Nigeria 2019: Presidential Debate — A Must, Necessity or Waste of time?

Alao Abiodun
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Ahead of the 2019 elections in Nigeria, which is probably going to be most keenly contested election the country has had in recent times with respect to the intensified activities, it’s no longer news that the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) and Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) have fixed the Nigeria’s Presidential debate for January 19, 2019, while vice-presidential candidates are billed to have their debate on December 14, 2018.

Mr. Momoh, who is also the Chairman/CEO of Channels Media Group & Chairman of BON, said the debates will be aired on all BON member radio and television stations across the country and also streamed on social media platforms. Mr. Momoh added that the debates will focus on the issues that matter most to working families; restoring our economy, providing electricity, creating jobs, securing health care for every Nigerian, making and achieving excellence in every Nigerian school and ensuring safety and security for Nigerians.

However, with the visibility of ongoing preparations made ahead of the debate, President Buhari has yet to take a decision on whether to take part or not in the presidential debate, but the People’s Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party Candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Donald Duke respectively, and many others have agreed to take part in the debate.

Irrespective of the preparations put in place by the debate organizers, the widespread social media campaign by these candidates has continued to gain momentum but however, a number of people have few questions on their lips — “Who do we vote for?” or “What are our options?” — they are at crossroads on the choice to make for the next 4 years as this would go a long way in assisting the public to make informed choices about those who want their votes.

Down the memory lane, It should be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 shunned the last round of a presidential debate organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group, which was attended by the then President Goodluck Jonathan (People’s Democratic Party), Remi Sonaiya (KOWA Party), Martins Onovo (National Conscience Party), Godson Okoye (United Democratic Party) and Chekwas Okorie (United Peoples Party). Fast forward now to this current dispensation shows many things have changed and now the electorates are more concerned about making uniformed decisions.

Debates could be likened to attending a job interview, which will provide the prospective employer with an opportunity to assess individual candidates, hence Nigerians deserve to be given the opportunity to hear directly from those who seek their mandate to occupy the highest office in the land hence next year’s presidential election promises to be historic and expectedly, it is already attracting the attention of many Nigerians.

Read Also: Of Buhari’s Next Level and Atiku’s Get Nigeria Working Again – The Masses Dilemma

There are 3 schools of thoughts one can however deduce from the psychological purview of the electorates on the presidential debate plans, the first school are of the opinion that debating with other candidates is a ‘must’ because debates serves as a platform for candidates to sell themselves to the voters. Hence any candidate that shy away from debates is therefore sending a strong signal to failure especially to voters who are very much sensitive.

The second school of thought are concerned about defining the ‘necessity’ of debates, especially looking at the fact that a well-attended presidential televised debate is yet to hold in Nigeria, only rowdy rallies and stern-faced posters of politicians plastered across the country. According to history, the last memorable debate that aired across the country which involved candidates was the annulled 1993 election which was widely perceived as the country’s most credible poll in its 50 years of independence.

The third school are those who believe it’s just complete waste of time because a great leader may not be the best of debaters and hence it is just goes beyond the “jaw war” debate approach, while those at the grassroots might be disinterested, many are literally not concerned with the mere words of rhetorics after all, it’s just about the “street credibility and acceptability”.

Beyond the different rationalities attached to the importance of debates, it should be seen as a platform where fundamental issues that are so sensitive to Nigerians can be addressed, thus presenting workable ideas towards Nigeria’s social, economic and political progress and addressing issues concerning the economic system, resources underdevelopment, unemployment, insecurity amongst others. If Nigeria is internationally considered as the world’s terra cognita for poverty, with a current estimated population of about 200 million, what really are the enduring poverty-alleviation mechanisms that can be being put in place to address this growing problem? All these unanswered questions are needed to dealt with squarely with not just mere words but workable blueprints.

Significantly, the essence of a presidential debate would be fully appreciated in a society where the electorates see it as an avenue to evaluate and constructively criticize the policies, preparedness and demeanor of those who seek to govern them.

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