Presidential Polls: The untold story of the peacemakers  

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THe pivotal role of some elders in dousing the tension that preceded and followed penultimate Saturday’s presidential election is one that has until now been largely untold.

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

THE picture of President Goodluck Jonathan relaxing with General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, John Cardinal Onayiekan was one that gripped the attention of some inquisitive Nigerians as results of the presidential elections were churned out.

What could have brought these men with varied exposure to public limelight together continuously? That Dangote with his multiple business interests across the continent could be pinned down to Abuja was a wonder for some.

As the results of the 2015 presidential elections showed the incumbent president losing to his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, the men alongside a few others worked the clock to mellow the tension that had gripped the polity.

Nigerians who watched the television picture of the statesmen parley with the president would have picked up the irony through the personae of General Abubakar. Even though, he spent only 11 months in office as Nigeria’s ruler, the former head of state has arguably become the most sought after former Nigerian leader for international peace shooting engagements.

Peace shooting engagements

Whether Abubakar whispered the fact that it is not how long but the exit mode that paves, the way to international statesmanship to President Jonathan remains in the realm of imagination.

•President Goodluck Jonathan, former Military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd), former Chief of General Staff, Ebitu Ukiwe; business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and John Cardinal Onaiyekan during a meeting of Peace Committee members at the presidential villa in Abuja.
However, what is increasingly coming to the fore is the fact that the Abubakar led committee played a significant role in bringing down the tension that gripped the polity prior to and after the presidential election.

The committee’s major achievements may have been well unreported. Even so is the membership of the committee that went beyond the men and women that were seen on television parleying with the president and his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari.

Besides Abubakar, Dangote, Ukiwe, Onaiyekan and Sultan Abubakar– who were seen in public projecting the decisions of the larger body, other members of the committee were Bishop Matthew Kukah, Alhaji Muhammad Musdafa, Lamido Adamawa; Primate of Anglican Church, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh; President, Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and Justice Rose Ukeje.

Others are Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi; Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Sam Pemu-Amuka, Prof. Ameze Guobadia, Prof. Zainab Alkali; and a former President of Nigerian Bar Association, Dame Priscilla Kuye.

The concept of a peace committee arose from fears from concerned stakeholders including some international organisations about the possibilities of uncontrollable violence during and after the elections. In the last general elections in 2011 as many as 600 persons were said to have died on account of the violence that followed the declaration of the results of the presidential elections.

Ahead of the 2015 elections two separate government bodies, the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs and that of the National Security Adviser had been working separately on how to avoid a repeat of the 2011 bedlam.

Institutional stakeholders

Eventually, the two bodies converged with other institutional stakeholders including the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP and European peacebuilding organisations to work out a framework to douse tension.

The convergence of ideas led to the General Election Sensitization Workshop on Non-Violence which took place in Abuja on January 14 at the end of which 11 presidential candidates including Jonathan for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and Buhari for the All Progressives Congress, APC agreed to adhere to a set of conduct that disowned vicious campaigns and violence.

Though there were 11 signatories, eyes were focussed on the two leading candidates and their parties, Buhari and Jonathan.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku who according to sources was one of the early canvassers of the accord chaired the final ceremony during which he read out the five cardinal points of the accord signed by the candidates.

The accord read thus:

To run issue-based campaigns at national states and local government levels. In this, we pledge to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious sentiment, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and all agents acting in our name.
To refrain from making or causing to make in our names or that of our parties any public statement, pronouncement, declaration or speeches that have the capacity to incite any form of violence before, during and after the elections.
To forcefully and publicly speak out against provocative utterances and oppose all act of electoral violence whether perpetuated by our supporters and or opponents.
Respected statesmen

To commit ourselves and political parties to the monitoring of the adherence of this accord if necessary, by a national peace committee made up of respected statesmen and women, traditional and religious leaders.
All the institutions of government including INEC and security agencies must act and be seen to act with impartiality.
Erstwhile United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan was the special guest of honour at the workshop and his presence seemed to bring the moral weight of the international community on the candidates.

The declarations as agreed by the candidates were subsequently framed as the Abuja Accord which the candidates vowed to abide by.

The accord also provided for the creation of a National Peace Committee that would serve as a platform for the implementation, monitoring of the accord and also as a platform for mediation on issues that may arise between the signatories.

Following this, Bishop Kukah was now asked to help convene the committee and his brief was to get, according to a source, “people who have credibility, people who have cross-national appeal and are not obviously partisan.”

