Friday, 13 December 2013
Nigerian Presidential Debate - GEJ Making Lame Excuses
Nigeria is a bundle of contradictions - a fertile ground for eternal belief in democracy, where all hopes for democractic progress go to die. It has even been said in "respectable" quarters that the very nature of electioneering and democracy is alien to us. Some "respected" elders have postulated that Nigerians are governable only by someone with a "iron fist". Nevertheless, Nigeria and Nigerians have consistently chosen to partake in the the commity of nations and we have continued to forge along, tottering on unsteady legs, weaving and bobbing. A coup here, a civil there; an inept bunch of kleptomaniac robbing us blind here, an internecine warfare over there; bad, good and ugly, we have tried to carry on. We are nothing if not a resilient and stubborn bunch of people. We adapt. In the pursuit of a participatory system of governance. Hoping that, by trial-and-error, we will someday get it right.
And so it is that, in spite of several years of disappointments, infrastructural decay, run-away inflation and unspeakable level of unemployment, crime, lack of any semblance of social welfare, Nigerians are gearing up to go to the polls again in April and pull a lever for Democracy. An uninitiated observer may be tempted to wonder whether we are just a bunch of self-flagellating psychopath for trusting so much in the system that has continued to fail us on such a regular basis. Such a foreign observer will be missing a critical component of the Nigerian psyche - everlasting hope for a better "tomorrow".
We are hopeful. We are trusting. So, we hope that, this time, the preparation for (and outcome of) the April elections will be different and much better than in the past. We are in a more modern era now, after all. Things are moving around us all over the world. The world is changing. What with the "internet revolutions", what with all the entrenched "regime-for-life" governments falling down faster than you can say "Egypt!"? We are hopeful (and praying) that, this time, the people who would like to rule us will be paying attention. How could they not? They all have iPhones and Blackberries and access to the interwebs and other sources of information and they are witnessing (with their own korokoro eyes) how quickly events seemingly brewing in tiny tea cups turn into uncontrollable tsunami that sweeps away "strong men" like some useless jagbajantis.
We were hoping that, this time, things will be different. Our political aspirants will be better behaved. Since we are in modern times, we were hoping that they will step away from the rot of the past and chart a new, more progressive course in history. We were hoping that the violent rhetorics and histrionics of the past (you know, those deplorable accompaniments of Nigerian politicking of the past) will be dispenced with and they will stand up and strive to play politics as it is meant to be practiced in modern times. Like, for example, by engaging in things like a public debate of important and relevant issues of the day.
Our spirits were lifted a great deal when the Nigerian News Channel, NN24, announced (to a great fanfare) that all the Major Political Parties in Nigeria have agreed to participate in a couple of Vice-Presidential and Presidential debates before the April elections. NN24 even broadcasted a footage of the representatives of the Parties signing the so-called "Memorandum of Understanding". Finally, we thought, Nigeria is coming of age. It had earlier been reported that the current ruling party might not agree to participate in the debate. But, now we have video evidence. And we will get a chance to, at least, witness a critical part of a modern-day democracy in Nigeria. In the year 2011. Better late than never.
We were hoping. And then we had our hope dashed. By no other person than the (dis)honourable Director of Media and Publicity of the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Abah Daboh.
You see, Abah Daboh (and, apparently, his boss, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan) have a bone of contention with the "modalities" of the proposed debate. And, God help them, that bone must be picked. In Mr. Daboh's (and President Jonathan's) views, a "Debate" that does not include ALL the official 18 "Presidential" contenders has no bona fide, and President GEJ will surely not have anything to do with it. All 18 of them must debate together, otherwise there will be no fairness in the debate, according to the Wizards of PDP and PCC. Haba! We are so, so, so close to tasting the "Forbidden Apple" of Nigerian politics - Politicians actually talking about issues to their constituents, and engaging in a public back-and-forth with their opponents in the public arena, on the same pedestal. And here comes Mr. Daboh to yank it away from hour hands.
