Three candidates for the 2019 presidential election were conspicuously absent from the signing of the national peace accord ahead of next year’s general polls in Abuja on Tuesday.
They were Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, Donald Duke of the Social Democratic Party and Dr Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria.
Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressives Party, Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress were also absent from the event.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari (All Progressives Congress) and some other presidential candidates signed the deal for peaceful elections in the country next year.
Former Heads of State Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar, who attended the ceremony, pleaded with politicians to avoid bloodshed in the country.
While the European Union warned that vote-buying would rob the electoral process of credibility, Buhari asked security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission to maintain neutrality.
Among other personalities on the occasion were the Vice-Chairman of the National Peace Committee Ebitu Ukiwe; United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative in West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas; the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 111; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; and Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah.
The chairman of the National Peace Committee Abdulsalami urged all stakeholders to maintain a peaceful atmosphere before, during and after the elections.
He said, “Politicians must learn to lead by example and temper their utterances and action with responsibility and patriotism. I strongly appeal to all participants to endeavour 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 break the process, so they must watch their utterances and conduct themselves well ahead of the 2019 elections and beyond.”
About 30 parties protested against their exclusion from speaking during the event.
According to them, granting only Buhari the opportunity to speak during the signing of peace accord was the height of injustice.
Meanwhile, the PDP has promised that Atiku would sign the pact, according to the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan.
The party, however, regretted that it was not represented at the signing of the peace accord due to what it described as communication lapse between the National Peace Committee and the party’s national secretariat.
He said, “It is instructive to state that our Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and the party are fully committed to a peaceful electoral process and elections in 2019.”
Asked if Atiku’s absence would weaken the accord, Abdulsalami said, “How will it? One candidate? I don’t think it will weaken the accord.”
When asked if he was not bothered that Ezekwesili, Duke were not also in attendance, Abdulsalami said, “Are you accusing the peace committee of working for the President? 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.”
According to him, there is still room for those candidates who 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.”
Delivering his keynote address with the theme: ‘Trust and Democracy’, Gowon said politicians must imbibe peace in their day to day affairs as it was a necessary weapon to foster development for Nigeria.
Speaking on the proliferation of political parties in Nigeria, he said the more the platforms, the more people of all generation find an opportunity to partake in the process.
He said, “All hope is not lost for the enthronement of true democracy in the country, which is why we must commend the NPC in sensitising everyone that elections are not do or die contests.”