Membership of the committee was essentially framed to represent different interest groups and only those who were seen not to be politically biased or compromised were selected. Dangote, for example, was there to represent the business committee, the religious leaders were also selected while the Lamido Adamawa was selected principally to represent the interest of the Northeast.

Bishop Kukah who runs the Kukah Centre was chosen as coordinator and provided his centre as the secretariat of the committee that was now styled as the National Peace Committee.

Former head of state, Gen. Abubakar then became chairman of the committee. His choice was primarily fitting. The former head of state had become a well sought United Nations cum African Union trouble shooter who etched himself as an international statesman after he implemented a smooth transfer to democratic rule after fate put the leadership of the country in his hands in June 1998.

Logistics support for the committee primarily came from the UNDP and a number of other international organisations including Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue which is based in Geneva, the same body which had earlier provided support for the dialogue that followed the post-election conflicts in Kenya and Liberia.

The committee members, however, did not demand or receive any financial rewards for their work from the UNDP as all of them primarily saw their engagement as a call to national duty.

Indeed, several of them even made sacrifices. The story was told of how one committee member needed for one of the strategic engagements was stranded in one of the northern states and another committee member learning of it had to arrange one of his private jets to ferry him.

Enthusiasm for the committee’s work even overflowed from non members. One airline operator who is not a member of the committee but who monitored the activities of the committee closely on learning that a committee member was stranded somewhere in the north had to arrange a plane to pick up the member whose presence was crucial in one of the critical sessions of the committee.

Critical sessions

However, optimism that the signing of the accord would immediately douse tension was, however, farfetched. While the presidential candidates stuck to the letters of the accord, their subordinates and associates were seemingly unbothered as they continued with the campaign of calumny and sometimes as in Rivers State, an orgy of violence.

While the politicians were on the rostrums, the committee was on its part working behind the scene in sessions with political actors and public officials in control of some institutions involved in the conduct of the elections.

Among those engaged were the Inspector General of Police, Abba Suleiman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Prof. Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and armed service chiefs.

In all the meetings, the focus of committee members was to win the support of the institutional heads towards ensuring that the principles of the Abuja Accord were adhered to. The committee’s only currency was the moral authority of the members of the committee which was brought to bear on both the candidates and the head of the institutions.

Remarkably, penultimate Wednesday, three days before the presidential election, the committee members again met with the president and again won his support for the Abuja Accord. Inherent in the accord was that the candidates would abide by the results of the election and cause their supporters to also do the same. Following the meeting with the president at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abubakar told State House correspondents:

“We have come as one to see Mr. President as the Commander-Chief of the country and to tell him what we have discussed with all the stakeholders and the role he as the Commander-In-Chief has to play and also what we expect him as a contestant in this race.

“We have briefed him and he has given us his assurance of conducting free, fair and violence-free elections. And this is what this committee is all about.”

Following the meeting with the president, the committee also met with Buhari early on Thursday morning after which the two men were brought together again to reaffirm their adherence to the Abuja Accord.

The work of the committee did not end there as after the elections they again continued contacts with the two major candidates as the results came out. The landmark role of the committee was laid in history by the fact that Abubakar first disclosed news of the telephone call from the president to Gen. Buhari during one of the shuttles between the two candidates.

Abubakar and some members of his committee were on a visit to the president to thank him for making sure that the election went on peacefully in most of the country when he also revealed that the president had conceded defeat in the election.

He said: “We were at the middle of a meeting with the international observers to try to see how we can still water the tension down, when gladly I called Gen. Buhari that we are going to see him, he told me that Mr. President had called him at about 5:15pm and congratulated him and conceded defeat.

Acceptance of result

“In the history of Nigeria, I think this is the first time a contestant has called his rival to congratulate him and through this point, President Jonathan maintained a point that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. “He has proved that he is a man of his word  because during our interaction on this peace committee he has always maintained that he is going to accept the result of the elections whichever way it is done. “And he has proved this.

As Abubakar said that Tuesday minutes after the president made the historic phone call to Buhari.

While stakeholders conversant with the altruistic role of the committee in averting post-election violence have lauded the role of committee members, Dr. Arthur-Martins Aginam, the head of the committee’s secretariat and who is also executive director of the Kukah Centre lauded the president for his unselfish commitment to the accord.

“Credit should go to the president and if he wanted not to be a statesman he could have chosen that path and it is not as if anybody put a gun on his head or prevailed on him and he had said all through the campaign that his ambition is not worth the life of any Nigerian and what he did was simply a reaffirmation of all that he had been saying.”

Besides the president, the IG, Jega and especially the committee members would be etched in history for their historical role in averting what possibly could have been a type of violence never seen in the country.

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