Election Debates: Time to Make them Count in Nigeria

Last Friday, December 14, the Nigerian Election Debate Group organized a debate for Vice Presidential candidates of some of the major political parties. Five presidential running mates attended the debate, the first time there would be such a debate for presidential running mates. Although it did not involve the presidential aspirants themselves, it nevertheless afforded Nigerian voters a chance to assess some of the behind-the-scenes persons they would be voting for in next year’s presidential election.

The parties that participated in the debate were the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); the People’s Democratic Party, PDP; the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), the Young Progressive Party (YPP), and the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).

Prof Yemi Osinbajo is the running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, while Peter Obi is the running mate to Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, a former vice president of the PDP.

The 2019 presidential election is billed to be a direct contest between both parties.

Other participants at last Friday’s debate were Abdul-Ganiyu Galadima, the running mate to Obiageli Ezekwesili (ACPN); Umma Getso, the running mate to Kingsley Moghalu (YPP), and Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya, the running mate to Fela Durotoye (ANN).

Last time out, the incumbent president, Muhamadu Buhari, declined to attend a similar debate, a development that scuttled it, Buhari being the only major challenger of then president, Goodluck Jonathan. To say that Buhari’s refusal to attend it shocked and infuriated many Nigerians is to put it mildly. This time, again, it appears as though history will be repeated if the call by the APC, United Kingdom, is anything to go by.

According to a news report, the All Progressives Congress, in the United Kingdom has urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to attend the debate organized for candidates vying for the highest office in the land in 2019.

The party, the report stated, made the appeal last Friday, December 14, in a post by its leader, Ade Omole, on the party’s verified Twitter Handle.

The APC, UK Branch, said the President should consider a town hall session with the people instead, rather than a debate in view of the outcome of recent debate among vice-presidential candidates.

The tweet read: ‘Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, we appeal to you not to attend the presidential debate in view of the lecturing witnessed tonight (Friday).

‘Please, consider a town hall session. Despite the antics, Prof. Osinbajo tutored the opposition candidates on nation-building. Thank you.’

Should this be true, then it is really sad as there is no basis for Buhari not attending the debate.

As stated earlier, debates offer the electorate a chance to assess those aspiring to lead them.

It affords them ample chance to judge their composure, intellect and even temperament. In developed countries, elections can be won or lost owing to the performance levels of candidates. However, it is so in those places because the voters are more enlightened; a far cry from what obtains in these parts where such factors as ignorance, lack of education, power outage and others hinder voters from watching debates or appreciating their importance.

It remains a sad reality that 70 percent of voters in Nigeria do not watch election debates because of the above stated factors. Thus, expecting such debates to influence voters here will be asking too much.

So for those trying to dissuade Buhari against participating, the statistics ought to comfort them as the scenario in Nigeria does not mean that a poor performance at debates can make one lose.

However, Buhari ought to lead by example by participating at the debate. Having shunned any formal platform to talk to Nigerians as his predecessor, Jonathan used to do, Nigerians will at least use the opportunity of the January debate to assess him, as well as having their minds cleared of many issues.

No law says Buhari must participate but then, not participating for a second successive time says much for how he regards the sensibilities of those he governs.

Let us hope he will not disappoint this time.