By Akanimo Sampson
Participants at a Conference on Peaceful Elections and National Development organised by the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, GJF, have urged the Foundation to leverage on the vision of her founder in developing programmes to promote the conduct of peaceful elections and democratic consolidation in Africa for sustainable development.
This was the conclusion of the event which held in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. The conference was chaired by former Head of State and Chairman of the National Peace Committee, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, GCFR.
It was attended by over 550 participants, including former heads of state, members of the diplomatic community, development partners, the ECOWAS Commission, Nigeria Police Force, academia, civil society organisations, media, women and youth leaders.
The conference theme which underscored the link between peace and national development, was applauded as timely, given that the country’s Presidential and National Assembly elections are scheduled to take place this coming Saturday.
In a communiqué dated February 7, the organisers said the objectives of the conference were to:
i. Sensitise Nigerians in particular and Africa in general on the need to promote peaceful elections and draw lessons that amplify the importance of ensuring violence-free, credible, and transparent elections;
ii. Support democratic values;
iii. Promote peaceful political transitions and
iv. Avert electoral crisis in Nigeria’s 2019 General Elections.
At the end of the deliberations, which lasted for about five hours, the following observations were made:
i. That peace and development are mutually reinforcing;
ii. Violent conflict affects the psyche of people and the memory of it lingers for generations;
iii. There is an increasing use of politics, particularly, elections as instruments for dividing the population on the basis of primordial sentiments, such as ethnicity, religion and geography;
iv. Elections in Africa have been accorded far too much attention than the more important issues of good governance;
v. Politicians in Africa deploy dehumanising labels and stereotypes in demonising each other despite the deadly backlash that these portend, as witnessed in Rwanda and Ogoni in Rivers state, southern Nigeria;
vi. Nigeria as a regional leader is so strategic to Africa that its politics and governance should represent a positive example;
vii. A significant number of the elections on the continent have been marred by varying degrees of violence, resulting in the preventable loss of lives and destruction of property;
viii. Politicians in Africa should avoid actions that may trigger election-related power struggles similar to those experienced in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire to prevent the attendant consequences;
ix. National governments should focus on people-centred development and avoid alienating citizens to the point of hopelessness, which could create a ‘nothing-to-lose’ recourse to violence;
After the deliberations, the following recommendations were made:
i. Politicians in Africa should use politics as a platform for building peace and strengthening cooperation across cultures, religions, ethnicity and political alignment;
ii. Efforts towards strengthening democracy should focus more on the delivery of good governance in the polity and allow for people participation;
iii. Stakeholders in the 2019 general elections in Nigeria should play by the rules and avoid utterances and actions that may precipitate violence;
iv. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Security Agencies should be professional and non-partisan in the performance of their duties;
v. African leaders and politicians should refrain from labelling opponents as liars, looters and enemies as such unsubstantiated name-calling could trigger violent reactions;
vi. Efforts should be made by national governments, civil society organisations and community leaders in Africa to prevent post election crises;
vii. Regional and sub-regional organisations like the African Union and ECOWAS should encourage and promote good governance by establishing a reward system for exemplary leaders in Africa;
viii. Inclusive and people-centred leadership should be the focus of national governments in order to mainstream peace-building in the course of governance;
ix. The government of Nigeria should ensure the security of lives and property as enshrined in the nation’s 1999 Constitution before, during and after the 2019 general elections;
x. Having underscored the nexus of violent conflicts and underdevelopment, African leaders should strive to resolve conflicts through peaceful means.