Unification News for June 2003
Nigeria 2003: Building a Culture of Peaceful Elections
by George M. Ogurie
IIFWP held a national one-day seminar -- A Recipe for Peace -- in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, 3 April 2003. Welcoming the participants, the Chairman of the opening plenary session, Alhaji M.A. Abubakar, Rivers State Resident Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) thanked the organizers for initiating the event. He said that INEC highly cherishes every opportunity to educate the public on the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections. He said he believed that one of the major causes of electoral mal-practices and attendant unrest is ignorance.
"Frequently, leaders believe that through outstanding organization and superior thought they can restore both the order of society and world peace. In reality, however, the peace of mankind can never be realized through these two means alone. …Unless the quest for peace starts from the peace of the individual, it is bound to fail again and again. …Then how can the peace of the individual be achieved? It can be achieved by an individual having absolute love and practicing it. This is true because love is the precondition for all unity. Unity can be established on the basis of love, and peace on the basis of unity. …World Peace begins with individual peace and expands through families, societies, and nations to ultimately become world peace …"
His Excellency, Chief Segun Olusola, Founder/Patron of the African Refugees Foundation, former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia and a Trustee of IIFWP, Nigeria as well as Convener of the seminar presented the keynote address. He said,
"It is not an accident that we are starting off this new series here in Port Harcourt -- heartland of the South-South Geo-political zone where the incumbent Governor became the first serving Governor to be honored with the Ambassador for Peace Award this year…"
"We are at a turning point in our national development. This is another chance for civil-civil transition in our polity. The previous attempts at civil transition have been unsuccessful. It is no wonder that many of us are anxious and apprehensive at the turn of events during this electioneering period as we witness a rising spate of assassinations and violence. At the same time, I believe that we are at a harvest time depending on how much we have learned from our long and difficult experience of nation building."
He posited that, "…if our core institutions – our governments, our religions, and our businesses – can be renewed according to the ethic of living for the sake of others, we can create a comprehensive approach to peace, from which a peaceful culture of choosing our leaders will emerge." He defined the character of a true leader as "…one which balances intelligence and wisdom, persuasiveness with righteousness, and ambition with selflessness. A true leader is one who values truth and goodness, and one who has the heart of a parent toward everyone in the nation." He continued, "…we must inculcate these core values in our society not only so that the knowledge of true leadership might become universal but for the practice of it to be guaranteed."
Chief Olusola used the opportunity to announce the establishment of a PEACE EMBASSY in Abuja; a place where Ambassadors for Peace would be gathering to discuss pressing national problems and plan for practical solutions to them. "The PEACE EMBASSY has been procured through the generous support of the IIFWP International Headquarters … and will be launched …on a date to be announced later," he said. He concluded by thanking the Rivers State Government for providing the venue for the seminar.
After a short break, the second plenary session began, chaired by Professor S. C. Achinewhu, the Vice-Chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science & Technology. Four papers with titles – "The Rules of the Game," "Security and the Electoral Process," "The Role of Traditional Institutions in the Electioneering Process," and "The Rule of Law in the Electoral Process," were presented by Alhaji M. A. Abubakar, State Resident Commissioner, INEC; Dr. N. N. Okonkwo, State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps; His Royal Highness Sir Weli Wobo Onunwor, the Traditional Head of the Oropotama Kingdom in Rivers State and Chief Uyouko S. Uyouko, a Legal Practitioner and an Ambassador for Peace, respectively.
Alhaji Abubakar in his paper pointed out that the Nigerian Electoral laws as entrenched in the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act of 2002 has all it takes to avert violence during the polls of April 12 – May 5 2003, if they are followed. He said that it was in a bid to further democratize the electoral process that the power to discipline or disqualify erring candidates has now been vested with the political parties. He called on Nigerians to always use constitutional means to seek redress to their grievances.
Answering questions on why voters may not find their names on the voter’s register, Alhaji Abubakar explained that under the system currently in place, it would be impossible for someone who registered not to have his name on the list, except for those involved in the mal-practice of multiple registrations. In such cases their computers, which are equipped with thumbprint readers, would automatically delete such names. And that indeed such persons who were found during the voters revision exercise to be involved in double or multiple registrations have been handed over to the Police by INEC for possible actions. He used the occasion to announce that an exercise will be carried out from April 9 until the election date in which the temporary (tear-off) voters’ slip will be replaced with permanent voters’ card. Even on the Election Day, at the polling station, an officer will be there to continue the exercise.
Dr. N. N. Okonkwo, in his own paper explained the role of the NSCDC in ensuring the success of the elections as being that of monitoring, sensitizing the public, education and intervention in the eradication of conflicts. He urged that spiritual renewal should be intensified and acknowledged, and that upright individuals in our society should be encouraged in order to sustain the democracy in Nigeria.
HRH. Sir W. W. Onunwor, began by saying that "…the name IIFWP begins with the world ‘Inter-religious’ which suggests that there is accommodation and tolerance for all religious groups. Let me therefore quickly take the liberty by quoting from the Holy book as recorded in Matthew Chapter 5, Verse 9 which reads… "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God." Hindu, Shinto, the Vedic scriptures and many others all have similar texts but put slightly differently."
He pointed out that apart from political parties, the heads of the various institutions in society are in control of a large number of people with different political leanings.
"If, for instance, the leaders of the Market Women Association or the president of the Students Union, summons its members and urge them to vote for a particular party or individual, this will certainly fan the embers of disharmony since the adherents belong to different political groupings."
Chief Uyouko S. Uyouko stated that the Electoral Law is part of the Constitution and supports the Rule of Law. He said that peaceful elections could be achieved only when the ideal of peace is taught and practiced in individual Nigerian families. He explained that Peace does not mean the absence of war but the presence of Justice. He decried, for instance, the situation whereby in some places only the party in power has access to public media and the other parties are excluded from the use of such facilities.
Next, was the discussion session, chaired also by the good VC, Professor Achinewhu. It was a very lively session. As all participants were there in their own right as Nigerians there was a high degree of openness during the discussion.
The participants expressed concern on a wide range of issues. They included irregularities in the electoral process in Nigeria, particularly on the non display of voters’ registration at the appropriate time; threats to life associated with the conduct of the elections on the date scheduled; hijack of the media (both public and private), as well as the state security apparatus, by the incumbents across the country; threats of election boycotts from some quarters; and the absence or lack of will of the appropriate authorities to deal with criminals presented by political parties as candidates.
At length, two members of the audience, Hajia Mariam Usman, President of Rivers State Islamic Sisters Association and Mr. Harry Macmorrison of the Niger Delta News Center for Environment and Development were appointed to put together all the issues raised into a communiqué.
To conclude the seminar, IIFWP, Nigeria presented Ambassador for Peace Awards to twelve distinguished Nigerians from the Niger Delta Area, including HRH King Alfred Diete-Spiff, the King of Twon Brass; Capt (Dr.) Elechi Amadi, a thinker and writer; Chief (Mrs.) Eunice Ogan, an Administrator to mention a few.
Chief Olusola, IIFWP trustee, explained that the Ambassador for Peace initiative was announced by the founder, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, at an IIFWP convocation in May 2001 in New York. Responding on behalf of the recipients, Chief P. N. Ehoro, a Port Harcourt based businessman thanked the organizers for deeming them worthy of such an award. He said he was aware that the award was a call to greater responsibility and duty and promised to live up to it.
The program came to an end with a beautiful song presented by ten members of the Youth Arrow Ministry, calling on all to live in unity and oneness.
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