The refusal of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organization (APCPCO), including the party leadership and APC supporters, to participate in the NEDG-organised presidential debates is not only a legitimate but also a politically astute move, it is also however below the standard of what the country needs today.
The decision to say no to this practically PDP government sponsored debate is legitimate not only because it will be foolhardy for the presidential flag bearer of the APC, General Mohammadu Buhari, to walk into a cesspit of destruction. The assemblage that makes up the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG) is managed by a group of clearly biased and unrepentant defenders of power against the people and common democratic sense.
General Mohammadu Buhari’s Presidential Campaign Organization has a legitimate right to say no to this debate also because, fortunately for them and unfortunately for Nigeria, the incumbent President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his own team have set a precedence for the right to say no to debates. Let us remember that in 2011 President Goodluck Jonathan shunned what later turned out to be probably one of the best presidential debates ever held in Nigeria to participate in what turned out to be a Jonathan vs Jonathan show: probably the worst presidential outing in Nigeria.
A journalist moderated the presidential debate that was shunned by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, and so far nobody has reasonably accused her of being biased or incompetent in that outing.
The 2011 Jonathan vs Jonathan show was organized by this same NEDG that could not see how ridiculous it will be to have just a candidate debate himself, nor saw it essential to work tirelessly to create a forum for other candidates to meet the nation the same way the sitting president did. If nobody has ever told them, then it is time to say shame on you to NEDG. It is time we also tell this NEDG, and similar bodies like the NTA, that after these elections they should be radically reformed or completely disbanded as they have shown to be a failure and a disgrace to their profession and an assault on democracy, fair paly, credibility and civics.
Saying no to the presidential debate is an astute political move as any observer will tell you President Jonathan is lagging behind in every straw and scientific poll. So from the point of view of Buhar’s team it is clearly and simply not advantageous to debate as sharing a stage with the President, to face voters will simply give the latter a chance to reach an audience that will not listen to him these days. The obsession with which the Jonathan team has been clamoring the debate is a very strong indication that they (the Jonathan team) need the debate more than the Buhari team. Interestingly, neither President Jonathan nor his team bothered to clamor for a debate during the 2011 elections when they felt they were wining.
Legitimate and astute partisan calculations are however not always to the benefit of the commonwealth. Given that most people, the APC politicians and voters above others, believe that the country is in dire shape and needs a lot of reconstruction, the most statesmanlike thing for the Buhari’s campaign to do will be to go beyond their comfort zone and partisan interest to work with the civil society to create a forum for healthy and credible presidential debate.
To truly change and mend things in this country and for the benefit of voters, democracy and indeed posterity, the campaign needs to show that regardless of their partisan interest and advantage they understand that debates constitute both a symbolic and practical fundamental parts of any election. It is the only chance where voters get to place candidates and their ideas side by side in order to make an informed choice. Debates are also a symbolic democratic ritual that shows candidates have respect for and are accountable to voters.
There are ways to do this, and the only “no” on the table should be no to this Nigeria Election Debate Group as it stands today. President Jonathan’s team has said President Jonathan will debate General Buhari any time, anywhere, and with any moderator. That is a tempting offer, but no thanks, the Buhari’s campaign should show they are bigger than that and simply push for pluralism and professionalism.
Pluralism can take the shape of asking for more than one debate so that we can actually see the candidates dedicate say one hour at a time or even less on only important issues such as security, infrastructure, health, education, education, economy and of course corruption.
Pluralism can also take the shape of some the candidates’ closest allies take the podium to face each other. What a joy it will be to see Dame Patience Jonathan debate Mrs Aisha Buhari!
The Buhari team could also propose a panel of four made up of two professionals proposed by the two main presidential campaign organizations. These professionals will have their names and professionalism at stake and the world will know and remember their performance.
Of course we can still simply insist on track record and simply nominate Kadaira Ahmed who has done it will in the past.