President Goodluck Jonathan last night met with former heads of state, former vice presidents and the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, where they resolved to join forces to douse tension in the country and decisively combat Boko Haram.
Jonathan met with the former leaders after speaking yesterday afternoon to participants at the All Nigeria Political Parties and Political Stakeholders Summit held in Abuja, during which he observed that there are remorseless anti-democratic forces operating in the political system, warning that they were ever ready to exploit lapses in the management of the nation's political and electoral processes.
Also speaking at the summit, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Atahiru Jega, insisted that elected officials who defect from their political party must vacate their offices to allow for fresh elections in their constituencies or states.
The meeting between Jonathan and ex-heads of state, THISDAY learnt, started at 8 pm with dinner, following which Shettima was said to have left the gathering to allow the president and his predecessors in office to continue their deliberations.
Presidency sources said the leaders resolved to cooperate and do more to combat the Boko Haram insurgency in order to salvage the North-east that has suffered incalculable damage as a result of the onslaught of the terrorists.
Formers heads of government in attendance included Major-General Muhammad Buhari; former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme; and the former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe.
Others expected at the meeting were former military Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd) and former Head of the Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, however, were not in attendance. Babangida could not attend, as he had to stay back in Minna, Niger State, following the death of his close friend and ally, Senator Idris Kuta.
Speaking earlier at the summit organised by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs and Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) with the theme: “Inter-Party Collaboration, National Stability and Democratic Consolidation”, Jonathan warned that the anti-democratic forces could during the 2015 elections truncate the nation's hard won democratic liberty, adding that as the elections approach, these negative forces must not be allowed to prevail.
“With the onset of the Fourth Republic, the institutionalisation of the inter-party mechanism was domiciled in the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-party Affairs.
“The concept of inter-party relations and collaboration presupposes that even though political parties may differ in ideology, processes and structure of governance, they must remain united in the common objective of preserving and consolidating the nation's unity and its democratic foundation,” Jonathan said.
He called on political parties to relate with one another and conduct themselves with responsibility and statesmanship, as well as focusing on positive inputs into governance whether they are in power at present or not.
According to him, “Inter-party relations and collaborations make it incumbent on the party in power to govern in recognition of beneficial voices and views of political party and vice versa for the parties out of government to proffer issues-based engagement towards improved performance in governance and service delivery to the people.
“This is only possible through rancour-free relationships amongst political parties in their conducts, acts and utterances. Nigeria's political history since independence is replete with examples of viable collaborations amongst political parties in and out of government. Of course, listening to the speech from former President Shagari made reference to such cases.”
Giving participants a run down of inter-party collaboration from the First to the Fourth Republic, Jonathan informed the audience that in furtherance of this role, the inter-party office had continued to promote a cordial and positive relationship amongst all political parties, which culminated in the establishment of an Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), a structure recognised by INEC.
“Consequently, in 2011 all political parties agreed and committed themselves to a code of conduct for political behaviour. Article 7 of the code states that 'no political party or candidate shall during campaigns, resort to the use of inflammatory language, provocative actions, images or manifestation that incite violence, hatred, contempt or intimidation against another party or candidate, or any person or group of persons on grounds of ethnicity, gender or for any other reason.
“Accordingly, no political party or candidate shall issue any poster pamphlet, leaflet or any other publication that contains any such incitement.”
The president, however, observed that the conduct and utterances of leading politicians at home and abroad were rapidly creating and spreading unnecessary tension in the country.
“Today (yesterday) is a very happy day for me because this opening day is unique, we have four feminine voices. It is very rare. We heard from the National Council of Women Societies, from the Irish Republic Institute (IRI), but most especially, the representatives of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and labour are all women.
“So we thank you. Today again, I am quite pleased that I have added some clauses to my very narrow vocabulary: ‘Political Nomadism’ and ‘Political Promiscuity’, courtesy of the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega and the representatives of the APC Chairman, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, and we have to thank all of you for enriching us,” he said.
He reminded the audience that 15 years ago, the country found itself at the crossroads of political determination, instability and progress were threatened and pushed to the limits, adding, “Fear, uncertainty and a near total loss of hope took over the minds of our people. We were close to losing our way in the struggle of building a united, prosperous and democratic nation.
“At that time, it was the political class that rose to the challenge of rescuing the nation and steering it back to the part of state building and productive enterprise.
“This courageous struggle for our democracy was fought across the ethnic and religious divide by politicians and statesmen who put everything at stake including their lives to bring back hope to Nigerians and the Nigerian state.
“Thus on the 29th of May, 1999, we did not only celebrate our new democracy, but also the labour and struggles of these heroes – living and dead in the struggle for the restoration of our democracy. We also celebrated the rebirth of a nation and the renewal of our collective commitment towards stable and self-sustaining statehood.