Mr. President, let's accept that your objection is sincere and legitimate. HOW, sir, do you propose to stack up 18 contenders on the same stage for an intelligent debate of REAL ISSUES? The whole point of a political debate is to present critical and concise argument of a position or policy, have them questioned by others, and defend them when questioned. In the process, you explain to the electorate HOW and WHY what you are selling them is of better qualities than what your opponents are hawking. In general, you can expect that the whole debate will last between 90 minutes and two hours, tops.
Knowing the above, Mr. President, HOW do you propose to allot the 2 hours among 18 people, giving each of them sufficient amount of time to connect with the electorate? Mr. President, we would like to believe that you and your handlers know the difference between a debate and a speech or press conference. You don't just get to deliver a prepared statement and then walk off the stage in a debate. No. On the average, you can expect to questioned on, at least, four of the major parts of your policies and plans. And, yes, you will be EXPECTED to question your opponents, too. You will be expected to provide a "rebuttal", usually to a controversial statement or asserion about you or your position made by your opponent(s). And, you will be expected to do each of these in more than one sentence, usually between 30 seconds and one minute, depending on the technicality or complexity of the topic at hand.
We know that you and your handlers are aware of all this. Because we are sure that they have seen one or more REAL Presidential Debates in modern era politics. What we don't know, and cannot fathom is HOW you and your handlers PROPOSE to do all of the above (and more) within the allotted time (anything longer than 2 hours, and your audience start to tune out, even if your co-debators hadn't started snoring on their feet).
We would like to ask Mr. Dabo and his cowering master:
With 18 ego-driven, self-important, larger-than-life Presidential aspirants, some of whom may be so enamoured of their own voice and importance that they will frequently forget to stop talking when required.
- How many minutes (sorry, seconds) do you propose that each speaker be given to talk?
- Would each be entitled to the same number of questions? Minutes? Responses? If not, why not?
- How many of the other 17 contenders are allowed to respond to the speaker, and how long should their response be?
- How many times is each of the 18 players allowed to speak out of turn (before being taken to Kirikiri)?
- How many times times can a question be asked of each contender?
- How long will the moderator(s) have to read each question? And, if the question is not clear, can it be repeated at the request of the speaker? Does this cut into the responder's allotted time, or is that time deducted from the Petroleum Funds?
We know that you reside in Aso rock, but we didn't know that you were all collectively and figuratively living under the rock. Apparently you are; otherwise, your handlers would have advised you against trying to cover your nakedness with this wet fig leave of an excuse. In all the Democratic countries the world over, there are always many aspirants to any elected office. Some do it for fun, some do it for the fame, some do it to write a book, others do it because they are crazy. Then you have the serious contenders; the VIABLE contenders. The ones whom everyone knows have a legitimate chance of actually making a good run for the office. Everywhere Political Debates happen in the world, prunning the chaff from the wheat has ALWAYS been an acceptable practice. It is even more especially necessary in a situation such as what we have here in Nigeria, with 18 people (a majority of whom 95% of the Nigerian populace have never heard of or seen) vying for the same position. Are you hoping to be conceal your nakedness and emptiness by surrounding yourself with as many warm bodies as possible on stage? That won't work, Mr. President.
You know that there will not be enough room, time, resource, or interest for a 18-person debating exercise. It is indeed sad that, of all the excuses that you could have made, this is the one that you chose to make. Your attempts to run away from selling yourself to the Nigerian people is selling you short, Mr. President. Nigerians deserve to see their country evolve and break with its sordid past. Having a semblance of normalcy and a sense of being a part of the modern democracies will go a long way towards bringing us ever closer to that evolution and goal. Refusing to partake in this debate for any reason will not speak well of you, Mr. President. Rather it will portray you as an insecure weakling whose only claim of success have been more through happenstance and accidents than by any measure of ability or capability.