Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, and 13 elders across the country, have urged the Independent National Electoral Comnission (INEC) as well as political party leaders, candidates and their followers; to ensure the February 23 and March 9 elections are free, fair and credible.

In a statement endorsed by Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, Dr. Christopher Kolade, Elder Shyngle Wigwe, Prof. George Obiozor, Alhaji Mohammed Hayatu Deen, Prof. Jo Irukwu,Prof.  Anya O. Anya, Alhaji Ahmed Mahmoud Yayale, Chief Folake Solanke, Prof. Frank Okoisor, Rev. Ladi Thompson’ and Chief Philip C. Asiodu, yesterday,  they stressed that INEC can only achieve success if the contending parties regulate their behaviour and conduct, in accordance with democratic norms and the law.

They said: “Our first counsel to the nation, as it approaches this new frontier, is that INEC must be fully prepared to conduct the rescheduled elections seamlessly and efficiently in a manner that its outcome is adjudged by all to be free, fair and credible.

“The political party leaders, the candidates and their followers should conduct themselves with civility, decorum and restraint in both their words and deeds in the period leading up to, during and in the aftermath of the elections.

“INEC can only achieve success if the contending parties regulate their behaviour and conduct, in accordance with democratic norms and the law. We urge all participants to accept the final results announced by INEC and where parties feel aggrieved; recourse should be made to dispute resolution mechanisms prescribed by the Constitution and the Electoral Act.”

The elders described as heartbreaking experience the fact that Nigeria may have started well many decades ago but overwhelmingly plunged into extreme greed and corruption, which now pose as  a clear and present danger to “our children’s wellbeing and that of generations yet unborn.

“It is heart-rending for elders to stand by and watch as the nation bleeds profusely and pretend that all is as well as it should be. The violent turn of expressions, deepened economic hardships and increasing desperation of the national polity has to be reversed to keep hope alive.

“No matter how dimmed the eyesight of the elders are, our ears can still hear the pitiful cry of our grand and great grandchildren braving desert treks and other equally hazardous routes to escape the pain that Nigerian life has become.

“Neither are we ignorant of the sharp surge in drug abuse, prostitution, suicides and resurgence of ritual murders in the land. When you add the problems of the delta region, nefarious activities of Boko Haram, and the widespread violence arising from the grazing crises, due to pressure of increasing population on land which several Administrations have failed to deal with over the years, it becomes clear that our cherished nation is approaching a frontier it has never seen before.

“This is certainly not business as usual and the trauma of the civil war we survived should be a warning flag across all spheres of leadership. As we soak in all the attendant factors including the toxic, political culture of the present hour and the predatory tonality of the ongoing election processes, magnified by the fact that the country is still reeling from the shock of the postponed elections, it has become imperative that we must speak up as elders.”

The elders continued: “The next president will be immediately confronted with a set of daunting challenges and opportunities. Under our system of constitutional democracy, the Presidency is the vital nerve centre of operations. The occupant of that office will be the central figure who must engage the vivid imagination and mobilise the energies of the citizens behind large, ambitious goals that will have transformative effect on society.

“Accordingly, it is incumbent upon the president to lead the charge in articulating and implementing a long term vision which would make Nigeria a very prosperous and globally competitive economy by 2040. Mobilisation of the populace is essential and this is best achieved if broad segments of the population are represented in the exercise given that the prosperity and welfare of the Nigerian people must be at the epicentre of the visioning process. Furthermore, if Nigeria must join the ranks of the world’s leading economies by 2040, it must rely on Development Plans as the primary vehicles for delivering on the lofty goals and aspirations of the national vision. The complexion and character of the president’s administration must be seen to transcend party, ethnic, regional or religious affiliations.

“As a father of all, he should take concrete steps to calm frayed nerves, heal the nation’s wounds, and give credence to our founding principles of unity in diversity.

“Given the enormity of the problems confronting the nation, the next president should seize the opportunity of the transition period to lay the foundation for establishing a strong competent administration by hiring talented men and women who have the depth and breadth of experience, the dedication, drive and energy, and the honesty, and patriotism to serve the country with distinction in all the key offices across the public sector and our national security establishments.

“Our second counsel to the nation concerns the urgent and compelling need to address our national security crisis which is at the risk of spiraling out of control. We urge a Presidential Proclamation of a National Security Emergency, which should result in the establishment of a broad-based coalition of highly skilled and experienced stakeholders from all walks of life to ponder deeply on this grave crisis and complement the efforts of government in bringing the problem under firm control.

“We must emphasise the fact that most of our security problems are the direct by-products of our social and economic malaise which have been plaguing us for a long period of time. These issues are all inter-connected and inter-dependent. Therefore, we take the view that the long-term resolution of our national security crisis must be seen through the broader lenses of taking bold and energetic steps to fast track the nation towards rapid economic and social progress.