When the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, in his December 16, 2014 letter addressed to both President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari made his eerie prediction, my heart dropped with a thud. In the letter, among other things, Prof. Akinyemi, who is not known for frivolities, said, “the violence of 2015 is going to be horrendous and worse than the one of 2011.”
Then like a heavy dark cloud that heralds a rainstorm, campaign tactics that had not been otherwise witnessed in the history of this nation assumed dangerous dimensions with character assassination and adversarial advertorials in print and electronic media. To the starry-eyed Nigerians, the 2015 elections became a time bomb that was waiting to explode.
But despite all the signs, including the previous apocalyptic prediction that emanated from a US-based think tank that 2015 would mark the end of Nigeria’s corporate existence, I was optimistic Nigeria would survive the elections and there would be peace. This optimism was based on hope, which itself was anchored on plan, faith and prayers.
It was the foregoing context that provided the background for the planning of the well-acclaimed Special Public Lecture of the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies on “Towards Peaceful Elections in 2015: The Roles of Stakeholders in Nigeria”, ably delivered by Prof. Danny McCain on February 17, 2015. The lecture was chaired by a living legend of this country, Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi (Rtd.)
At the lecture, Justice Akanbi warned against the resignation of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, and reminded the country of the scenario that led to the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 elections and the dire consequences. He urged Nigerians to, through the elections, “show the world we are a decent people”. The message resonated across the world.
The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdul Ganiyu Ambali, noted that politics is not a “do-or-die” affair and urged Nigerians to be committed to peace. “The forthcoming elections offer us another opportunity to deepen our democracy and vote. Votes don’t fight and we should make it a cardinal point and abiding philosophy that we shall always maintain peace and avoid violence,” he said.
The Guest Lecturer, who also did a marvelous job, made several relevant points among which is: “Just because one loses an election does not mean that life is over. Should General Buhari lose the forthcoming elections, he will have lost nothing. He will continue to be the respected national statesman he has been for many years but with an enhanced status due to representing the combined opposition party and a stronger run for the presidency. Should President Jonathan lose the election, he will likely become a respected Africa-wide leader who will be called upon for the rest of his life to support significant projects, reduce tension and share wisdom from his vast experience in governing the largest country in Africa”.
When the Lecturer recalled the scenario of the 54th presidential election in the United States on November 7, 2000 and how Al Gore called former President George Bush to congratulate him on his victory even before the election process was completed, many people assumed that such a scenario was impossible in Nigeria because “Nigerians are bad losers”. But now we know better that peace is possible and a Nigerian President can call his opponent to congratulate him on his electoral victory.
Just as the University hoped and worked for, Nigeria organised the best presidential election in her history, where our Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdul Ganiyu Ambali, played a major role in Niger State, and everything was peaceful, largely. Nigeria scored several firsts and thanks go to the University of Ilorin for hosting the important lecture that sensitized all stakeholders on their roles and responsibilites; to the National Peace Committee, chaired by the former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, for strenuously working on the Abuja Accords; to the international community, for supporting Nigeria to make the election successful.
The presidential election has come and gone with peace being its legacy. President Jonathan is commended for raising the bar of politics in Nigeria and laying a good precedent for current and future politicians. President-elect Buhari is appreciated for his maturity and example as reflected further in his acceptance speech in which he averred he does “harbor no ill-will against anyone”. More importantly, Prof. Attahiru Jega is applauded for showing the world that something good can come out of Nigeria through his competent midwifing of a transparent and credible electoral process that minimised rigging substantially.