By Andrew Huboshi, Jos
Less than two weeks to the general elections, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington said it was not enough for religious leaders to speak about peaceful elections but stressed that they must inspire non-violence through their actions.
Symington stated this while delivering a keynote address at a one-day round-table for Christian and Muslim Leaders, with the theme: Violence-Free 2019 Elections, organised by Gideon and Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, in Jos, the Plateau State Capital.
He urged Nigerians to work together to ensure a peaceful election that would lead to a choice that would be respected by all.
The Ambassador added that, “The beauty of democracy is that the citizens are the government, the governor is there temporarily, the citizens govern forever.”
In his opening remarks, chairman of the occasion and Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, said, “This noble and commendable initiative is a call to political sanity and justice as we face the elections; sanity and justice on the part of the electorate, the electoral officials, the security agents, political leaders, actors, etc.
“Brainstorming here today is part of the proactive measures like others before it to have a clearer understanding of what it means to play politics without bitterness and to avoid subterranean moves that give rise to conflicts and needless violence before, during and after elections.
“At this sensitive period we must mind what we say and the actions we take. Our main concern is how politics should translate into good governance and positive social transformation; to liberate our people from the shackles of poverty, disease, insecurity and other social maladies.
“Time has come for a change of mentality. Whether as winners or losers after elections, we must all join hands to build, sustain and promote the Nigerian project.
“We must distance ourselves from the politics of tribe, religion or denomination.
“Let our elections produce winners who are genuine performers, fair minded and willing to serve the common good rather than only partisan, sectional or selfish personal interests.
Earlier in his address, Convener and Founder of the Peace Foundation, Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, said, ” Many concerned observers of the Nigerian political space; domestic and international alike, have expressed deep concern over the dire signs and events surrounding the elections.
Para-Mallam said, “The narratives that tend to build up tension and acrimony around elections in Nigeria tend to reflect the destructive narratives people imbibe from religious indoctrination and received bias.
“Therefore, religious and traditional rulers have a critical role to play in dismantling such negative narratives by pointing their followers in the direction of peaceful co-existence and respect for the rule of law.
According him, “When religious leaders provide advance predictions of who the winners will be, it points to something dangerous which could spark unintended violence.
“Today gathered in this hall is a crop of key gatekeepers and critical stakeholders who have an important role to play in determining the mind set and behaviour of the electorate”, he maintained.
He however acknowledged that they might not be able to everything themselves, but said God expects them as “key gatekeepers and critical stakeholders” to do what they can to stem the tide.
In his remarks, the National Secretary of Jamatul Nasir Islam (JNI), Sheikh Khalid Aliyu, said the timing of the round-table was apt, “there is no better time to convey the message of violent free elections than now”.
Aliyu said, “As religious leaders we have come here to erase pessimism from the minds of Nigerians, and instill this believe that things can work for the better.
“And I think that political desperation in quest for political positions are some of the things that really give rise to this negative things, but I believe by the grace of God we will get it right and the devil would be put to shame”, he stressed.
The cleric advised government to do everything possible in terms of logistics, security among others that will ensure credible and peaceful polls in the country.
Religious leaders came from Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau States, among others.