Opposition candidate not present at Nigerian election accord ceremony

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Nigeria’s main opposition candidate did not attend a Tuesday event to sign an election agreement stating a commitment to hold a peaceful election early next year due to a “communication lapse”, his party said.

Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) confirmed in an emailed statement its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had not participated in the signing ahead of February’s election. President Muhammadu Buhari attended the event in Abuja.

The peace accord ceremony was held days after PDP said authorities froze the bank accounts of its vice presidential candidate, Peter Obi.

Elections to choose the leader of Africa’s most populous country – the continent’s top oil producer and by many measures its largest economy – have been marred by violence, vote-rigging and voter intimidation.

The ceremony was an attempt to mirror the signing of a deal ahead of voting in 2015, when Buhari came to power. It was credited with helping prevent a repeat of violence in the wake of the 2011 election which Human Rights Watch said killed 800 people and displaced 65,000.

The accord aims to ensure the 2019 elections are “free, fair and credible,” the document said. Signatories pledged their campaigns would refrain from “religious incitement” and “ethnic or tribal profiling” and would not incite violence, according to the document.

PDP was investigating circumstances behind the “unfortunate communication lapse” between party officials and the National Peace Committee (NPC), the non-governmental organisation that arranged the event, which resulted in Abubakar’s absence.

“Our presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar and the party are fully committed to a peaceful electoral process and elections in 2019,” said PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan in an emailed statement.

He said the PDP would visit the NPC office to “fulfil all necessary obligations towards the peace accord ahead of the 2019 general elections”.

The NPC earlier said it sent event invitations to all 91 registered parties and 73 presidential candidates.

Independent observers for the 2015 race, the first time the agreement was signed, praised the accord for helping Nigeria pull off its first-ever peaceful transition from the ruling party to the opposition. Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan that year.