WELCOME ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF CENTRE FOR PEACE ACROSS BORDERS (CePAB), UCHE WISDOM DURUEKE, AT THE CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS MEETING ON “MAKING 2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS VIOLENCE FREE AND CREDIBLE” HELD AT CePAB OFFICE, IKENEGBU LAYOUT, OWERRI, IMO STATE ON 17TH JANUARY 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this very important meeting. The meeting is important because in about twenty-four days the 2015 general elections will start. On 14th February 2014, Nigerians will step out in their numbers to cast their votes for the candidates of their choice. The star election of the day is the presidential election.
CePAB has convened this meeting for two purposes, namely: to kick- start its “Vote Wisely Campaign” and to create an opportunity for civil society organizations in Imo State to articulate civil society response to the emerging challenge of conducting violence free and credible 2015 general elections. In this meeting, it is expected that as civil society organizations, we will critically and in an impartial manner address contentious issues that might affect the credibility of the forthcoming general elections or trigger crisis such as the issue of distribution of the permanent voters’ cards, the need for politicians to launder or mind their language and engage in issue based campaigns, etc.
We should not just be preparing for election observation activities. We should get very active in pre-election activities. It is part of our calling to proactively empower the voiceless and to help transform society. If you have been monitoring the on-going politicking in the country, you would have noticed the increasing ‘do or die’ stance of our politicians and political parties. We should not sit back and watch the politicians heat up the polity in a way that we are all tensed up. As civil society organizations, it has become urgent and imperative that we step out to enlighten our people that Nigeria is more important than any political party or politician.
This is the time to get into our communities and our neighbourhoods to say to them that the 2015 general elections will likely be peaceful and credible. We have to encourage Nigerians to participate actively in the general elections. Apathy and fear will mar the general elections. Let us start community outreaches to urge our people to get to INEC to collect their permanent voters’ cards, to reject electoral violence and malpractices, to come out on election days to exercise their franchise and to defend their mandate within the confines of the law.
Part of our strategy of promoting violence free and credible 2015 general elections is to redirect the attention and interest of Nigerians to what the candidates and their political parties are saying they will do for us and how they will get them done and to tell them to be alert to options and alternatives candidates and political parties may be offering and why. Also, that they should verify the scorecards that those in power will be releasing as their success stories. If we can get Nigerians interested in issues, the elections will be free and fair.
As civil society organizations, we are expected to be non-partisan. We should not allow, for instance, where we come from to becloud our commitment to society. Presently, the incumbents are presenting their score cards. Are we willing and ready to examine them and raise relevant issues beneficial to the society? On the other hand, the opposing candidates are telling us what they will do. Are we willing and ready to examine them too and ask: how? We should not sit back and watch the candidates and their political parties roll out what they claim to have done and what they will do without critical examination by us. The electorate need to be empowered to make the right choices. We stand in a good position, as civil society groups, to get the candidates, their political parties and the electorate focus on issues of good governance, development and peace and not damaging propaganda and character assassination. I reiterate that our country is bigger than any politician or political party. We should not allow it to be threatened or shaken by the politicians. I sincerely believe that we owe this country the duty of care to promote its peace and togetherness.
I think that part of our duty is to reach out to the candidates and their political parties and urge them to address issues and present facts for their claims. Currently, in this country, as a people, we are eagerly waiting for the monstrous issues of corruption, insecurity, poverty, unemployment and poor health care delivery to be solved. Since the campaigns started in earnest, have you tried to find what solutions the candidates and the political parties are offering us? I am yet to read any concrete solution to any than general promises. We do not need general promises. We need concrete, practical and realistic promises with the component of how to realize them. For instance, will taxes be increased or what?
Ironically, what we have now are more of disparaging and inflammatory campaigns; there are no real campaigns. On the social media, supporters of candidates and political party members are very busy promoting hate. They are even bombing and burning properties belonging to opponent parties. As civil society groups, we should resolve to say ‘No’ to the increasing wave of hate speeches circulating in the social media. We should not read them and keep quiet. We should start denouncing them.
However, many of us are ignorant that we are involved in making hate speech. Permit me to say that it is hate speech when you disparage a candidate or a political party on basis of ethnicity or religion or make statements that are hostile or invite your readers or hearers to discriminate against a candidate or a political party. I add that when you slant or skew facts to portray a candidate or political party in bad image it is hate speech. It is also hate speech when you recklessly attack the person of a candidate rather than his ideology or policy. We should assess candidates and political parties based on their records and programmes.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us remind ourselves that this period in our national history is not one for inflammatory or inciting messages. The civil society organizations should distinguish themselves by being on the part of peaceful and credible elections devoid of primordial or clannish considerations and cleavages. As an organization, for the general elections, we will publish dedicated phone numbers, twitter and facebook accounts for the general elections. You can join us and share information on our website, twitter or facebook and send messages to the designated numbers to be published soon.
Now for those who will be observing the general elections, I charge you all to be engaged to consider the assignment as part of your contribution to consolidating our democracy and building the nation. It therefore calls for neutrality and objectivity. You should not only be neutral but must also be unbiased. You should conduct yourselves ethically and professionally in the discharge of your responsibilities.
Thanks for coming. I wish us meaningful discussions. GOD bless you.