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Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has revealed that Nigeria would have faced a political crisis of unimaginable proportion if ex-President Goodluck Jonathan had not taken a hard and selfless decision to concede defeat in the 2015 general elections.
Abubakar, who disclosed this yesterday in Abuja during a one-day peace conference organised by the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation with the theme: “Peaceful Elections and National Development,” said Jonathan’s display of good sportsmanship did not only douse tension in Nigeria but strengthened the growth of democracy in the country.
The event attracted eminent African leaders including former President of Liberia, Prof. Amos Sawyer and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Chambas.
Others were Jonathan; his wife, Patience; ex-Chief of Staff to President Jonathan, Mike Oghiadomhe, a one-time Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda and popular showbiz personality cum human rights activist, Charles Oputa (Charly Boy) among others.
Abubakar tasked political leaders in Nigeria to imbibe the lessons of 2015, by ensuring that they put the national interest above their personal ambition whenever they seek public office.
His words: “We all recall the tension in Nigeria during the 2015 elections, where the doomsayers were predicting the balkanization of Nigeria, but thank God through the action of Nigerians and the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, they were proved wrong because the gentleman kept to his word that his presidency was not worth the blood of any Nigerian and he graciously conceded defeat at that election.
“Allow me to on behalf of all Nigerians once more thank former President Goodluck Jonathan for saving the country from falling into political crisis and in further strengthening the growth of democracy not only in Nigeria but in Africa and indeed the world. Peace is absolutely necessary for the survival of a nation because, without peace, there will be no nation, without a nation there wouldn’t be an election.”
The former Head of State acknowledged that Nigeria is no stranger to the phenomenon of electoral violence being witnessed in other African countries, but blamed it partly on the multi-party system, which breeds what he described as a hotbed of electoral controversies.
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“African countries are usually tension soaked because of the very cutthroat competition involved. Africa indeed is a hotbed of election controversies. In African countries like Kenya, Cote d’ Ivoire and the Gambia, we have seen the serious implications of electoral tension to national security and development.
“Nigeria is not a stranger to political electoral violence. This country has historically had its fair share of election violence. Some of the violence even dates back to the pre-independence era and Nigerians have witnessed the destruction that took place and retarded development,” he said.
Abubakar said Nigerians and the world at large are praying for peaceful polls because peace is of the essence if the country must survive and remain as one entity. Jonathan, in his speech, urged Nigerians, especially those seeking elective offices to desist from any action that could trigger conflict before, during or after the polls.
The former president, who linked the slow growth of economies in Africa to the preponderance of conflicts in the continent, stressed that a leader with a mindset to develop his country must be visionary and selfless, while not insisting on seeking power at all cost or wielding power for his own sake.
His words: “There is no gainsaying that when politicians resort to desperate measures in the bid to occupy important political positions, they run the risk of plunging their countries into a serious crisis that often lead to loss of lives, degradation of values as well as the destruction of private and public assets.
“These breed of politicians often ignore the fact that to be patriotic is to love your country and be prepared to live and die for its honour, reputation, freedom, progress and the ascendancy of the common good. You can restore destroyed infrastructure almost to its former state or even better, but you cannot easily repair people’s psyche, reconcile aggrieved persons and restore hope in a nation once they are damaged in destructive leadership struggles.
“In Nigeria, we know that the injuries of the civil war, which ended since 1970 are still on our memories. We know that good governance is the fertile ground upon which peace and sustainable economic growth are planted. In this regard, it is important to point out that in a democracy, periodic, credible and peaceful elections are the necessary gateway to improved governance and people-oriented development.”
Noting that the world is watching Nigeria and that efforts must be made to ensure that the 2019 elections are violence- free, Jonathan warned of dire implications for the Africa sub-region should the elections go wrong.
He stated that as part of his commitment to deepening democracy in Nigeria and African, the foundation will continue to explore avenues to encourage leaders in the continent on the virtues of service and sacrifice.
He also called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies to be professional in the discharge of their responsibilities before, during and after the elections.
In a paper titled: “Electoral Violence in Nigeria: Causes, Consequences and Options for Prevention,” Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah, lamented that electoral violence in Nigeria is driven by poverty.
“Electoral violence is condensation between poverty and opportunity. Election violence only occurs in places where lives are still nasty.
Ordinary people participating in electoral violence is an investment. If you succeed you could go back with television which you have never had before or a mobile phone which you never had,” he said.
The cleric noted that Nigerians ride on assumptions and have continually failed to hold political leaders accountable for carrying out anti-democratic activities and therefore urged the citizenry to rise up to the occasion to ensure elected officers stick to the principles governing the rule of law.
Kukah stressed the need for politicians to take responsibility in ensuring violence-free elections become a norm in the country.
“There is no perfect democracy anywhere in the world; people have to learn that democracy requires sacrifice. We assume that elections necessarily leads to the good things of life and that elections, necessarily are the expressions of the willingness of the elected to act in a manner that conforms with the principles of democracy, openness and so on.
“How do we hold the feet of those we have elected because we elect people on certain platforms and certain claims we must therefore never assume that people cannot use democracy to institutionalise other forms of anti-democratic behaviours and projects.
“Politics is the only thing you do not need a certificate or qualification for and this is why we ordinary voters must not leave our fate in the hands of politicians because we must remain constructively engaged in the process,” he added.
The special guest of honour and former President of Liberia, Prof. Amos Sawyer, applauded Nigeria for sustaining her democracy for uninterrupted two decades and urged politicians to remain committed to the democratic process.
He said Nigerians must not see the presence of world leaders in the country as an intrusion, saying elections in Africa’s most populous nation mean a whole lot to the West African sub-region.
“Nigeria’s role in West Africa makes an election in this country very critical. So, elections in Nigeria cannot be seen solely as a Nigeria’s affairs,” he said, adding that the trouble currently rattling the nation’s judiciary should be resolved in accordance with the provisions of the law.