2019: Before the presidential debate
Ever since the vice presidential debate held on December 14, 2018, ahead of the 2019 elections, Nigerians have been upbeat and looking forward to the presidential debate scheduled for January 19, 2019. The interest provoked by the debate is understandable. Nigerians are looking forward to the coming elections, convinced that their participating, by way of following developments and exercising their franchise, would help shape the country’s future. Indeed, many Nigerians now want to know the stuff the candidates are made of, what they have to offer and their ability to articulate their thoughts and issues off hand.
Despite whatever shortcoming seen in the vice presidential debate of this year, the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) deserve some commendation. The election debate has created a platform for the candidates, or the key candidates, to face the camera and be subjected to interrogation. The NEDG/BON has afforded Nigerians the opportunity to know whether the candidates, be they vice presidential candidates or presidential candidates, understand what their jobs would be, if elected, and how well they know
the problems, challenges and complexities of Nigeria as a nation. It also gives the candidates the opportunity to explain how they would function in office. With this, the electorate would assess those who have offered themselves to lead and, therefore, begin to decide what to do, whether to be swayed by reason or sentiment, in deciding who to vote for.
During the vice presidential debate, which featured the running mates of the All Progressives Congress (Vice President Yemi Osinbajo), Peoples Democratic Party (Peter Obi), Young Progressives Party (Umma Getso), Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (Abdulganiyu Galadima) and Alliance for New Nigeria (Khadijah AbdullahiIya), the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of the individuals were exposed. It is left for Nigerians to do the SWOT analysis of the vice presidential candidates, based on their performance at the debate. However, inasmuch as the scores and final verdict on the performances of the candidates are subjective, depending on where whoever is making the decision is coming from, there are still parameters to decide who did well and who did not. Yes, opinions are varied, but the majority would admit that Obi (PDP), Osinbajo (APC) and Getso (YPP) were noticed. Obi gave data and statistics about what is happening in the country and by so doing tried to expose the failure and inefficiency of the President Muhammadu Buhari government. Osinbajo defended what the Federal Government has done. And Getso showed the gusto and fire of the youth being at the forefront of leadership.
From the debate, those who may be ignorant of the role of a vice president have been better educated. Those who think that a vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a mere “spare tyre” that would only be needed when the “tyre” is flat now know that this is far from it. The vice president of Nigeria has a constitutional duty of leading the economic programme of the country, being the chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC). What this means is that the vice president is at the centre of the economic programme of the government and, therefore, should have the basic or fundamental knowledge of economics. With this knowledge, my takeaway from the debate, therefore, is that Obi found himself in a familiar terrain, as far as the discussion on the economy was concerned. Those who said he bandied wrong statistics and data were merely looking for something to say. As a businessman who has managed human and capital resources, having been chairman of a bank and governor of a state, Obi exhibited the knowhow. He showed that he understood the job of a vice president and his insight showed his capability.
Vice President Osinbajo, in my reckoning, did not do badly. Defending a government seen as having failed is one of the most difficult assignments anybody could take up. This is why the Vice President
was on the defensive, labouring to outline what his government has done in office, in reaction to the complaints of the other vice presidential candidates. Methinks, however, that, if Osinbajo has to unveil things government has done, which Nigerians are hearing for the first time, it is either such programmes are not making the desired impact or the communication of the government
is defective or both. However, one pitied Osinbajo as he tried to defend fuel subsidy payment, knowing what the APC said about it during the previous government.
I believe that the vice presidential debate has set the stage for the big one: The presidential debate of January 19, 2019, wherein President Buhari of the APC, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and others would mount the rostrum to defend themselves. This is why the NEDG/BON should insist that the presidential candidates so invited must appear personally or stay away, if they so choose. One says this because of an earlier insinuation by the APC that Vice President Osinbajo may represent Buhari at the presidential debate. If the organisation accepts representatives, the exercise would no longer be a presidential debate, as it would not be a veritable avenue for Nigerians to assess the presidential candidates. If really APC has confidence in Osinbajo to send him to the presidential debate, the question is: Why didn’t the political party make him the presidential candidate?
Having said that, one must say that the organisers of the debate should make it as effective as it could be, to get the desired result. The debate should be an opportunity to ask the candidates questions on issues bordering on their personality, integrity, vision, tolerance and pedigree, among others. President Buhari should be asked to explain the payment of subsidy, which he earlier condemned, at a time Nigerians are paying higher fuel price. President Buhari should be asked why he embarked on medical tourism when he was ill, despite saying his government would not encourage it. The President should be asked about the alleged existence of a cabal in his government, which his wife insists exists.
Yes, President Buhari should be asked why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike during his government, bearing in mind what he once said during such industrial action in the past. He should explain his claim of economic recovery when inflation is rising. He should tell Nigerians why he still maintains a large fleet of presidential jets after promising, before becoming president, to reduce it.
For Atiku, the NEDG/BON should ask him to explain the United States visa saga, with particular reference to why there are insinuations that he cannot go to the US for fear of being arrested. He should explain the privatisation scheme, which he supervised as vice president.
Generally, the candidates should be asked about their plans for the economy, the anti-corruption war, the war against terror, farmers/herders’ clashes, security and unemployment, among others.
President Buhari has to attend the debate himself, as Atiku has indicated his readiness to be present. The President has to participate in this auspicious discussion to personally defend his presidency. Failure to participate, as he did in 2015, should erode the confidence discerning minds have in him and should count against him.