President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday said he was not afraid of free and fair elections in 2019.
Also, the President faulted the Nigerian media reportage of the farmers, herders clashes in the country, saying the coverage had been largely uninformed.
He said as a beneficiary of credible elections, he would ensure that his administration organised free and fair elections.
According to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President said this in Beijing during an interactive session he had with members of the Nigerian community in China.
Buhari is in the Asian country to participate in the 7th Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation scheduled to hold from September 3 to 4 in Beijing.
The President promised that he would ensure that the 2019 polls, under his watch, would be free, fair and credible.
He pledged that the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agents would allow Nigerians eligible to vote in the next general elections to freely elect candidates of their choice.
Buhari said, “I have no fear about free and fair elections because that is what brought me to the present position. I know what I went through and very few Nigerians could boast of trying four times (contesting the Presidency).
“Those interested in participating in the elections must get their PVCs, register in their constituencies and elect anybody of their choice across ethnicity and religion.
“The Nigerian police, law enforcement agencies and INEC must respect the right of the people to express their wishes.”
Citing recent elections in Bauchi, Katsina and Kogi states, the President said the country had made progress when compared to elections conducted in the past years.
On security issues, the President reaffirmed that his government had succeeded in curtailing Boko Haram insurgents in the country.
He added that the terrorist group was no longer in control of any part of the country.
Buhari attributed the success to operations of security agencies deployed to counter insurgency in the north-eastern part of the country.
“You will all recall that we contested the last election basically on three issues, which include security, especially in the North-East.
“The Boko Haram used to occupy quite a number of local governments in Borno State but they are not in anyone now.
“They have resorted to a very dangerous way of terrorism by indoctrinating young people, mostly girls and attacking soft targets, churches, mosques and marketplaces,” he added.
On herders and farmers’ clashes in Nigeria, the President told the Nigerians in the Diaspora that while security agencies were doing their best to curtail the clashes, the Nigerian media needed to complement the efforts through objective and informed reportage.
The President appealed to the Nigerian media to make an attempt at understanding the cultural and historical implications of some of the misunderstanding between herders and farmers.
“To my disappointment, the members of the press in Nigeria do not make enough efforts, in my observation, to study the historical antecedents of issues that are creating national problems for us,” he said.
According to the President, due to the effects of climate change, a farm that used to belong to five people now belong to 50 people, adding that the weather condition, particularly the rainy season, is now unpredictable.
The President partly blamed the farmers-herders’ controversy on the shrinking of the Lake Chad, which he said, had forced many nomadic herders to seek greener pastures for their herds in other parts of the country.
On Nigeria-China relations, Buhari applauded China’s generosity and contributions to the development of Nigeria, citing the successful completion of the Abuja-Kaduna railway line, built by the Chinese, and ongoing works on the Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin, Abuja, Kano railway routes.
He said Nigeria and China were also negotiating on the Mambilla project.
The President advised Nigerians planning to travel abroad for “greener pastures” to do so legitimately and not to expect too much from their countries of destination.
“You cannot seek greener pastures in a place where you are not respected because of the colour of your skin or your lack of education or other things. Personally, I think you will earn more respect when you remain at home and get a job,” he said.
Acknowledging the material and intellectual support of Nigerians in the Diaspora to the development of Nigeria, the President assured them that his administration would remain focused and committed to providing the needed infrastructure need for Nigeria’s prosperity.
Earlier in his remarks, the Nigerian Ambassador to China, Baba Ahmed-Jidda, thanked the President for his support to the Embassy, which he said led to the completion of the Ambassador’s residence.
The Ambassador praised Nigerians resident in the various province of China for being law-abiding with the exception of few.
On consular matters, the envoy told the President that Nigerians were facing difficulties in the process of obtaining Chinese visas – an issue he thinks the President should take up with the Chinese authority.
Also speaking, the President of the China Chapter of Nigerians in the Diaspora Organisation, Brian Akiti, while wishing the country successful elections in 2019 pledged the support of the organisation to the present administration’s development agenda.
President should allow INEC do its job – PDP
Reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party said that the President should allow INEC and security agencies to do their work.
It said it was not enough for the President to just make statements that it said he would not abide with.
The National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said that Nigerians and the international community “have seen that the President is merely playing to the gallery.”
He added, “We know that the President is merely talking or saying that for the sake of the audience he had. Nigerians and the international community are aware that President Buhari is not a true democrat.
“We all saw the elections that were said to have been conducted in Kogi State, Bauchi State and even in Ekiti State.
“We saw the violence in Rivers and the vote-buying in all the states. What did the President do all about them? Nothing.
“He knows that he would lose in a free, fair and credible election. That’s why he allows the crises in the affected states to enable his party to have upper hand.
“Yes, we will all be happy if he allows free, fair and credible elections. But the President we have is not sincere about his statements.”
You’re not ready for credible polls, ADC tells Buhari
Reacting to Buhari’s claim that he is not afraid of credible elections, the National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress, Chief Okey Nwosu, said the President was not acting as someone who was ready to ensure that the elections would be free and fair.
He said, “We have had a series of elections conducted by the APC-led government and they have not been impressive. In the by-election in Kogi State three people were killed while in Rivers State, it was inconclusive because it was a war zone.
“It is unfortunate that the APC has converted government agencies into an arm of rigging.”
SDP doubts Buhari
Also, the National Publicity Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Alfa Mohammed, expressed doubt over Buhari’s promise to ensure free and fair elections.
Mohammed said the anti-corruption war which was targeted at the opposition was already an indication that the 2019 elections would not be free and fair.
The SDP spokesman added that the refusal of the President to sign the amended Electoral Act was also proof that he was putting his own interests ahead of the nation.
He said, “The National Assembly attempted to reorder the sequence of elections which would have deepened democracy but the President rejected this. That same Act would have allowed for debating to be mandatory but the President rejected it. This does not portray him as someone who is not desperate.
“Secondly, the high rate of vote-buying especially in elections won by the APC shows that the President is not ready to deliver free and fair elections. In the last elections in Ekiti State where there was a high rate of vote-buying, no one was arrested or prosecuted.”