By Emeka Egbeigwe
THE debate was widely publicised, with some heavy names, including international and donor agencies, mentioned as sponsors. The array of partners that organised the debate would at first prove to even cynics that it was a serious exercise. The three-man panel comprising Dr Reuben Abati, Labran Maku and Okey Ikechukwu added its own fillip to the entire exercise.
How do we describe debate in a general term? Debate could be seen as a civilised way of getting oneâ€™s point of view across. It is among the credentials of democracy as opposed to the dictatorship of force. The engagement of those that seek public offices in debates is a clear sign that our democracy is indeed growing. Even the theme of the debate: “Deepening Democracy and Good GovernanceÂ in Anambra State” reflects the essence of the entire exercise. It is a subtle reminder to us that peace and development go hand in hand with the meeting of minds, exchange of thoughts and flowering of ideas.
One will be stating the obvious to say that the debate organised by the Re-birth Group was the best so far in terms of logistics, pattern and its sequential order both in asking of questions and even raising objections.
During the debate, there was a minor interruption by some candidates that were excluded from the debate on the reason that they did not qualify to be taken seriously. What they did was condemnable because they chose to be bestial when they could have protested differently without portraying the state and its peoples in bad light.
The debate proper was exciting. The experienced moderators did not give room for abuse as they craftily drew the sequence to make accusation of somebody being favoured almost impossible.
Standing from left to right during the debate were Dr Chris Ngige (Action Congress), Mr Ralph Nwosu (African Democratic Congress), Governor Peter Obi (All Progressives Grand Alliance), Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu (Hope Democratic Party) and Prof Chukwuma Soludo (PDP). Mrs Uche Ekwunife of Progressive Peopleâ€™s Party was the only invited candidate that did not attend.
The first five minutes was reserved for the candidates to introduce themselves and tell the people why they honestly and earnestly seek the governorship. Beyond mere introduction, this session offered us an understanding of the working of the minds of the candidates.
This session reminds us of McCain and what history now regards as Quintussian Syndrome. Quintus who wrote a manual of electioneering campaign advised Caesar to go for the character of his opponent and even invent falsehoods against them to raise anti-peopleâ€™s sentiment. This was exactly what McCain did. Rather than tell the people what he will do for them, he spent his time speaking against Mr Barack Obama. We saw this Quintussian propensity at work in some of the candidates. Let us take their submissions seriatim.
Arranged alphabetically, according to the names of the parties, Dr Chris Ngige was the first to speak.Â Dr Ngige spent over four minutes introducing himself. Part of his problem was to have spoken first. He might have thought that enough grace would be given him, but the time keeper, the no nonsense Ike Nwokike rang the bell repeatedly until the speaker stopped. Besides talking about himself and engaging in his pastime of abusing Gov Obi, he said nothing meaningful. Though he said that before he came, there was no governance in Anambra State. Besides roads, he could not say any single thing he did to correct that. He proved to the people that he has a one-point agenda.
Speaking after Ngige, Mr Ralph Nwosu fell into the same error of introducing himself. With little time left, he tried to present himself as a freedom fighter who spent all his political life founding parties – PDP, APGA, ADC – in search of ideal party that will redeem Anambra and eventually Nigerians from trouble.
The debate got excited with Gov Peter Obi. Known for long and logical thought, he reduced all he said to brevity. Calm, confident and urbane, he used fewer words to introduce himself and went straight to the business of the day. Like Ngige, he reeled out basic and fundamental steps he had to quickly take.
Hear him: “On assumption of office, I found out there was no government in the state due to the absence of Governorâ€™s Office, secretariat and other necessities of government. I also looked for the master plans for the state and sectoral policies, behold there were none. As I speak, we now have master plans, erosion policy, industrial policy . . .”.
The Governor spoke like a person who understands development. He went beyond the policy plans and used one sector to show example of what he is doing.
Again, let him speak in the first person. Using education sector as an example, he said that there was nothing in that sector until he came in. When he said he provided laboratories, built classrooms, set up Microsoft academies, provided internets, water, generators and is about to provide libraries and buses to secondary schools in the state, one needs no Jupiter to pronounce that the Governor was saying the truth.
Prince Ukachukwu appealed to the public during his own introductory remarks because he was practical. He said he had achieved much as an industrialist which he wanted to replicate in the state if he becomes Governor.
Dr. Andy Uba surprised everybody. Nobody believed he would come as it was thought he has defect of speech, but he came and tried. He like Ukachukwu on introduction avoided his education background, further raising suspicion about the controversy surrounding his education qualification. He was not sure of himself, but he spoke as if he has good intentions, but will depend on his lieutenants.
Then enter Prof Charles Soludo; arrogant, brash and full of himself. He spoke in highfalutin language but most of his postulations appear deceptive. Charles said he will pursue security through an informal way, he did not tell us if it will be otumokpo (juju) or use of militiamen. Soludo said he would use generator to power Anambra State. He still repeated turning Anambra into African-Dubai-Taiwan.
When the candidates finished their introductory remarks, they were asked to pick randomly from already set questions. Again, Peter Obi and Ukachukwu spoke very well.
Obi who was asked what he would do to promote role models in the state explained how the state under him has chosen to celebrate role models. He said that part of the problem the state had was celebrating the wrong people, those who ordinarily should hide in shame. He explained how some names were submitted for national honours and how he protested and got such names as Francis Cardinal Arinze, Chief Chike Offodile and Justice OnonibaÂ to be honoured instead.
The most exciting part of the debate was a session devoted to asking probing questions. Here, all the contestants were touched at the bad/sour parts. Leading the pack, Ngige was asked about his visit and swearing at the Ogwugwu Okija Shrine; he agreed he went there at 2pm. Many people in the hall saw it as having rendered himself unfit for public office. Gov Obi was asked about his relationship with his deputy; he explained himself satisfactorily.
Uba was asked about the perception of his being part of the problem of the state via godfatherism; he denied but nobody believed him. Ukachukwuâ€™s question raised suspicion of his being in love with mean things and gangsterism; he rationalised. Ralph Nwosu was chastised for his party prostitution. Soludo tried to prove that all was well when he was the Governor of the Central Bank, even when the contrary is the case.
All in all, the debate was scintillating, enriching and mature. I do not know why the panellists did not score the contestants. If permitted, I will do that for them in this order – Peter Obi (first), others follow Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu; Prof Charles Soludo; Dr Chris Ngige; Mr Ralph Nwosu and Dr Andy Uba.
When certain things happen, one is constrained to believe that our democracy, the culture of engaging one another and wrestling with ideas is blossoming. One of those pointers is the new culture of political debate as we witnessed among political gladiators of Awka at Emmaus House.
I left the hall fulfilled and satisfied that I have once again been offered insight into the nature of man, especially when viewed as what Aristotle called socio politicum zoom (social political animal).
Emeka Egbeigwe is a legal Practitioner based in Awka