Yea! We watched the debate and we ended up with the same paradox. Nothing is different from what the debate was like in 2011, 2015 and 2019. We always have a noticeable sense of optimism before the election – a yearning to have a platform where candidates stand side by side and talk about issues and sell their policies and ideologies to Nigeria to justify why they are the best fit to run the country for another 4 years – The major actors. But after the debate, we are always left with pessimism due to a well-documented pattern of disregard for the will of the people during the electioneering and campaign processes.
The main actors will always avoid genuine campaign which includes debate where issues can be talked about and rebuttals made where necessary.
Our major actors since 1999 do not see the importance of attending debates especially when they see themselves as having the upper hand. There is always the perception that there is an advantage in their silence and they can capitalise on the mystery of the electorates not knowing clearly what the candidates will do for them when elected.
OBJ never attended any presidential debate, Yar’Adua did not. Buhari attended in 2011 but declined the invitation in 2015 citing bias and government influence in the makeup of the organisers of the debate. I must mention at this point that Goodluck Jonathan is the only president that has been present in a debate to seek his reelection (I stand to be corrected). Fast forward to 2019 Muhammadu Buhari feels he has more to lose standing in a debate than staying away. In hindsight, Buhari played to the gallery in 2015 when he refused to attend the debate. Who can blame him? His stock was on the rise. There was a gradual crescendo so why stand in a debate when you are not 100 percent sure of yourself or you know it has the potential to hurt that improve your chances.
Let’s not forget that debating requires certain skills no matter how good you are: oratory, precision, persuasion, and verifiable facts. A blend of these will help win or lose the audience.
In the same vein, the leading opposition to PMB refused to debate as well and the jury is still out to determine how well that will hurt him politically. Let’s be frank, if it is not going to hurt Buhari’s chances with Nigerians, it won’t hurt Atiku either.
I will play devil’s advocate for Atiku here too: If Buhari attended the debate, Atiku Abubakar stands to benefit by direct criticism of Buhari’s policies and PMB not known for his eloquence (no disrespect) will only suffer a reduction in political stock to Atiku. Without Buhari at the debate, Atiku becomes easy picking for other candidates who are new entrants into the political scene and Atiku would have been held responsible for the last 20 years, even though he has only been part of the first 8years thereby causing him to lose part of the political capital he had before the debate.
It is a mockery of the whole process that Buhari feels its better for him to justify not attending a debate that was scheduled 2 months ago by saying he has campaign and project launch engagements on the day of the debate. He is not ill, he has other opportunities to forewarn the organisers but chose not to. That is a flagrant disregard of the electorates and overconfidence that the machinery of the party can coax electorates and the electioneering institutions (by whatever means necessary) to be victorious.
Atiku does not enjoy my support here either. The continuous lack of patriotism and genuine belief in our democratic process as demonstrated by our mainstream politicians were brought to bare again. This is not about Buhari at the end of the day, it is about the candidate having a platform to sell their ideas and an opportunity for Nigerians to see their presidency in you before giving you their mandate for another 4 years (maybe 8). It only says one thing you and Buhari are from the same school of reasoning – why should people choose you as an alternative.
Massive credits to the 3 compatriots [Fela Durotoye, Kingsley Moghalu, Oby Ezekwesili] that stood in front of the Nigerian people to highlight the key things they will do if elected. In a sane and ideal society, I believe we could have a good president in a blend of the 3 minds via their bodies, brains, and policies but the sycophancy of the selected few and apathy of the rest of us will probably not give these people a chance.
We will recycle the old, tired and spent minds and continue our regression or at best a standstill until we have the courage to say enough of this madness. For now, I will enjoin the serious-minded candidates in the new entrants to keep faith in order not to set back the clock in preparation for the nearest future and the change we seek.
A special mention goes to Omoyele Sowore who was (in my opinion) unfair excluded from the debate. If you are qualified to run, you should be qualified to debate.
But for now, we are just not ready and it is sad.