capacity to make or mar the process, so they must watch their utterances and conduct themselves well ahead of the 2019 elections and beyond, it is pertinent to state that mere signing of the document will not achieve anything except all concerns accept to work by the rules,” he noted.
Responding to allegations that the invitation was not extended to both the PDP and its candidate, the NPC said, “You have seen the number of parties that have been invited. He will answer for himself but speaking for the National peace committee, everybody was invited. What reasons do we have not to invite somebody? This accord was for all political parties to sign to be of good will and good behavior during elections.
“If there is a breakdown of communications somewhere I don’t know”.
Asked if Atiku’s absence will weaken the accord, he responded saying, “How will it? One candidate? I don’t think it will weaken the accord.
Also asked by State House correspondents if he was not bothered that Ezekwesili, Duke were not also in attendance;
Abdulsalam said, “Are you accusing the peace committee of working for the President?
No, we are not accusing you
The conversation continued: “So if you are not accusing us as far as we are concerned every party was invited and you can see the number of people that came.
On whether there was still room for those that were absent to come at a later date to sign the document?
He said, “Of course, they are open to come and sign the peace accord. What surprises me is that when we had the conference with the political parties he came out and agreed on this agenda, the parties agreed and it was the recommendation that the peace committee has taken”.
Meanwhile, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon who gave a keynote address, said politicians must imbibe peace in their day to day affairs as it was a necessary tool to foster development for our country.
Reacting to the proliferation of political parties in the country, he said the more the platform, the more people of all generation find opportunity to participate in the process.
Gowon, who spoke on the theme: “Trust and Democracy”, charged leaders not to betray their role in properly managing the resources of the country.
“The beauty of democracy is that it avails citizens the right to have a say in how they are governed; this right is abridged by the most brutal dictators in the word.
“Military incursion into our politics has led to misery and underdevelopment of our richly endowed nation and contributed to defective democracy. All hope is not lost for the enthronement of true democracy in the country, which is why we must commend the NPC in sensitizing everyone that elections do not do or die contests.
“We should encourage them to consolidate on the successes of 2015 so that we can have even better polls in 2019.
“There are better issues of development than pursuing agenda of violence and hate speech. Promotion of ethnic and religious or mutual suspicion will not make us see the best in us, and will defeat the essence of democracy.
“There will be no benefit to allowing the negatives override the positives in us. All those who aspire to lead the people should be acceptable and be seen to be acceptable to the people. That has worked and continues to work in good societies.
“I commend the political parties and candidates here for showing commitment and putting the nation above political differences. Nigeria must win, and the nation will lose if we set aside the gains of this conference.
“I am hopeful you will honour the pledge of ensuring our elections are free of violence. Your conduct will determine how the game is played and I plead with you to ensure your supporters play by the rules.”
In his goodwill message, Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mohammed Uwais canvassed for concerted efforts by all stakeholders towards ensuring peaceful elections come 2019.
Head of EU delegation to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, recalled that Nigeria set an example for Africa and the world in 2015.
He, however, expressed concerns for “vote buying” saying the development if sustained will cast credibility questions on Nigeria’s electoral process.
“We welcome steps taken so far towards 2019 and we continue to support free and fair polls. We urge all to avoid hate speech, violence and vote buying and say yes to peace, inclusiveness, gender equality and access for disabled persons. We again stress our impartiality as we do not support any particular party or candidate, but support for institutions responsible for carrying out the appropriate mandate, ”he stated.
President Muhammadu Buhari who signed the accord in the presence of the All Progressives Congress chairman, Adams Oshiomhole called on INEC and all security agencies to put the nation first in their conduct, saying “the world is watching us”.
He also spoke on the relevance of trust, saying his commitment towards a free, fair and credible election come 2019 remains sacrosanct.
According to him, for a society to function well, a culture of rules and compliance must be adhered to by all.
Other notable personalities present were Vice Chairman of the National Peace Committee and former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative in West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas; Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu; Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau; the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 111; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; former Chief Justice of the Federation, Mohammed Uwais; Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States, Chairman Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote among others.