National Peace Committee: Where is the wolf? By Garba Deen Muhammed

Bishop-Matthew-Kukah

First a little bit of history. The National Peace Committee on the 2015 Elections, according to available

information on the subject matter, was set up by the office of Senator Ben Obi, erstwhile special adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan sometime in the last quarter of 2014. The reason for setting up the committee was to help douse the rising tension that the upcoming election was generating at the time. Membership of the committee was drawn mainly from the top echelon of the Nigerian clergy. That is why the Sultan of Sokoto, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the CAN President Ayo Oritsejeafor and the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah were selected to form the nucleus of the committee. There are other equally distinguished and honourable Nigerians as well.

To give the committee a proper blend of a quasi-political tinge, it was placed under the chairmanship of former head of state and transition specialist, Gen. Abudulsalami Abubakar. As for the committee’s mandate, it was to ensure that everything necessary that could be done was done, to ensure that the 2015 elections were conducted peacefully. Once inaugurated, the committee swung into action, commencing on a kind of shuttle diplomacy that culminated in bringing the main contestants for the presidency together, and to sign a peace accord that they will both restrain their supporters from incendiary statements and preventive actions; and that they will both resolutely abide by, and accept the outcome of the elections provided it was free and fair.

After the signing of the peace agreement, and the now famous embrace by the two contestants, the then President Goodluck Jonathan and the then contender, General Muhammadu, Nigerians were buoyed, even if cautiously so. But some level of mudslinging still lingered and Nigerians continued to tread gingerly as the elections approached. The circumstances that followed the conduct of the presidential elections are now history. In the spirit of the pre-election agreement, not necessarily because of it, President Muhammadu Buhari, who emerged victorious, has never missed an opportunity to shower praises on former President Goodluck Jonathan for calling him just before the vote count was completed to congratulate him (Buhari) on his victory.

Opinion is divided as to who, or even what, energised Dr. Jonathan to make that historic phone call. Some say that the peace committee had a role in it; but the committee chairman himself, former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar, was reported by the Nation newspaper to have admitted that he first heard of the phone call from Buhari; others say it was the Americans that turned on the heat on Jonathan and made it clear to him that if he tried to resist the results of the election, he would be standing alone. There were even some clowns who tried to sell the idea that some “patriots” within the Jonathan inner circle were responsible for urging him to make that phone call, but this quickly dissolved into the cheap joke it was. But the most reasonable hypothesis would be to assume that It must’ve been a combination of all of those factors: the shuttle diplomacy of the peace committee, the American’s tacit threat, the resolute stance of Nigerians to defend their decision and most important of all, the mercy from God to spare the country from unimaginable tragedy, that came together to compel Jonathan to concede defeat.

With that it is only fair to say that whatever else we think of the members of the peace committee, they have a right to claim success as being partly responsible for the successful completion of the 2015 general elections. Maybe we haven’t thanked them enough, in which case I’d like say, on behalf of those who share my view, that the country appreciates the peace committee and we shall remain grateful.

Now the drama begins. Given its mandate, one would expect that after the elections, the job of the peace committee is effectively over, and that since it was not set up by an Act of law, the committee will automatically dissolve and members will then return to their regular routines. Somehow that appears not to be the case. Suddenly a rather strange sequence of events emerged: First, former President Jonathan went to visit President Buhari on a Thursday; the next day Friday, former President Obasanjo was sighted at the presidential villa. Then a few days later the peace committee, which many of us had long forgotten since we thought it had completed its task and went home, also went on an elaborate visit to the villa. If the matter had ended there, then it would, indeed, have stopped there; that is to say, it was unlikely that anybody would have paid more than cursory attention to the peace committee’s visit. After all, Buhari has so far received dozens of groups, many of them on strange-to-outrightly dubious missions; and nobody paid any attention.

But it was the statement by the spokesman of the group, Mathew Hassan Kukah, bishop of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese, that alarmed Nigerians to begin to question the motive behind the group’s visit to the presidential villa. He told state house correspondents after the meeting that the group “was concerned about the process of the anti-corruption war of President Buhari’s administration; and that Nigeria is no longer in a military regime.”

Later that evening, Kukah went on air via Channels Television and made an even more provocatively curious statement by saying that the Buhari administration should not be too carried away by war against corruption at the expense of governance. Now, recall that the complete nomenclature of the committee is “National Peace Committee for the 2015 Elections.” And also note that the 2015 elections have been over now for over five months. Thanks to everybody, including the dogged determination of Nigerians not be short-changed by anybody (peace committee or no peace committee), there was no breakdown of law and order during the elections.

So when you put all these into perspective you will have no option, as an innocent Nigerian, but to be concerned about where Kukah and his committee are coming from, and where they are heading. What has the government done to suggest that it is not aware that we are not in a military regime? It is possible that some of us are missing something, but even the uproar that greeted the search of the residence of the former NSA Sambo Dasuki, turned out to be unfounded because the DSS had a valid search warrant before carrying out the search. Besides, was it not the same Buhari government that quickly intervened when some overzealous security operatives started to try to stop former top government officials from leaving the country? The government quickly issued a presidential order and most of them have since left the country, some of them even posting photographs of themselves apparently on admission in foreign hospitals.

There is also the suspicion that the committee might have been motivated by a desire to intervene on behalf of former President Jonathan. But Kukah has insisted that was not the reason they visited the President. Meanwhile, the reasons he gave for visiting the president make no sense at all, and even if it makes sense, nobody told us that the peace committee’s mandate included overseeing the conduct of the government beyond the elections. On top of that, the government only two weeks ago has set up an anti-corruption advisory committee, which is better placed to proffer the kind of advise that the peace committee is now struggling to appropriate to itself.

There is, therefore, either a crisis of trustworthiness or of poor presentation of motive.  Either most of us are too dumb to understand what Kukah is trying to say, or he is not making sense. Or, there is something he is not telling us about the promises the committee exerted from Buhari before election. Whatever it is, I know that there is at least one member of the committee who has not confused his religious role with his political beliefs, who has remained consistently and convincingly faithful to his calling as a man of God, and as the voice of conscience over the years. That gentleman is Cardinal Onaiyekan. At a time like this, it would help if he could step forward and tell us exactly what it is the peace committee is jittery about. We, or I, will believe him. As it stands, Kukah is crying over a wolf only he can see.

SUN