One of the highlights of President Muhammadu Buhari January 1 speech, was his call on politicians to play politics by the rules and avoid inflaming passions by mixing politics with religion and ethnicity, as the 2018 electioneering season kicks off.
The President, in his New Year message to the nation, also charged politicians to conduct political discourse “with civility, decorum and in a constitutional manner.”
The President’s warning is timely because political activities in the country have often widened ethnic divide, provoked sentiments and produced tensions, resulting from the use of foul language and sometimes, outright blackmail with the intention to gain political advantage.
The President advised Nigerians to “learn from the South Western States which have successfully internalised religion, ethnicity and politics.
“As the electioneering season approaches, politicians must avoid exploiting ethnicity and religion by linking ethnicity with religion and religion with politics. Such must be avoided at all costs if we are to live in harmony” Buhari said.
While this warning is timely, we must also note that President Buhari has a greater responsibility as the sitting President, to ensure that a level playing field is in place for all those who desire to seek political office in 2019. If this is done, the resort to ethnicity and religion by politicians in order to seek political advantage is likely to be curtailed.
Like his predecessor in office, Goodluck Jonathan kept on emphasising ahead of the 2015 elections that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian, Buhari should also come out boldly to let Nigerians know that he is more interested in free and fair elections than the urge to be in power.
Once he can make this message clear and ensure that there are clear processes in place to ensure that the 2019 elections are free and fair, much of the political and ethnic tension associated with elections could easily be diluted.
He should also note recent history has shown the areas most prone to electoral violence have incidentally been in the areas which he has his strongest support. This means, he has a higher responsibility to start reaching out to his support base to let them know that the outcome of elections can sometimes go against them and they should not resort to violence if it does.