“In the past 15 years of the Nigerian Fourth Republic, several milestones have been recorded in our political development. Our electoral processes have been transformed, strengthened and subjected to a guiding principles of universal electoral standards with greater election credibility,” the president stressed.
Lauding the media as the fourth estate of the realm, Jonathan said it continues to play its role unhindered as the watchdog, adding that Nigeria has one of the freest media in the whole world operating within fundamental freedom and rights unrestricted by the state.
He however stated that Nigeria's social stability and democratic consolidation would be greatly undermined, “if by a complacent and indifferent attitude, by critical national political stakeholders, it is wrongly presumed that the nation's democratic system has become invisible and can therefore be taken for granted without constant and careful monitoring”.
The president told participants that summit must be an occasion for political rejuvenation and reorientation, adding that its outcome must arrive at a common stand against all and any anti-democratic forces that are currently waging a vicious and mindless war against the state.
“Fellow compatriots, we must first build a nation before engaging in arguments on how best to run it. The system is not yet so shockproof to withstand all unguarded and careless political statements and actions.
“If our state enterprise fails, no political party or politician can stand it. Hence at a time such as this, when our existence as a nation is threatened by anti-democratic forces, we politicians and political parties must rise to the higher moral grounds in defence and protraction of our existence as one nation and one people,” he said.
The president also noted that the recent mindless bombings and killings of innocent Nigerians in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Plateau, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, including that of the traditional rulers, as well as the heartless criminal abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, would be better addressed by a political class united in its commitment to defend the polity irrespective of political differences.
“We must never politicise the fundamentals and core imperatives of defending the state, as to do so can only embolden the terrorists and other enemies of our republic and would seek to exploit any perceived political and social divisions for their nefarious ends.
“We must never give them such opportunity. Our political parties must remain positive and constructive in their engagements as we seek to build a virile and stable nation that can compete with other states in the world,” he advised.
Earlier, Jega deplored the incessant changing of political parties by politicians, branding their propensity for defection, “political nomadism”.
Jega also advised that the right and constitutional approach requires any politician cross-carpeting to another political party from which he was elected to vacate his position and stand for a fresh election.
He said one of the challenges facing INEC in its operations “remains the issue of rampant change of political parties by politicians. Some observers have described this as ‘political nomadism’.
“While we must respect the right of citizens to choose at will what parties to belong to as part of their freedom of association, the negative effects of haemorrhage of party members and the rancour it generates cannot be underestimated”.
The INEC boss also frowned on the lack of moderation and internal party democracy, whereby contestants in elections and political parties were unwilling to play by the rules.
Similar to the advisory given by Jonathan, Jega said the use of language by politicians was in most cases indecorous, “which leads supporters to follow suit with more intemperate language and ultimately ends up in violence”.
Jega also called for an improvement in the functions of IPAC to ensure the full commitment of all parties to the council and code of conduct.
He also added that there was the need to continue to improve the organisation of political parties with a view to modernising them.
The INEC chairman further noted that “the thorny issue of deregistration of political parties still remained. INEC has submitted a proposal of the amendment of the Electoral Act to expunge the provision empowering the commission to deregister political parties, but instead to empower the commission to determine the criteria for parties to get on the ballot”.
Jega explained that such a move would afford the parties space to continue to play their cardinal roles in political development without challenges posed by the electoral management.
However, responding to Jega’s comment on cross-carpeting, the APC defended the defections into its party, stating that in the face of merger and birth of a credible opposition, defectors to the opposition party should be allowed to move around.
Speaking for the party, the interim Woman’s Leader of APC, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, who represented the party at the summit said: “An opportunity came once in a lifetime for a merger of three political parties to birth APC, so it is only fair to give our politicians the chance to move around. After that, I assure you that we the women in politics will end political promiscuity in Nigeria.”
In his remarks, the chairman of the occasion and a former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, cautioned political leaders against making inciting statements.
Abubakar said the current political atmosphere was charged, comparing the situation of the country to when he took over after the death of the late General Sani Abacha in 1998.
“The political atmosphere is charged, even in the last local government elections, there was violence and thuggery. Political parties should caution their members from making inflammatory statements,” he said.
“The situation in the country right now reminds me of the challenging situation in the 1990s when the political situation was charged. This was caused by the truncating of the internal democratic process. However despite these challenges, we were able to overcome,” he added.
Those who were in attendance included Buhari, Ekwueme, Ukiwe, a representative of former President Shehu Shagari, representatives of major political parties and the National Chairman of the PDP, Adamu Mu’azu.
Others were the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), some state governors, former governors, and party stalwarts like Chief Tony Anenih, Ogbonnaya Onuh and Tom Ikimi, among others.