Former President Goodluck Jonathan has enlisted the support of other ex-presidents and Prime Ministers in West Africa to mitigate elections-related conflicts to promote peace in the region.
Ann Iyonu, Executive Director, Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, announced this at a news conference in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State on Friday.
Iyonu said the former leaders’ group, christened: West African Elders Forum, was inaugurated by Jonathan at a virtual meeting held on Thursday.
She said that WAEF was an initiative of the GJF aimed at harnessing the goodwill, expertise and experiences of former leaders to promote peaceful elections and deepen democracy in West Africa.
According to her, the forum comprises three former leaders of Nigeria, Ex-President Jonathan, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
From outside Nigeria are Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde.
Other leaders that participated in the event are Aminata Toure of Senegal, Amos Sawyer of Liberia, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso, Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin Republic and Dioncounda Traore of Mali.
Iyonu said the former leaders pledged to join forces with the Foundation to deepen democracy and work proactively with other established institutions to ensure credible and acceptable elections to avert electoral violence.
She said they agreed to adopt a strategy of being proactive in the use of preventive diplomacy to nip election-related violence in the bud.
A News Agency of Nigeria correspondent who monitored the virtual event reports that Jonathan expressed regret that the inauguration could not hold at a physical venue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jonathan said: “This is an event we would have loved to hold with everyone in one venue to allow for more robust interactions, but safety considerations because of the Covid19 pandemic have limited us to hosting this meeting virtually.
“The West African Elders Forum is an initiative of the GJF aimed at leveraging the rich resources of eminent personalities in West Africa to promote peace by supporting processes that enhance sustainable democracy and good governance.
“My vision is to harness the experience and wisdom of our region’s eminent leaders to advance the course of political stability and the quest for economic progress and prosperity in our countries.
“It is evident that as former Heads of State, we have not relented in our individual efforts at maintaining stability in Africa and expanding the democratic space.
“We have worked towards fostering free and fair elections as well as peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another.
“With this forum, we can collectively work as a team to reduce political violence and electoral conflicts in West Africa.
“This is consistent with the goal of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation to support democratic transitions and manage political emergencies within the continent.
“Over the last few decades, the West African region has demonstrated leadership and the political will by setting the pace in transforming a regional group of states into a ‘secured community’ on the continent.”
Jonathan recalled that few years ago, West Africa was relatively peaceful and was projected to contribute immensely to the continent’s overall economic growth that saw Africa as one of the global emerging economies.
Jonathan also expressed regret that peace and stability was being eroded in West Africa because of many reasons including political contestation for power, spread of terrorism and the negative effects of COVID-19.
He observed that the sub-region had issues of national unrests occasioned by disputed elections and power struggles in countries such as Mali where he mediated to restore peace.
In his remarks, Obasanjo applauded Jonathan for driving the peace process and noted that the experiences of the elders would go a long way in fostering peace and development in Africa.
Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia in her contributions commended Jonathan for his untiring efforts as an ‘icon of peace’ and his role in advancing the cause of violence-free polls.
All participants who took turns to speak in solidarity pledged to work with the Foundation.