On September 29th, 2022, candidates for the 2023 presidential election gathered at a glossy ceremony in Abuja to sign a peace accord.
…in their Sunday best
This ceremony is like two lovers having a blood covenant, except there’s no blood involved here and the candidates aren’t really in love with one another. So, what’s this ritual about and why do they commit to it?
A brief backstory
It’s easy to forget these days, but Nigerian elections used to be very violent. Post-election violence used to be as inevitable as Buhari flying to London every year.
…as long as he’s not the one getting the debit alert
For example, the post-election violence of 2011 resulted in the death of more than 800 people after supporters of Muhammadu Buhari, who lost the election, protested that it was rigged. The protests degenerated into ethnoreligious riots in northern states where rioters murdered hundreds of people.
Critics partly blamed Buhari for the escalation of the violence due to his strong position that the southern Christian winner of the election, Goodluck Jonathan, rigged it. And he didn’t learn his lesson because, in 2012, Buhari went ahead to say, “The dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood” if the 2015 election was rigged too.
Rhetorics like Buhari’s and the general climate of careless conduct by Nigerian politicians formed the building blocks of the National Sensitisaton Workshop on Non-Violence in 2015.
The first peace accord
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, the worried Goodluck Jonathan administration initiated a series of conversations with political stakeholders on peace-building. The goal was to ensure political actors embraced a more civil approach during campaigns for office.
At the National Sensitisaton Workshop on Non-Violence on January 14th 2015, presidential candidates, including Buhari, and their political parties signed a peace accord to behave themselves on the campaign trail. The main promises in the pact were to run issue-based campaigns and not engage in ethnoreligious provocations that could lead to violence. A new ritual was born.
They even got Kofi Annan to attend this thing
Section 3 of the peace accord recommended the creation of a National Peace Committee (NPC) to guarantee the constant promotion of peace. Funded by the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP), the NPC launched soon after, on January 25th 2015, and former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar appointed as its head.
This is what the first peace accord looked like.
2019 presidential candidates signed a similar pact, and 2023 candidates have now done the same. But we noticed a couple of notable things from this year’s ceremony.
Tinubu is missing in action
Since political parties elected their candidates in June, there have been two public events where the major candidates have crossed paths — the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference in August and the latest signing of the peace accord. The candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, has ghosted both events and sent his vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima, instead.
Nigeria is only just about to be rid of one absentee president but a frontrunner to replace him is already showing signs of following in his footsteps. At least Buhari waited to get into the office before ghosting everyone. Tinubu is already running his campaign remotely and giving fuel to the beer parlour gist that his running mate is the one actually running for president.
Sowore isn’t a man of peace
The 2023 election is Omoyele Sowore’s second attempt contesting for the seat at Aso Rock Villa, but he’s acquired a reputation for being a troublemaker. He didn’t disappoint at the signing of the accord.
Sowore already mentioned in interviews that he wouldn’t allow organisers to treat him like a second-class candidate and he almost caused a stir when he wasn’t allowed to sit in the front row with the most prominent candidates. He also got in a brief war of words with former Abacha henchman, Hamza Al-Mustapha, who’s also running for president.
Sowore went on to sign the peace accord, but we all know what he really is.
Is the peace accord good for Nigeria?
Nigerian elections used to be more violent than they currently are, and politicians were more reckless. Coincidence or not, that recklessness has become more restrained since candidates and parties started signing the NPC’s peace accord in 2015.
“I promise not to call BAT a Yoruba masquerade.”
Signing the peace accord may not completely eliminate the recklessness and violence still gripping Nigerian elections, but the NPC’s effort to establish a reasonable level of civility can’t be said to be a complete waste of time.
The 2023 presidential candidates will sign a second peace accord close to the elections. This second accord is more tailored towards candidates promising to accept the result of a free, fair and credible election.
Hopefully, Tinubu has someone to alert him so he can put it on his calendar. He can’t say it’s his turn to be president and not turn up at these things.