Obasanjo urges Hichilema to concede elections defeat
By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka – Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia’s opposition leader detained on treason charges, needs to accept the results of the presidential elections held last year and respect the will of the people who elected President Edgar Lungu, said former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Hichilema, 56, who has been in detention since April 10 following allegations of obstructing the presidential motorcade in western Zambia during a traditional ceremony, has been asked to reconsider his stance on the outcome of the 11 August poll and focus on the future.
Obasanjo, who earlier criticised the Zambian government following the detention of Hichilema, has now, after visiting the detained opposition leader, taken a different stance on the matter stating the need for dialogue and reconciliation between the two people to accelerate Zambia’s democracy.
The former Nigerian leader held a two-hour one-to-one discussion with Hichilema at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe about 150km north of Lusaka. Following the visit, Obasanjo told reporters that it was time to pacify the impasse and facilitate peace in the country as the deserved leader was already in place.
“There can only be one president. I have looked at some of the videos regarding the presidential motorcade and that of the opposition leader, they are quite overboard. I think it should not be like that,” said Obasanjo.
It was the view of the African Union to ensure the continent remained peaceful and where political differences arose, emissaries, including himself, will always prevail to ensure peace and tranquility continues to prevail and foster economic growth for the continent.
“As an elderly African statesman, I remain fully committed to ensuring that peace and stability continue to exist, not just in Zambia, but in all the 53 countries in Africa,” added Obasanjo, who hinted he and the AU have closely followed political developments in Zambia and all want the country to continue being a beacon of peace in Africa.
During the meeting, Obasanjo said he reminded Hakainde to always uphold peace, unity and stability of the country. The AU, through him, was obliged to advance efforts aimed at promoting peace and stability in all African countries through constructive engagement with various political players to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Earlier, President Lungu maintained during an interview with journalists in Lusaka that he was the rightful president and has the mandate of the people, having garnered 50 +1 percent of the total votes cast against his rival Hichilema who got 47 percent.
He argued that if Hichilema had reservations, he should seek redress in the courts of law and prove his arguments of stolen votes.
But Obasanjo said following his meeting with Hichilema, the 2016 elections are no longer an issue for him and is hopeful with dialogue and reconciliation, the gap or rift between Lungu and Hichilema could easily be closed up.
“I see that the gap between the opposition leader and His Excellency the President [Lungu] is narrowing, and I think that we can move the country forward and put the issues of 2016 behind us,” he said.
Losing candidates in elections should respect electoral laws and follow the legal process when aggrieved while giving respect to winners, added the former Nigeria strongman.
Meanwhile, the gesture extended to Obasanjo, which comes on the heels of the Catholic Priests that visited Hichilema to discuss the need for peace, has been welcomed by various opposition and clergymen in the country as it will seek to promote dialogue and reconciliation.
Several commentators called upon Hichilema to accept the outcome of last year’s general elections as the stand-off between him and President Lungu has potential to give room for negative elements to destabilise our beloved nation.
Another opposition leader, Wynter Kabimba, a former leader in the ruling Patriotic Front and now head of Rainbow Party, said Hichilema needs encouragement as prison is a lonely place and the over 100 days he has remained in custody needs consideration to facilitate his release.
“In the situation he is in, he needs encouragement from those of us that are outside because we don’t know the conditions and prison conditions in this country are deplorable that’s why I don’t agree with this new terminology that they are correctional facilities,” said Kabimba.
Hichilema has been behind bars since April 11 after his house was raided by state police on the night of April 10.