By Danlami Nmodu
The National Orientation Agency has called for urgent steps to douse tension in Nigeria in the aftermath of the February 25 Presidential elections.
Director General of NOA, Garba Abari made the appeal at a breakfast meeting with the media in Abuja Tuesday. He warned that a situation in which more that one party is laying claim to victory is “ominous”.
He said, “Our current situation where more than one political party is claiming victory holds ominous signs”.
Abari noted that “One of the big challenges of our country is in managing post-election situation. In our country, we still close schools, and restrict movement on election day just to ensure that citizens do not run into the violence associated with election. Our history is replete with the story of violence since we chose to practice democracy as a way of selecting leadership in our country.
“Today, the challenge facing us is how to sustain the peace and stability in the country. It is at times like this that patriots, elder statesmen and women, men and women of goodwill who put country over self must rise up to be counted. Reasonable voices should be counted on the side of moderation, and temperate conversation. We must all be sensitive and circumspect in the things that we say, write or show on our screens. I call on the major stakeholders in the political events that are unfolding to rein-in their key supporters.
“The caustic, insultive narratives that characterized the campaigns must now cease on all sides. This is a period for building bridges of understanding across the divide. We must all come to the realization that we need a peaceful stable country to be able to practices our various vocations. The politicians who want to lead us at various levels now and in the future must realize that if we lose the peace that we enjoy today, if we descend into violence and chaos, if we engage in acts that can open doors for dark people with ulterior motives to take advantage and wreak havoc on our country, we will all be losers. It is by far easier to destroy than it is to build.
“It is not unusual that some will feel dissatisfied after any election. This is so because, in the case of electoral contest for the position of President, only one candidate can win at a time. Our current situation where more than one political party is claiming victory holds ominous signs for the polity if not delicately managed.
“It is in view of this and our mandate for building national cohesion that I am hosting this breakfast meeting with you media Heads, to enlist your support for moderation and conflict sensitivity reportage of the unfolding events after the declaration of a winner at the Presidential elections. Let our conversation be temperate, conflict sensitive and moderate, so that followers of various political parties are not incited to violence.
“I have a special appeal to the media. You have a role to play now. Do not magnify the political narratives that divide our country and our people. Democracy is about the contest of ideas and was never meant to produce violent outcomes. Let us all work towards the peace that we so desire for us and generations yet unborn.
Speaking on the need for the briefing which was held at Bolton White Apartment, he said , “The media interaction becomes even more imperative now as we try to manage the post-election situation that has a lot of implication for the stability and peace of our dear nation.
“Let me at this point thank our partners, Alert International with the support of the United Kingdom Conflict Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) for their interest in our activities and work especially in the task of building a post-election stability and peaceful atmosphere in Nigeria.”
Abari also reviewsled the president NASS elections thus:”The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) prior to the 2023 General Elections, assured Nigerians that the conduct of the elections would be free, fair, credible; conform to international best practices. The recently revised electoral laws laid the foundation for the conduct of 2023 General Elections. These gave citizens hope that INEC would conduct acceptable elections, largely on account of what many referred to as enormous efforts the Commission had put in place in significant reforms in the electoral process.
“Specifically, the National Orientation Agency pursuant to the provisions of the enabling Act, Cap. No 64 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, primarily sets out to mobilize Nigerians to turn out en-mass to register and also participate in the electoral process. Its voter education campaigns focused on the need to discourage vote buying and selling, enlightenment of the electorate on the new electoral act and guidelines and promoting issue-based campaigns. NOA also sensitized Nigerians to curb voter apathy, reduce violence and also eliminate voided ballots.
“It was based on the above that the National Orientation Agency observed the conduct of the 2023 General Elections to:
• Evaluate the impact the Voter Education exercise had on the overall conduct of the elections.
• Assess the performance and integrity of the polling process.
• Determine the extent to which the 2023 general elections was free, fair, credible and conformed to international acceptable standards.
Abari also revealed that “The National Orientation Agency had facilitated for our staff, the Community Orientation and Mobilization Officers in the 774 Local Government and State Directors in the 36 State and FCT along with select staff of the Corporate Headquarters to observe the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly Elections. We have since received reports of the observation exercise from our staff across the country. Except for a few States where the exercise were marred by incidents of violence, BVAS snatching, destruction of ballot boxes by overzealous persons, the exercise was largely peaceful in most parts of the country.
“The scarcity of cash occasioned by the Naira redesign policy also made it difficult for large scale vote buying and selling as was seen in previous elections. It was also observed that in quite a number of States voting did not start early owing to inability of the BVAS machine to log-in. Upon questioning why this was so, our staff on observer duties were informed that the inability to connect the BVAS promptly was due to network challenges brought about by heavy traffic in trying to connect at the same time. In most cases, it took about an hour or two after the commencement time of 8:30 am for the exercise to commence in earnest. In some locations, voting did not earlier than 11.00 am.
“Our staff also report that once the BVAS established connection, it worked efficiently until the close of voting. It was also observed, that except in a few cases, the conduct of security officer and INEC officials as cordial towards voters. In some polling units, our field officers reported that security officials were not seen, leaving many voters to wonder what will happen incase of disturbances.
“The summary of our observation activities across the country indicate that cases of violence as feared before the election was not wide spread. This is not to say that there were no cases of violence in the entire country. States like Lagos, Rivers, Imo and Borno witnessed flashes of violence. The point here is that unlike previous elections, incidents of violence were not wide spread across States. The few cases of violence did not significantly affect the outcome of the election and indeed, where violent disruption were recorded, INEC promptly cancelled the election.
“Having presented a brief summary of our observation reports, I wish to state that in the aftermath of the declaration of results, we have noticed, expectedly, measure of disagreement with the outcome of the elections. Some of the political parties who feel that they rather than the declared candidate, won the presidential elections have headed to court. Their decision to vent their disagreement through legal laid down channels is commendable.
“We have not noticed significant disagreement with the outcome of the National Assembly election so far. What is however, noteworthy is that the National Assembly election has produced the most diverse parliament with more than seven political parties making strong appearance on the national scene. One of the parties, surprised bookmakers with a performance that has continued to be the talk of the town.
“The full detail of our observation will be made available after the coming March 11, governorship and state Assembly election.”
Speaking earlier, Mr Paul Nyulaku, Country Director, Alert International, expressed happiness over his organisation’s partnership with NOA.He noted that as stakeholders, the media play a critical role and should be conflict -sensitive in challenging times.
Alert’s Country Director said their focus is on the need to open up conversations toward building stability, ensuring de-escaltion of tension and facilitate peace.