Dear Esteemed Fellow Nigerians,
Together as a nation, we are preparing for one of the most monumental markers of any democracy – elections. On 16 February, we will exercise our rights and responsibilities as citizens to choose our next president and the members of the two chambers of our National Assembly—the Senate and the House of Representatives. Two weeks later, on 2 March, we will have the equally important opportunity to select our governors and our representatives for each state’s House of Assembly.
The members of the Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance in Nigeria, composed of civic and religious leaders, wish to lend our voices to this important, exciting and naturally tension- filled time. We appeal to all institutions and citizens to conduct themselves peacefully and with integrity, with the goal of elections that produce legitimate outcomes that will be widely accepted.
Our country has made remarkable progress toward strengthening and consolidating our democracy. This year marks 20 years since the restoration of democratic, multiparty constitutional rule in Nigeria. We can be proud, also, that in 2015, we achieved the country’s first- ever peaceful presidential transition from an incumbent to an opposition candidate.
That positive experience gave Nigerians strong optimism that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the capability to conduct credible elections that produce outcomes that we as citizens can accept. It also gave citizens confidence that our governing institutions can achieve the national and international legitimacy they need to function effectively.
We Nigerians accomplished this in 2015 through active, peaceful civic engagement that was able to overcome the serious political, economic, and social concerns we all have that create huge tensions throughout our society. We in the Working Group are confident that Nigeria can achieve this again, to continue deepening our democracy and improving conditions of life for all Nigerians.
But we must work hard. To reach this goal, it is imperative that all those who have a stake in the peaceful, credible outcome of these coming elections—and that means everyone from the individual candidates, their party leaders, their supporters, and voters across Nigeria—have a role to play. We must all ensure that the elections are held in accordance with the applicable laws, rules, and regulations, and based on our common respect for every citizen’s humanity and for our country’s democracy.
INEC, the political parties and their supporters, and Nigeria’s security forces have a special responsibility in the period leading up to the elections, during the voting, and in the aftermath:
· INEC must provide a level playing field for all candidates, parties, and voters in order to uphold the sanctity of the electoral process and its outcome. This must include transparency and frequent, clear, robust communication with Nigerians on all aspects of the commission’s work.
· Political candidates, party officials, and supporters must avoid behavior and actions that would undermine the credibility of the electoral process or lead to a breach of peace.
· Security institutions must uphold the principles of professionalism and respect for human rights at all times in the discharge of their duties. They must ensure absolute neutrality and avoid any action that could be seen to cast doubt on their detachment.
These elections—by which we include the campaigning occurring right now, the voting periods, and the aftermath when results are determined and the political transitions occur—are a test of Nigeria’s continued resolve to overcome the challenges that threaten its developmental trajectory.
The Working Group is of the strong conviction that successful elections in Nigeria can provide a more solid footing for political stability not only within our country, but also beyond our borders, because Nigeria is so influential regionally and internationally. In this regard, we welcome the role of the international community in supporting Nigeria and amplifying its citizens’ voices in our pursuit
of peaceful, free, and fair elections that provide the foundation for state legitimacy.
Only with peaceful, free, and fair elections can we begin to address the serious issues facing our country. These elections are crucial to Nigeria’s quest to strengthen democracy and chart a sustainable course for peace, stability, and sustainable development. We have seen Nigerians succeed before. We can – we must – succeed again.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan
General Martin Luther Agwai (rtd) Ambassador Fatima Balla
Prof. Ibrahim Gambari
Dr. Nguyan Feese
Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim
Dr. Chris Kwaja
Mrs. Aisha Murtala Muhammed Oyebode
Abuja, Nigeria, 12th February 2019.