Abuja Accord: Fact or Fiction? By Saude Amina Atoyebi
I had a vociferous conversation with my colleague over the sprinkles of election violence erupting around the country as a result of overzealous supporters of the main contenders in the 2015 Presidential elections; Gen Muhammadu Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan. I was of the view that the erring supporters be tamed while he felt that they should be free to express their grievances.
In a bid to ensuring a peaceful electioneering process, the Abuja Peace Accord was signed on January 14th 2015, yet the succeeding events by party supporters have not been a pointer to the peaceful elections we direly crave. Apart from the phony hugs and huge smiles exchanged on that day, the campaigns have only become more heated and daring. Despicable adverts and propaganda have become the order of the day, deliberately intended to incite and instigate the electorate.
During the campaigns in Bauchi state, President Goodluck and his entourage were pelted with water and other objects. It later turned out that the Bauchi incident was due to intra party scuffles between various interests in PDP. In Rivers State, many APC supporters have been allegedly killed by PDP supporters. In Katsina, thugs believed to be supporters of General Buhari attacked the convoy of the President. In Jos, the President’s campaign bus was burnt. The matter was investigated and found to be due to another round of intra-party wrangling within the PDP.
The major contenders have issued statements of condemnation of the violent acts, a peace pact has been signed but does that suffice? Have these efforts stemmed the violence so far? Do the people who engage in these acts know or care about the statements or pacts? What are the consequences of engaging in any inciting or violent act? What is acceptable while campaigning and what are the limits? I believe that these questions are pertinent to ensuring we do not get swallowed up by the consequences of electoral violence.
It is common knowledge that the only way Nigerians comply with laws is by meting out strict penalties for defaulters. A recent example that comes to mind is how the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) enforced compliance with wearing seat belts. The law had been made but motorists did not respond until the FRSC/VIO officials ambushed commuters and penalized defaulters. It has been effective to a large extent because people eventually imbibed the habit of wearing seatbelts, not necessarily for their safety but for the sake of avoiding penalties. Same holds true for Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) enforcing motorists’ compliance in Lagos State.
As people who only respond to actions rather than words, isn’t it about time that those breaching the Abuja Peace Pact and Electoral Act are penalized for carrying out violence under the guise of ‘venting’ or ‘expressing their grievances’?
The Electoral Act Section 96 elucidates penalties for individuals and political parties who threaten, force or incite violence during campaigns which include fines of up to N2,000,000 or imprisonment for 12 months. Section 131 of the Electoral Act indicates the penalties for those who inflict injuries, cause losses or harm to voters, impede free use of media to be a fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 years.
There have already been breaches to the Electoral Act and people foresee violence in the forthcoming elections, but are we to all sit-back and watch it unfold or would deliberate actions at justly enforcing law and order prevent more crises. Again I say, except the culprits are found and made to face the wrath of the law, there would be no incentive for the troublemakers to desist from their ways.
In ensuring that defaulters of the electoral Act are brought to book, the major contenders have a huge role to play if both parties genuinely want peaceful elections. On the part of the incumbent, the political will is required to make the law enforcement systems effective and non-partisan. Sadly this may just be wishful thinking as the IG of police, DSS and other government agencies are more interested in party politics than carrying out their constitutional mandates.
On the part of General Muhammadu Buhari, beyond condemnation, he needs to put effort to ensuring he ‘walks the talk’ as one with low tolerance for indiscipline by doing his part and sending culprits amongst his supporters to law-enforcement agents. People have scoffed at this idea but it is possible and it is doable. If Buhari’s supporters are indeed following him because he is ‘mai-gaskiya’ and his ability to tackle corruption, charity would have to begin at home.
An ACE Electoral Knowledge Network report on the prevention of election violence corroborates that one of the tools at ensuring post election violence is penalizing defaulters. Other UN reports agree with the efficacy of carrying through with penalties as a deterrent for future electoral violence. Until the Federal Government, political office aspirants and their followers all commit by their actions to preventing electoral violence, the peace pact that was signed may be just fiction.
Saude Amina Atoyebi is an Economics graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with a Masters’ Degree in ‘Advertising and Marketing’, from Coventry University, England. She works with the Good Governance Group as a Researcher and is a writer on www.nigeriaintel.com, a Nigerian news website dedicated to providing high quality investigative journalism. She is passionate about seeing a Nigeria where her kids can compete favorably with their counterparts in the western world. She openly expresses her views on twitter at @minibaby.
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