The United States Consul-General in Nigeria has expressed concern over the attitude of the nation’s politicians towards violence ahead of the general elections.
Jeffrey Hawkins, who spoke at this year’s African-American History Month Program in Lagos, Wednesday, said that the US has remained committed to a violence-free election in the forthcoming polls.
“As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been very active in promoting non-violence, the US Mission, and in some of our conversations we hear things from your politicians that sometimes disturb us,” said Mr. Hawkins.
“We will say non-violence, it’s important for you to take a pledge and the politician will say ‘of course I’m absolutely opposed to violence’ and sometimes that’s followed with a ‘but.’ ‘But if the other side does it then we have to do it.’
“There is no ‘but.’ There is no nuance to non-violence. Non-violence is non violence irrespective of what non-violence faces. It’s a hugely important lesson from Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s experience.”
In January, major political parties and their presidential candidates met in Abuja to sign an undertaking to avoid actions that could promote violence during and after the polls.
Last Monday, the US Mission in Lagos hosted a pledge event for the two major gubernatorial contestants in the state, Akinwunmi Ambode and Jimi Agbaje of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, respectively.
Mr. Hawkins said that a similar event was organized in Rivers State for the governorship candidates ahead of the election.
“Committing to non-violence, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also means that you will not engage in or support violence for any reason, no matter what others do,” Mr. Hawkins said.
“And if you hear about plans of violent acts to be perpetrated by others, you will do whatever you can to stop it. And you will speak out against those who advocate violence to let everyone around you know that Nigerians can do better than that. That, and no less than that, is what Dr. King would expect.”
‘Vote not Fight’
The African-American History Month is a celebration of the heritage of African-Americans and their contributions to the US society. Every February, the program honours the struggles and triumphs of millions of American citizens over obstacles like slavery, prejudice, poverty, as well as their contributions to the country’s cultural and political life.
Last Sunday, the movie ‘Selma,’ a movie chronicling Mr. King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights for all Americans, was premiered at House on the Rock in Lagos.
Mr. Hawkins said that lessons from Mr. King’s life as a civil rights leader is “tremendously relevant” to Nigeria’s democratic exercise.
“First of all, it is so important to cast your vote. People have marched, been bitten by dogs and beaten by police and died to obtain the right to vote. When we have the right to vote but don’t use it, we disrespect their memory,” he said.
“So, I urge all Nigerians who are eligible to vote, to do so. Vote. It’s one of the most powerful weapons that we have in large, animated democracies like Nigeria and the United States. Please vote.
“Secondly, for the first time in the history of the United States, we now have an African-American President in the White House. Having lived through the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s, and having recently relived the experience through watching the film, Selma, I can confirm that the contrast is startling.
“Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that it would even be conceivable to have an African-American President of the United States of America? This just goes to show how genuine change, through the democratic process, is absolutely possible. But you must exercise your right to vote to make change happen, to vote into office people who have a vision for a new Nigeria.”
Mr. Hawkins also said that the US had been delighted to see the Nigerian media, civil society and entertainers like 2Face with his “Vote not Fight” campaign take up the message of a violence-free election.
“As President Jonathan said in his New Year’s message, no one’s political ambition is worth the blood of any of your countrymen, women, and children,” he said.
“And as General Buhari recently tweeted, electoral violence is unacceptable, and every Nigerian life is sacred. Both presidential candidates have also signed on to the so-called Abuja Accord, which commits them to running exclusively issue-based campaigns, refraining from violence before and during and after election day, and speaking out against any violence that does emerge.
“These are commitments that we need to see from everyone and they are commitments that need to be kept.”
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