The West African Elders Forum (WAEF) has called on supporters of political parties and candidates in the 2023 general elections in Nigeria to ensure a level playing field for everyone. The group said while people are free to support candidates and political parties of their choice, they should also accord others their right to freely support candidates of their choice too.
Speaking in a statement it issued after its pre-election mission to Nigeria, the WAEF comprising former President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, former Vice President of the Gambia Fatoumata Tambajang, and Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambers; a former President of the ECOWAS Commission, the three-man group also said that the February 2023 general elections hold a lot of promises for the West African region.
WAEF was established to serve as a home-grown and non-partisan platform for past Heads of State and Government, former Presidents of the ECOWAS Commission, and other prominent statesmen in West Africa. It draws on the experience, wisdom, and standing of its members to provide advisory, mediation, and conflict resolution support services to the political leaders of the sub-region.
It said the success of the election will send a very strong message that democracy has become institutionalized in West Africa.
According to the statement, the group had, during its mission to Nigeria, met and interacted with leaders of political parties and presidential candidates involved in the election in what it called strategic engagements between December 4 and December 6.
According to the statement, the WAEF said: “we appreciate all stakeholders for their genuine interest in the political process and for welcoming us and granting us audience, despite their busy schedules.
“We commend His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and other key stakeholders for the level of progress achieved in the preparations for the forthcoming elections.
“In our engagements with various stakeholders, we were encouraged by their confidence in the electioneering process and the determination to work for free and fair elections.
“We are pleased with the willingness of the candidates and leaders of the political parties we met to promote issue-based campaigns and we encourage them to continue to do so.
“We note that although some stakeholders expressed some concerns and misgivings, we were assured by relevant authorities that all concerns will be adequately addressed ahead of the elections.
“We are optimistic that a secure and free environment and a level playing field will be guaranteed for all citizens and political actors, irrespective of political affiliations.
“The Independent Electoral Commission assured us that the permanent voters’ cards of all new registrants are ready, and distribution at the local government offices will commence on Monday, 12th December 2022. We urge all who registered recently to use the opportunity to take the initiative to collect their PVCs.
“We call on all Nigerians to exercise their rights to civic participation both before and during the coming elections without fear while also respecting the rights of others to do the same.
“Our region, West Africa, of late has experienced some reversal in democratic practice with unconstitutional change of government in some countries. At the heart of the instability within the sub-region are the issue of disputed elections and citizen disaffection.
“The 2023 general elections in Nigeria are crucial not just for Nigeria alone but for West Africa and the African continent. They are the first of three to be held in the region next year. The successful conduct of peaceful, credible, inclusive, free, and fair elections here will clearly set a good example for others to follow.
“This will not only send a message that democracy is here to stay in West Africa but will also resuscitate hope at a time when the sub-region is plagued with various challenges.
“The WAEF will stay engaged and accompany the process before, during, and after the general elections until a smooth and peaceful transition is achieved”, the group said.