Nige­ri­ans will on Fe­bru­ary 16 and March 2, 2019 go to the polls to de­cide the lead­er­ship of the na­tion through the bal­lot. A pres­i­den­tial de­bate is among ac­tiv­i­ties ex­pected to­wards the elec­tions, but is it go­ing smoothly?

Weekly Trust - - News - Saawua Terzungwe

It will be a de­cid­ing mo­ment where the elec­torate will ex­er­cise their fran­chise by choos­ing from among the many pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates of the var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Those who have emerged can­di­dates of the par­ties at dif­fer­ent lev­els had be­fore the pri­maries, cam­paigned within their par­ties’ folds to get del­e­gates’ votes, mak­ing prom­ises and pro­ject­ing what they in­tended to achieve if they emerged vic­to­ri­ous.

learnt that the Elec­tion De­bate Group has sched­uled De­cem­ber 14 for the de­bate among vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and Jan­uary 19 for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

Po­lit­i­cal pundits say some vot­ers use de­bates to de­cide which can­di­date to re­ceive their vote. But cur­rently gen­er­at­ing cu­rios­ity within the polity are the body lan­guage and an al­leged cal­cu­la­tion that Vice Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo will rep­re­sent Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari in the pres­i­den­tial de­bate.

Buhari as the APC can­di­date de­clined par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pres­i­den­tial de­bate prior to the 2015 gen­eral elec­tions. The All Pro­gres­sives Congress Pres­i­den­tial Cam­paign Or­gan­i­sa­tion, APCPCO, later an­nounced the com­mence­ment of town hall meet­ings as a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy of the cam­paign ahead of the pres­i­den­tial poll.

Buhari and his run­ning mate, Yemi Os­in­bajo, ex­plored the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain di­rectly to cit­i­zens the pol­icy thrust of their en­vis­aged ad­min­is­tra­tion and how the set ob­jec­tives would be achieved.

APCPCO said in a state­ment in Abuja that the town hall meet­ings kicked off in La­gos with a ro­bust in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Buhari/ Osi­banjo and the or­gan­ised pri­vate sec­tor.

A state­ment signed by Garba Shehu, the Di­rec­tor of Me­dia and Pub­lic­ity of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, said the party was com­pelled to chart the course be­cause of the com­pelling need to have a per­sonto-per­son in­ter­ac­tive ses­sion where per­ti­nent ques­tions would be asked and re­sponses pro­vided by the can­di­date and his run­ning mate.

An­a­lysts say if Buhari de­clines par­tic­i­pat­ing in the de­bate this time, it would send a wrong sig­nal to the na­tion and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially as many Nige­ri­ans and even the po­lit­i­cal class con­sider the 2019 pres­i­den­tial race as a straight bat­tle be­tween him and the PDP can­di­date, Atiku Abubakar.

The PDP Na­tional Chair­man, Prince Uche Se­con­dus, told Daily Trust that Pres­i­dent Buhari should not par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate by proxy but be phys­i­cally present to tell Nige­ri­ans his achieve­ments so far.

“You can’t de­bate by proxy as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Let him (Buhari) come out and de­bate on is­sues with our pres­i­den­tial can­di­date,” he said.

A found­ing mem­ber of the PDP from the North, Al­haji Aminu Yakudima, told our cor­re­spon­dent that de­bates were very cru­cial to the elec­tion­eer­ing process as they help vot­ers to make in­formed choice.

“With the 2019 elec­tion ap­proach­ing and the de­bate cy­cle be­gin­ning, it is so im­por­tant that vot­ers are given the op­por­tu­nity to hear can­di­dates dis­cuss and de­bate key is­sues prior to the elec­tions,” he said.

But a chief­tain of the APC, Chief Jack­son Lekan Ojo, told that Buhari’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the de­bate is dis­cre­tional and must not cause rip­ples.

He ar­gued that the de­bate was an in­for­mal way of en­hanc­ing the elec­tion­eer­ing process, adding that no sec­tion of the Nige­rian Con­sti­tu­tion or the Elec­toral Act stip­u­lates that a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date must par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate.

“Is the elec­tion de­bate recog­nised by our Con­sti­tu­tion? If it is not in the Con­sti­tu­tion or the Elec­toral Act, it is not bind­ing on any­body. There are peo­ple who have a lot of money in this coun­try and they can buy some per­sons to or­gan­ise this kind of de­bate sim­ply to em­bar­rass their po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

“I want to tell Nige­ri­ans, it is not bind­ing on Mr Pres­i­dent be­cause the law does not recog­nise it. And I want to tell you this, if any­thing is not bind­ing on him by law and he goes there and any­thing hap­pens to him it will be a pub­lic em­bar­rass­ment. And a pub­lic em­bar­rass­ment of Mr Pres­i­dent is em­bar­rass­ment to the en­tire Nige­ria as a po­lit­i­cal en­tity.

“So morally, he may de­cide to go, he may de­cide not to go, it’s dis­cre­tional. If he de­cides to send his deputy, it’s okay, be­cause they are run­ning a joint ticket.

“By law, the vice pres­i­dent takes over in act­ing ca­pac­ity when the pres­i­dent is tem­po­rar­ily ab­sent. So if the pres­i­dent does not want to at­tend, he has the right to send the vice pres­i­dent to rep­re­sent him.

“Ev­ery right think­ing Nige­rian will not take this se­ri­ously, be­cause there is no law or act of the Na­tional Assem­bly that ex­pressly pro­vides that the pres­i­dent must par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate,” he said.

Pres­i­den­tial de­bates are held in ad­vanced democ­ra­cies. The United States of Amer­ica in par­tic­u­lar con­sid­ers it as a key el­e­ment in the elec­toral process and pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for can­di­dates to de­bate on crit­i­cal is­sues that have di­rect bear­ing on the lives of the masses.

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon par­tic­i­pated in the se­cond 1960 pres­i­den­tial de­bate held in the NBC stu­dios in Wash­ing­ton D.C. and mod­er­ated by Frank McGee. Dur­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the United States, it has be­come cus­tom­ary for can­di­dates of the main par­ties cur­rently, the Demo­cratic Party (DP) and the Re­pub­li­can Party (RP) - to en­gage in a de­bate.

Pundits say the top­ics dis­cussed in the de­bate are of­ten the most con­tro­ver­sial is­sues of the time and that ar­guably, elec­tions have been nearly de­cided by these de­bates.

Can­di­date de­bates are not con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated, but it is now con­sid­ered as part of the elec­tion­eer­ing process tar­geted mainly at un­de­cided vot­ers who tend not to be par­tial to any po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy or party.

The two pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates of the Re­pub­li­can Party and the Demo­cratic Party, in the last US elec­tion - Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton - also par­tic­i­pated in a heated de­bate.

The two can­di­dates clashed over jobs, ter­ror­ism and race in tele­vised de­bates.

How­ever, it is left to be seen whether Pres­i­dent Buhari will per­son­ally par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate this time or send in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive. It is also left to be seen what the re­ac­tion of the or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans and the po­lit­i­cal class would be if he fails to ap­pear to dis­cuss the crit­i­cal is­sues of pub­lic con­cern on the day of the de­bate.

Can­di­date de­bates are not con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated, but it is now con­sid­ered as part of the elec­tion­eer­ing process tar­geted mainly at un­de­cided vot­ers who tend not to be par­tial to any po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy or party.

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PDP’s Atiku

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