On March 18, Nigeria’s satellite TV network, NN24 will host a live debate among four leading presidential candidates for the April 9 election. Ladi Lawanson, the consultant organising the debate, in an interview with journalists, talks about why a debate among presidential candidates is desirable at this time. Excerpts:
What is the presidential debate designed to achieve?
The idea of a presidential debate is one whose time has come because Nigerians know that we have a leadership deficit especially politically. Nigeria is a country that has abundant human and natural resources which have not being properly harnessed for national development This has been brought about because the leadership selection process in this country is so narrow that a few people just get themselves together and chose leaders for us all at levels from national
to state to local government. Very often the average Nigerian on whose behalf government exists
never gets to make an input into that process. So the presidential debate idea is to open up the political space so that more Nigerians get to participate in the leadership selection process and also so that intellectual content in the leadership selection process is improved. So hopefully as a consequence of that, even the political leaders will be more in tune with the feelings and plight of the people and will consequently make better policies and leadership will be better at the political level.
Are you inviting all of the 19 presidential to the debate?
I am sure you can imagine 19 presidential candidates in any room trying to get their messages across to the electorate. It will be unmanageable and chaotic. What we have done is that we conducted our own poll and we have been able to narrow it down to four candidates that we considered to be the leading candidates. So it is among these four candidates that we are going to have this debate.
Clearly, in no particular order, they are the incumbent who is a candidate of the PDP, Goodluck Jonathan; there is the candidate from the Action Congress of Nigeria, Nuhu Ribadu; there is the candidate for CPC, Muhammadu Buhari and there is a candidate of ANPP, Ibrahim Shekarau.
We conducted a scientific poll in which we got in touch with Nigerians and asked them who they thought were the people who are most likely to come up, and the result threw these four names up. NN24 has some kind of partnership with CNN, BBC and with Reuters so in terms of international coverage, this is probably going to be the debate that will enjoy the most live coverage because while this debate is going on, it is going to be broadcast live across the world and we are quite excited about it.
What efforts have you made to ensure full participation of the selected candidates?
We have met with representatives of the four candidates and the responses have being positive, so as a speak with you, I can confirm that all the three challengers have been signed up on an MoU and we also had a meeting with the representative of the PDP and we have every assurance that the President will participate.
As a matter of fact, the candidates threw a challenge to the president and invited him that they really want to hear from him and that most of them are assuring him that they want to take his job, we have information that the president has accepted the challenge and is preparing very hard to come and give a good account of himself and his political party.
What have you done to create public awareness for the debate?
In the cause of our negotiation with the four political parties, the issue of awareness was raised and the steps we have taken in that regard. You will see very shortly that even on the terrestrial television channels, we have concluded discussion and agreement with them.
The awareness leading up to the debate and indeed the debate itself will be beamed live within the shores of Nigeria and in addition to the television awareness, we have also entered into arrangement with radio stations that they also are going to carry jingles and announcement to ensure that we have maximum reach across the length and breath of the country even leading onto the debate. All these arrangements are in place. The jingles and the advertisement will also be done in Nigerian languages but the debate will be conducted in English and most of all we will encourage candidates to try and make their communication as simple as possible so that an average Nigerian can understand.
What is your take on the campaign rallies where candidates fail to tackle issues rather they resort to party sentiments?
You can’t really blame them much because we Nigerians have to accept some responsibility for that because we have failed to set the agenda which is precisely why we are coordinating and promoting this debate because where you fail to give a student a syllabus, he will answer any question he likes. So the objective of this debate goes to answer that. We want to set an agenda for them that there are issues of hunger, development, power, lack of adequate funding for education, etc.
So these are the things we want the candidates to discuss and these are the things that we expect the candidates to come up with plans and come and convince Nigerians that their plan are the best. The reason for organising this debate is to set the agenda for them so they can refrain from name calling and confront the issues that really affect Nigerians. The main presidential debate will be on March 18 when we expect the four leading candidates will try and convince Nigerians as to why they think they should be voted for.
What is your take on the fact that majority of Nigerians do not engage politicians on issues?
For too long, we have left the agenda of politics with the politicians and we have done that to our own detriment. So going forward, we want to ensure that those who succeed in getting to leadership positions are people who have been tested and who have been tried in terms of their understanding of the issues that affect Nigeria, in terms of how much thoughts they have put into the solution to these problems.