‘A presidential candidate that shuns live debates and press conferences is an accident waiting to occur’
By Valentine Amanze
The 2023 general election is around the corner. Nigerians are already witnessing the trend of the previous elections, which put us into the mess we are today.
Nigerians want a real change. They want to see and hear from whoever is aspiring to take them out of the woods; not someone who reads manifesto written by non-politicians.
We all witnessed how the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), being aware of the inadequacies of Muhammadu Buhari, protected and kept him away from public scrutiny – the reason Nigerians are suffering today.
Just like Buhari, other prominent politicians are shunning political debates on flimsy excuses. Nigerians are now wiser, and are not ready to receive the gift of live poisonous snake at night.
The essence of the debates is to convince Nigerians on the right choice of candidate. A presidential candidate that shuns live debates and press conferences is an accident waiting to occur.
In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, who was preparing to unseat the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan refused to feature in the presidential debate organised by the Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria (BON).
The spokesperson for the Directorate of Media and Publicity of the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential campaign organisation then, Garba Shehu, explained that the boycott was due to the “unhidden bias and campaign of calumny by some key organisers of the programme, against the corporate political interest of the party (APC) and its candidates”.
Shehu alleged that the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG)-powered debate was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, by wearing the toga of government control, especially being composed mainly of agencies and allies of the incumbent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration.
Again, in 2019, Buhari refused to participate in all the debates arranged before the general election, prompting the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to react angrily, pulling out of the exercise.
Atiku said that he did not believe in challenging an administration, where President Muhammadu Buhari, the man at the helm of affairs of the nation, was not present to defend himself or his policies.
His words: “We came here for a Presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar, cannot challenge or question an administration, where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies. After all, you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.”
In a statement, the ex-vice president further disclosed that he was physically present at the venue of the debate but decided not to participate because Buhari refused to honour the invitation.
In a similar development, Atiku sent his running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, to represent him during the town hall meeting organized by Arise TV on Sunday.
Also, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, was missing at the town hall series designed to enable aspirants to speak on their plans for Nigeria. Tinubu is the only presidential candidate yet to honour any invitation to tell Nigerians his plans for them.
He was among the 18 presidential candidates invited for the debate, a ‘presidential town hall’ organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development and Arise Television.
Only Peter Obi of the Labour Party; Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, (NNPP) and presidential candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party, Kola Abiola, attended the event in person.
Kwankwaso had earlier snubbed the Arewa group’s earlier invitation on the premise that the organizers were already biased against his candidature for the 2023 general election.
Obi of the labour Party (LP), who honoued all the previous invitations personally, has now threatened to snub subsequent ones if other presidential candidates continue to send representatives.
The Director General of the Obi-Datti Campaign Organisation, Doyin Okupe, confirmed this in Abuja on Monday November 7, 2022.
Frankly, debate with surrogates or running mates is not the best for Nigeria’s democracy.
For instance, Buhari denied all the campaign promises made on his behalf by his party members.
At this juncture, there is the need to consider the recent advocacy of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), calling for a comprehensive health examination for any aspiring governor or president to avoid electing sick candidates. It should also include psychiatric and drug tests for them to avoid another “Doctrin of necessity.”
The health of the president is a reflection of that of the nation.
The continuous shunning of political debates by Tinubu and Atiku is a danger signal. Nigeria cannot afford to elect another deaf and dumb president medical tourist. We must not elect a “president in exile” again.
If the ruling APC members had allowed Nigerians to assess Buhari via debates and other public functions, may be the leadership crisis in the country would have been resolved since.
Besides, let there be limitations on who organizes the debates.
The debates must not be hijacked by challatants and political jobbers to avoid repeating the embarrassing event of the Arise television.
Obi is in the race for Aso Rock’s top job alongside other presidential candidates like Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party.