2019 Presidential Debate and Nigeria’s Finest Moment

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By Eniola Ajayi

Once again Nigeria attracted a global attention on the 19th of January, 2019 as different candidates jostling for the highest office in the land took to the rostrum to articulate their agenda for the world’s most populous black nation, if given the opportunity.Without mincing words, every Nigerian both at home and in the diaspora must have been proud of the trio of Professor Kingsley Moghalu, Dr Oby Ezekwesili and Fela Durotoye in particular and at the same time be elated as a citizen of the country. Succinctly put, it was one of Nigeria’s finest moments in recent times and the candidates proved beyond doubts that they are one of the bests that the country is showcasing to the world at this time.
From economy to education, security, anti corruption among others, the critical sectors enjoyed a plethora of treble diagnoses from the trio who left no stone unturned in galvanising their planned programmes, proposed policies or manifesti as the case may be.
The epoch making event got to a crescendo when soul music singer- Timi Dakolo took the centre stage; he brought many to an emotional state with the Presidential candidates holding hands to sing one of his hit songs “Great Nation.”

Missing in Action
As usual, the two behemoths in the nation’s political landscape- the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were missing in action as their candidates’ stands were empty. While many were not really surprised at the APC, the PDP drew the ire of many for the fact that its candidate, Atiku Abubakar was at the debate venue after flying into the country from the United States of America, only to refuse to participate in the debate. Although Atiku apologised for the walkout, many felt he ought to have at least taken to the rostrum to make a statement.
For the APC, a statement was issued by the Presidential Council excusing President Muhammadu Buhari from the debate. The statement noted that the president had met Nigerians on another platform where he was asked uncensored questions; it also cited the President’s busy and hectic official and campaign schedules as being responsible for his absence at the debate.

Track record
Any student of history in Nigerian politics can vividly recollect that both the APC and the PDP have penchant for evading presidential debates. Right from the days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, shunning scheduled debates has been a tradition, only for the major party candidates to show up for monologues at different dates.
When the APC promised “Change” it was believed that there would be a paradigm shift, but Nigerians have seen that there is no iota of difference between six and half a dozen. In 2015 , APC candidate Muhammadu Buhari shunned the BON organised presidential alleging compromise. The party then insisted that it never trusted the credibility of the event because the PDP candidate Goodluck Jonathan could have had access to the questions.
Many Nigerians who just wanted the then President Jonathan out of office at whatever cost quickly bought into this APC theory hook line and sinker, but like the proverbial saying goes, the wind blew and the fowl’s anus became exposed. It is interesting to now hear the Presidential Campaign Council telling Nigerians that the president had met with them on a different platform and had answered uncensored questions. Many journalists who are close to any State House have an idea of what goes on behind the scene as far as media handlers of “their Excellencies” are concerned, so whoever is responsible for such a statement from the Council should have thought of a better story to tell.
The 2019 Presidential Debate was not a programme organised haphazardly, the time table had been set since late 2018 and all parties concerned were duly notified, so it inexcusable for anyone to be absent.

The bitter truth
The truth remains that even if the debate is organised ten times, Nigerians know those who will show up and those who will not. A story was told of a student who once had an opportunity of being assisted in an examination, the person assisting wrote an instruction on the board; the instruction reads- “copy the following answers and try to attempt remaining on your own,” funny enough, this very student copied the instruction alongside the answers and submitted. It simply tells that there is a limit to the extent that someone can be assisted even if there is any.
Unfortunately, either President Buhari or former Vice President Atiku will win the February 16 presidential election, despite shunning such an intellectual platform to tell the citizens what their roadmaps will be for the nation in another four years. The trio of Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressives Party, (YPP), Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) will definitely have better time out in 2023; however their efforts so far must be commended.

Voter education
In the days ahead, until something urgent is done in the area of voter education, the Nigerian electorate most of whom are mostly illiterate will continue to be a leverage for politicians ditto political parties to continually perpetuate impunity such as blatant disregard for debates, media chats as well as other avenues to engage with the populace.
Nigerians are too smart for anyone to arrange a selected political apologists and branding such as cross section of Nigerians in the name of town hall meetings cum uncensored online responders. The real Nigerian populace are those people without political leanings who are just interested in seeing a new Nigeria where every citizen matters and treated as such and projects executed because it is a constitutional responsibility of the government and not based on political patronage.

Takeaways
Quick takeaways for all however include the fact that both the APC and the PDP have disgracefully exhibited the impunity they have penchant for by insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians. Perhaps they believe they have better means of reaching out to the electorate; however they have once again lost the confidence of many who were looking forward to a robust debate that would have given an insight into the economic direction of the government in the next four years.
Nigerians should also know that should either of the APC or the PDP takes the reign of government again from May 29, 2019; nothing has been promised in the real sense of it and no one can boast of what they have promised or what they are bringing on board. Many promises made at campaign venues to arouse political supporters will either be denied or fly with the wind as they had in the past, so no hopes should be raised as to what the deliverables should be from either party in another four years.

Finally, as long as debates and other intellectual discourses are continually avoided, active players in the economy will always be at a loss as to what government’s plans or policy direction will be. Citizens in the diaspora and foreign investors alike will not be encouraged in any way to put money in the nation’s economy; worst case scenario is that many investors (local and foreign) may pullout their funds from the economy which was the case at the inception of the present administration.

A word is enough for the wise.

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